Blinky Bill and Nutsy (#3) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1937 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 156/2 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

The third and final Blinky Bill book brings the adventures of the rambunctious koala to an end and introduces a whole new set of characters to get to know. Gone are the days of the same few characters, now there’s a heap of new names and creatures to get to know. If you’re like me and grew up in Australia in the 90s, you will recognise many of these characters from the television series, the difference is the story is not the same at all.

Wall has turned this simple bush story into a strange tale about animals behaving more and more like humans in ways that don’t even make sense. It’s gone from animals with a society but still behaving like animals to a complete anthropomorphising of these characters with chequebooks and boarding houses, hair getting put in rollers and the need for potato bins. They are now living their lives like humans but in animal form.

From waxing lyrical about the wonders of zoos at the end of book two, Wall opens book three showing us the animal abuse suffered and the desperate need to escape. The inconsistencies are annoying to read about, especially when there are so many contradictions not only in previous books but in the same story. The established society had changed so much and with new characters it was like a new story starting from scratch.

This time Nutsy joins Blinky on his adventures around the bush as she is the new addition to his family. Found lost and alone Mrs Koala invites her to stay and soon she is out adventuring with Blinky. With new friends like Splodge, Nutsy and Mr Wombat there is a consistency in the tales as these faces pop up again and again. Blinky has adventures around his home with the same mischief causing approach, angering various animals, helping others, and there’s the standard chapter where he and his friends make their way onto human land and cause chaos.

I know coming at this almost 100 years later will skew any interpretations but I can see how this would have been received by kids and parents when it was first published. They would related to Blinky being a naughty boy and getting into trouble as well as Mrs Koala’s frustrations. The fascination with Australian animals they may have seen near their homes or not see at all would be delightful, a long tradition seen with English literature coming to an Australian setting. It would also be a way to gain sympathy for these creatures, I can see Wall’s attempts at trying to sneak in references to helping them after fires and treating them like wild animals but it is quite subtle.

For all its faults from a modern perspective it was interesting to see the original story and the adventures of Blinky and the mischief he gets up to. Even though the audiobooks are three separate stories, the physical copies are always a collection of all three together. Listening to the audiobooks back to back was like reading the collection but it also made me realise the changes between each book. McGregor does a good job as narrator and the voices and tone she uses suited the style of writing. I missed out on the illustrations Wall had done scattered through the pages but looking at my paperback copy they are simple and are more decorative than anything else. As a classic it reads as such and it’s a good source material to gain inspiration from which is why Blinky Bill is still as captivating today.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill Grows Up (#2) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1934 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 150/2 hrs and 31 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

After coming home to his mother after the last batch of mischief, Blinky has gone out adventuring again and he meets a whole host of new creatures. Wall has changed her approach with this story completely. While the first book kept the animal more natural, this one tends to stray into the anthropomorphising area. There are lucky dips and bazaars, and while the animals are still animals, they start participating in more human type activities. 

The koala culls are still underway, it is mentioned that 200 000 of them have been shot which explains why there are none left in the area. Again, no idea why, if there was a mention of the need for it other than fun it would still be terrible, but Wall makes it sound like they are culling them just because they can. Especially given the description of the killing of Blinky’s father in book one. Strangely enough Blinky himself is now not immune to killing. He easily advocates for killing other animals and even has animals killed himself for trivial reasons but is horrified when humans do it and sees it as unjustified. 

There is not real sense of how long Blinky has been gone on this round of adventuring, whether it is a few days or weeks, Mrs Koala seems happy to have him back each time though regardless. The Australian animals are on show once more, though Wall includes a hedgehog (though the illustration is of a porcupine) instead of an echidna which was curious. But possums, bull ants, goannas and lyrebirds all get to be on show. There’s also introduced species like foxes and rabbits who get their own part of the story too.

Where Wall starts to lose my understanding is when she informs the readers that koalas are happy in the zoo. This is part of the story where she breaks the fourth wall and address readers directly. The narrative style has always been one where Wall is telling Blinky’s story to a reader and even with this shift the tone remains the mystical lyrical style that brings you into Blinky’s world, but it also tells readers that instead of being happy in their natural habitat koalas love being at the zoo. She then contradicts herself by telling readers not to kidnap the koalas from the zoo and keep them as pets because they need to be surrounded by their bush, and yet my understanding is, being in the zoo, a 1930s zoo on top of that, is hardly any better.

There’s a lot more confusion with this second collection of stories than the first. Blinky still goes on adventures but they feel less connected. It jumps all over the place and it’s jarring to go from animals running a fundraising bazaar to Blinky orchestrating vengeance on predators to Blinky causing mischief at a farm to back in the bush meeting friendly animals like birds and hedgehogs. Granted this story has been strange from the start, but by the end it turned into a strange propaganda about zoos and animals and I was glad to be finished.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill (#1) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1933 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 100/2 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

When I say I have wanted to read this series for almost half of my life I would not be telling a life. I remember gazing in wonder at the huge, illustrated hardback collection at the bookshop and wishing I had the money to buy it. Even when I eventually bought the much smaller, cheaper paperback it still sat on my shelf for years waiting for me to pick it up. Now that I have read the stories, I’m glad I can tick it off because it is quite a unique, strange collection and yet one that has captured the hearts of people all around this country given he is still popular and being reimagined for kids today.

First published in 1933 the time period is evident in Wall’s writing style and the events in this book. The notion of Australian animals is a fascination and similar to May Gibbs with the Gumnut stories, telling stories of “the Australian bush” was the way to go. We’re introduced to Blinky after he’s born and how the animals around comment on him, watch him get named, and then, in a weird turn of events see him being nannied by a wallaby and almost get eaten by a snake. Why a newborn koala is being taken from the tree to the ground is not even the first question, the better one is why his mother can’t raise him herself. But such was the times I suppose and Wall is reflecting human behaviour onto these animals.

To give her some slight credit, Wall doesn’t overly anthropomorphise the animals. There is a group that live around the tree and are neighbours, animals hunt and are preyed upon, and we see Blinky’s early life. He is cheeky and mischievous, the iconic red “knickerbockers” on him from a young age.

Wall doesn’t hold things back either, there is a proper depressing description of the death of Blinky’s father in the first chapter, one told from both his perspective and the others. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t graphic, but it is rough to listen to. As Blinky grows up and explores the bush we see more of the animal life and the balance with humans and see the tense relationship between them.

Blinky has always been portrayed as being cheeky, but he is a lot rougher and harsher in the book. He hates his neighbour, he also runs away a lot when he doesn’t get his own way. The “reality of bush life” is through this story, Wall obviously wanted a cute tale about the Aussie bush creatures but it isn’t quite as cute with hunters culling koalas for no reason and animals preying on others, but it also has a simplicity about it where Blinky comes across various Australian animals and having brief encounters with them. Wall’s Australian knowledge only goes so far as Blinky’s mother is called Mrs Bear for most of the book until it switches to Mrs Koala and Blinky is called a cub not a joey, but given the actual weirdness in the story that part I might forgive her for.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson | Project Gutenberg

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Published: 4th December 1984 (print)/15th September 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Puffin Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 208/6 hrs and 14 mins
Narrator: Kate Hood
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

1478198Distraught over her parents’ separation, Abigail follows a strange child called Beatie Bow and time slips back a hundred years where she becomes involved with an Australian shopkeeper’s family.

I was unsure what to expect from this, I’d heard great things about this Aussie classic and since it was reasonably short I was intrigued. I enjoyed the story from the start, I liked how Abigail is defiant and independent, and I loved the relationship she had with her mother.

I was quite drawn into the story by the end, it feels like a longer story than it is and time stretches on but does not drag. Park has done a great job mixing the time periods and blending the historical with the contemporary. Despite being published in 1980, there is a wonderful 70s vibe through this story because it is the time of the women’s liberation movement and this comes across in the dialogue between Abigail and her mother. Limiting minor spoilers I loved how fiercely Abigail is trying to reason with her mother over her relationship with her father. It gave a wonderfully modern feel to the story and I think Park does a great job satisfying both parties with how she handles the situation.

I was surprised by the ending but Park makes this work in how she loops it back to the earlier story. It subjects your expectations and keeps a little of the magic alive, certainly giving a satisfactory feel as a reader as we too have become attached to these figures of history as we spend time with them as well.

Kate Hood does a great job as narrator. Her use of accents makes each character stand out, though Park’s writing does that well enough as it is, with each time period represented through dialogue, language and descriptions.

The historical aspect brings to light a side of Sydney I hadn’t thought about before. The reign of Queen Victoria and the fact Australia is still reasonably new are charming factors, and Park shows us a little of how life was during that time. I understood how Park makes it sound rather peaceful and fulfilling, while also showing the hardships. The balance between the current times and the olden days is surely the perfect way to live and seeing Abigail come to that realisation was great.

For a time before young adult books were really a thing, this is a good coming of age story that fills in the gaps between kids and teens, for those early years before becoming a fully-fledged teenager and are still trying to navigate growing up and moving on from childhood.

You can purchase Playing Beatie Bow via the following

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Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Goodbye Mr Chips by James Hilton

Published: 1st December 1982Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Laurel Leaf
Pages: 115
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Full of enthusiasm, young English schoolmaster Mr. Chipping came to teach at Brookfield in 1870. It was a time when dignity and a generosity of spirit still existed, and the dedicated new schoolmaster expressed these beliefs to his rowdy students. Nicknamed Mr. Chips, this gentle and caring man helped shape the lives of generation after generation of boys. He became a legend at Brookfield, as enduring as the institution itself. And sad but grateful faces told the story when the time came for the students at Brookfield to bid their final goodbye to Mr. Chips.

 

I can see why this is a much loved and adored book. It took me no more than an hour to read but it is so heartfelt and beautifully written that I could have flipped back to page one and spent another hour in the life of Mr Chipping. This book follows the story of a teacher at an English school through the changes and historical events of the late 19th to the early decades of the 20th century. Mr Chips is wonderfully depicted and his love of his job and commitment is amazing. As the book ended I was so involved that while it was emotional, it was also comforting and almost reassuring I guess. I don’t really know how else to put it. I highly recommend this to anybody and everybody.

You can purchase Goodbye, Mr Chips via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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