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Development   /  Andrew Pike

A Wombat Named Bimbo

The story of two forgotten Australians – Bimbo, a cartoon wombat, and his creator, pioneer animator, Eric Porter.

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Impact areas

ARTS

YOUTH & EDUCATION

Crew

  • DIRECTOR Michael Kraaz

  • PRODUCER Andrew Pike

Synopsis

DURATION: 25 MINUTES

‘A Wombat Named Bimbo’ is a journey into a forgotten era in Australia’s film and cultural history, going back to the late 1930s when a young self-taught animation enthusiast named Eric Porter set out to fulfil his vision of creating Australian animated films that would feature Australian characters and Australian stories. Porter was convinced that the public would welcome this change of diet from the familiar saturation in Hollywood product. Inspired by Disney’s animation style and techniques, Porter created the character of a wombat named Willy and scraped funding and improvised technically to complete a short animated film called ‘Waste Not Want Not’. It was received warmly by those who saw it and was taken up by the Commonwealth Bank as a commercial, comic books featuring Willy were published, as was the sheet music for a song about Willy. After the war, Porter continued with the Wombat idea but was persuaded to change Willy’s name to Bimbo, fearing that American markets would be closed to a film about an unfamiliar animal like a wombat. Two Bimbo cartoons were made but distribution was a problem and they did not sell well. Porter moved into advertising (a story told in our previous documentary, ‘Animating Aeroplane Jelly’) and then into television, and made Australian’s first animated feature film, ‘Marco Polo Versus the Red Dragon’.

Porter’s films miraculously survive in the National Film and Sound Archive after a narrow escape from being taken to a rubbish tip. Some of Porter’s employees are still alive and are happy to remember their years with him, and his family members are dedicating time and energy to his memory.

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0.63% funded
  • $80,000.00

    FUNDING GOAL
  • $500.00

    FUNDS RAISED
  • March 2023

    PROJECT ENDS
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Donations

Ray Edmondson $500.00

Issue Summary

A short summary of the issue the documentary is addressing

Bimbo was a fat button-nosed wombat, stooge for a frivolous rabbit. Eric Porter was an animation enthusiast and had hopes that Bimbo would rival Mickey Mouse. Briefly, it looked like he would. Bimbo was originally called Willy the Wombat, and in this guise, he starred in Australia’s first colour cartoon ‘Waste Not Want Not’ in 1939, and was popular in comic books and music. His name was changed to Bimbo because Australians worried that Americans wouldn’t identify with an unfamiliar wombat. Two post-war films, ‘Bimbo’s Auto’ and ‘Rabbit Stew’, fared less well with the public, but the story of their creation will inspire and entertain.

Impact

What is the impact vision statement of the documentary?

The documentary will provide resources for the study of the history of Australian cinema and national popular culture. This story will help secondary and tertiary-level students to study Australian history from a new perspective, learning of an attempt to de-Americanise animated cartoons by adding distinctly Australian elements. Importantly, they’ll learn that someone could take an unusual interest and turn it into a career. Porter’s ‘never give up’ mentality aided him through thick and thin.

Outcomes

What outcomes does the project hope to achieve from making this documentary?

‘A Wombat Named Bimbo’ will enrich Australia’s cultural memory by bringing the pioneering animation work of Eric Porter to the foreground. Foundations wishing to promote and preserve Australia’s cultural history will find the film helpful in promoting the value of research and archiving. And let’s not forget the value of entertainment in education.

The documentary will provide new resources for the study of Australia’s early cinema and our national cultural history. Secondary and tertiary-level students will study Australian history with a renewed vigour, learning that Australian cultural icons such as Louie The Fly, and Mr Sheen were created via skills Porter learned in creating Bimbo. Importantly, they’ll learn that someone could take an unusual interest and turn it into a career. And cultural cringe be dammed! Porter eventually found himself peered with the best of his overseas counterparts when he worked as a producer for Hanna Barbera’s Australian division.

Activities

How will this documentary achieve its outcomes?

Eric Porter’s Wikipedia entry will be updated to higher standard, to aid those interested in his career and numerous projects. We also plan to give talks about the film to schools and museums. Promotion of the film at Pop Culture Expos will also be essential. Porter’s ‘never give up’ mentality aided him through thick and thin. It’s a lesson for present day artists, showing us that creativity can survive and flourish even in an era of hardship. He knew the everyday fears of Depression-era Australia, when many faced unemployment. Porter overcame the era’s pessimism and used his initiative to bring animation to Australia’s emerging cinema industry. Without books, he learnt by observation and experimentation on an old camera.

Stakeholders

How will partnerships with this project help inform the project development?

Andrew Pike from Ronin Films will work formally with Michael Kraaz to assist his research and discovery efforts, and will help him to structure the raw material into a TV-half hour narrative. Ronin will work with Michael to create first class marketing materials and to develop a public outreach campaign.

Audience Engagement and Social Impact

What actions does this project hope for its viewers after seeing this film?

Presented with this forgotten chapter of Australia’s film history, viewers will be inspired to investigate more of this rich cultural treasure trove and benefit from greater awareness of Australia’s audio-visual history. Porter’s work also encompasses commercials, television series and Australia’s first animated feature Marco Polo Junior versus the Red Dragon. Porter’s contemporaries include Cinesound founder Ken G Hall, fellow animators Yoram Gross and Felix the Cat’s creator Pat Sullivan. The film will be a strong and useful tool for teachers and students alike and awaken a new generation’s active engagement in achievements from our national arts and culture sector in the past. Budding filmmakers and other creatives should take inspiration from Porter’s career and achievements. They will be inspired to create characters and films exploring Australian identity and culture, rather than basing their work on overseas models.

Measurement and Evaluation

What is the projects indicators for success?

Ronin films will be able to quantify the project’s success by the number of sales of DVDs and streaming licences to educational institutions and public libraries in both Australia and overseas. As Porter was involved with many international productions, the film is likely to gain worldwide interest. Our previous documentary about Porter’s work found ready acceptance in North American animation festivals and these will be keen to see more.