Skippy - Be Our Guest: 'I wish I could understand you'
When two Aboriginal men take her by the arms to lead her away from a contaminated waterhole, Clancy is initially scared. However when they offer her fresh water and something to eat at their camp she realises their good intent and relaxes. Finding a means of communication without a shared language, a tribe member draws a snake to show what she is eating. Politely putting the food aside, Clancy then draws a map to express the land features of the home to which she needs to return.
Summary by Tammy Burnstock
This episode was written in 1967, the same year as Australian voters recorded the largest ever ‘Yes’ vote (over ninety per cent) in a referendum to grant Aboriginal Australians the right to vote and the same citizen rights as other Australians.
Film historian Graham Shirley commented on producer Lee Robinson’s ‘absolute respect’ for Aboriginal people. Robinson, who had been a Second World War correspondent, started work as a director at the Commonwealth Film Unit (later to become Film Australia) in 1946 when 22 years of age. In an interview with Albert Moran, Robinson described his first assignment researching and writing a script on the Aboriginal painter, Albert Namatjira. ‘I went off to the Northern Territory with Axel Poignant in April or May and we spent quite a lot of time up there. We went out and lived with Namatjira as he toured the country painting … I was fascinated by the Northern Territory. And from then on I worked almost exclusively there.’
He goes on to describe the high adventure of being ‘two-man teams that were able to go in the bark canoes with the Aboriginal people catching crocodiles with their bare feet’. Apart from the subject matter, Robinson also believed that ‘the outback presented us with something that Hollywood couldn’t challenge’.
After the best part of four years spent making films in the Northern Territory, Robinson formed a production company, Southern International, with actors Chips Rafferty and John McCallum, going on to direct documentaries and feature films including They’re a Weird Mob (1966), Barrier Reef (1971–72), Boney (1972–73) and Attack Force Z (1982). Lee Robinson died in 2003 at the age of 80.
Skippy - Be Our Guest Synopsis
Clancy (Liza Goddard) unwisely decides to go riding in the bush on the day her mother Mrs Merrick (Jessica Noad) is scheduled to visit. Thrown from her horse, dazed and lost, she is discovered by a group of Aboriginal men. Head ranger Matt Hammond (Ed Devereaux), pilot James King (Tony Bonner) and brothers Mark (Ken James) and Sonny Hammond (Garry Pankhurst) try and find Clancy without letting on to her worried mother that she is missing.
Clancy soon finds a way to communicate with the men and, despite not being not at all sure where they are going and with little faith that they will not end up in Queensland instead, follows them to arrive home just in the nick of time!
Skippy and Sonny make a very limited appearance in this episode, which is one of three episodes that feature members of the Aboriginal Theatre, from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, while they were visiting Sydney. In fact, the only bit of Skippy magic featured in this episode is in the penultimate scene when a bedraggled and filthy trouser-wearing Clancy tells Skippy to listen very carefully and then elicits her help in finding and bringing her a dress so that she can hide her tracks and make a good impression on her visiting mother.
Skippy – Be Our Guest is episode 37 of series one. It was broadcast on the Nine Network in Melbourne on 25 March 1968 and Adelaide on 1 April 1968.
Notes by Tammy Burnstock