Commonwealth Bank - Willie Wombat: Willie's song (1939)
Willie Wombat was produced by Eric Porter – Australia’s first career animator – to promote the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia’s School Banking program. Willie lounges and plays while the other animals, showing foresight, collect and deposit food (or in the case of the dog, signposts) in the bank.
In this clip, Willie Wombat sings his ‘I’m Willie the Wombat’ song, espousing that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. Because of the film’s age, the technical quality of the audio track is not great. But it’s still possible to appreciate the film’s songs (by Lance Watkinson) and music (by John Kay) – very much of their time and obviously written to please the youthful audience the film was trying to reach. Recording and sound post-production were done at Supreme Sound.
In this Eric Porter animation of ‘the grasshopper and the ant’ fable, Willie Wombat lazes and plays all summer. He laughs at his animal mates devoting time to collecting and depositing food in their local bank. Winter arrives and Willie, starving and cold, tries to withdraw food from the bank. The teller can find no record of any deposits for Willie. Dejected, Willie looks on as the other animals eat heartily and stay warm in their cosy homes. Willie collapses from hunger in the snow, but his friends come to the rescue just in time. The following summer Willie, having learned his lesson, deposits food in the bank with dedication and enthusiasm.
Title Curator's Notes
Willie Wombat was produced by Eric Porter Studios for the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia, to promote its School Banking program. Eric Porter (1911-1983) was Australia’s first career animator. He owned and ran his own production company – known as Eric Porter Studios or Eric Porter Productions and located in Sydney – from the 1930s right up until 1975. In 1972 he produced and directed the country’s first animated feature, Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon, but for the bulk of his career, the bread and butter work came from advertisements (many for Artransa Park Film Studios) and other sponsored projects. In 1965 Porter, Artransa Park Television and Fontana Films all tendered for the famous Dollar Bill commercial, to promote the national changeover to decimal currency the following year – a contract eventually awarded to Artransa. A year before Porter died, he was presented with the AFI Raymond Longford Life Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to the Australian film and television industry.
Willie Wombat was one of Porter’s very early works. There’s some discrepancy about the date of the film’s production. The NFSA, which holds a large collection of Porter’s works, lists it as circa 1938. Records at the National Archives date it at circa 1939, while other documentation in the Commonwealth Bank collection suggests it may have been completed a few years later. Certainly it appears the film was used in schools well into the 1950s. Regardless, the period coincides with the rise in popularity of the (now very famous) sound-era animation characters coming out of studios like Disney, Fleischer and Walter Lantz, and production units like Schlesinger at Warner Bros, and Hanna Barbera at MGM. In Willie Wombat Porter anthropomorphises animal characters and reworks a traditional fable – both devices commonly employed by his animator contemporaries.
The history of the School Banking program is intrinsically linked to the history of the bank itself. At the outset school banking had primarily been managed by the various state banks. Founded soon after Federation, the Commonwealth Bank quickly merged with two of the existing state banks. During the Great Depression, federal emergency financial measures saw further amalgamations with state banks. The Commonwealth Bank’s decision to retain school banking resulted in a national program, with a principle of encouraging children to save money for their futures and an aim of promoting financial literacy amongst young Australians. By 1955 School Savings Bank balances totalled £2.4 million, representing the savings of 340,000 school children.
Notes by Adrienne Parr
This clip shows part of an animated film from about 1939, sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank, that promotes school banking to schoolchildren using a version of the traditional story ‘The ant and the grasshopper’. Willy Wombat sings that he wants to play instead of save. Other Australian native animals including a koala, a kookaburra and a kangaroo save their food, ready to deposit it in the bank for winter’s hard times. Handpainted animation is used as well as a three-dimensional model of a bank. A possum teller receives the food deposits of a kangaroo and joey.
Educational value points:
- The animated film from which this clip comes was made to promote the Commonwealth Bank’s School Banking program and encourage the habit of saving among primary school children. Schools accepted students’ cash deposits, recorded in their passbooks, and the Bank charged no fees. School banking programs had been introduced into every state by 1928.
- This clip is a rare early example of Australian animated film, made at a time when the US productions of Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios dominated animation. In 1912 Harry Julius produced the first notable Australian animated film but Australia could not support the cost of animated film production on the same scale as the Hollywood film industry. Eric Porter Studios, which produced this clip, grew by making propaganda films in the Second World War.
- The message that saving is an important protection against hard times reflects values that prevailed in Australia in the 1930s and 40s. The Great Depression, a worldwide economic disaster that started in 1929 and lasted until the Second World War, had caused mass unemployment and widespread hardship. In these circumstances money was scarce and frugal attitudes to saving and expenditure had become common.
- The animation techniques used in the clip are cel animation and the filming of three-dimensional models. The animals were drawn and handpainted on a series of transparent acetate sheets or cels (short for celluloid), each one slightly different to depict movement. These were then filmed one at a time onto motion picture film against a painted background. A miniature model of the bank was also constructed and filmed.
- The influence of the work of Disney Studios’ animated films is very apparent in this Australian animation. Willy Wombat’s song with its orchestral accompaniment is similar in style to songs in works such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1939).
- This was the first film of Eric Porter (1911–83), an important pioneer in the Australian film industry. He wanted to develop an Australian equivalent of Disney Studios and established Eric Porter Studios to produce animated films. These included Bertie the Aeroplane (1942) which was, like much of their work, a commercial. Porter produced Marco Polo Junior versus the Red Dragon (1971), Australia’s first animated feature film, and was recognised by the AFI in 1982.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia