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Wambidgee (1962)


This puppet series, made by animator Robert Knapp, features the adventures of an Aboriginal boy called Wambigee.

In the episode 'The Boomerang Maker’, Wambidgee makes a special boomerang for the chief of his clan. When Wambidgee travels to the chief’s camp to give him the boomerang, he is confronted by a crocodile and then the mischievous Gerribung, both of whom demand a share of any reward given by the chief. Wambidgee outsmarts them and both characters get the reward they deserve.

In 'The Chief Wakes Up’, the chief feels tired. Gerribung (the ‘witchdoctor’) visits him and diagnoses old age. He recommends the chief retire and then puts himself forward as the new chief.

Curator’s notes

Wambidgee presents ‘Aboriginal’ animated puppet characters within an Australian bush setting using typically western storylines. This misguided portrayal of Aboriginal people and their cultural practices needs to be balanced against the respect, goodwill and best of intentions shown by this early 1960s series.

The language used to describe some of the Aboriginal characters, such as the old chief and the witchdoctor, reflects a global representation of indigenous people rather than an understanding of the unique cultural identities of Indigenous Australians. Contemporary productions use more accurate terms like 'elders’ (for chief) and 'healers’ or 'clever men’ (instead of witchdoctor). This modern usage highlights the increased awareness of Aboriginal cultures in Australia.

Unlike string puppets, animated puppets (or puppetoons) must be moved fraction by fraction, shot by shot. Animator Robert Knapp told The Australian Women’s Weekly that ‘each seven-minute episode of Wambigee contains 10,080 movements.’ Knapp also explains he drew inspiration from an Australian Women’s Weekly publication, The Living Bush, to make the animal and bird puppetoons. In the set design, Knapp pays tribute to the paintings of Albert Namatjira.

Wambidgee screened on the ABC in 1962. 'The Boomerang Maker’ (see excerpt in clip one) is episode one of the series while 'The Chief Wakes Up’ (see excerpt in clip two) is the 12th and final episode.