Skippy - Be Our Guest: 'I’m not keen on girls'
A confused and lost Clancy (Liza Goddard) wanders through the bush, followed by a group of Aboriginal men (members of the Aboriginal Theatre from Yirrkala, Arnhem Land) with uncertain intent. Meanwhile Mark Hammond (Ken James) confesses to helicopter pilot Jerry King (Tony Bonner) that while he is not keen on girls in general, he hopes Mrs Merrick will let Clancy stay. When Clancy’s riderless horse Bullet turns up, head ranger Matt Hammond (Ed Devereaux) is summoned and, fearing that Clancy may be badly hurt, Jerry is sent out to search for her.
Summary Tammy Burnstock
Apart from Skippy herself (contrary to popular belief Skippy is female as evidenced by her pouch), the series has an almost completely male cast. The first regular female character, teenage daughter of another park ranger who boards with the family, is played by Liza Goddard, the daughter of the new ABC Drama Department head at the time, David Goddard. Introduced in episode nine, she proved a popular cast addition although she never received a credit in the opening titles. The only other regular female guest star was Dr Anna Steiner (Elke Neidhardt), a German research scientist working in the park, but very much out of her depth in the Australian bush.
Producer Lee Robinson explained the addition of female characters which followed a trip to sell the pilot overseas: ‘The series was originally planned as a children’s series until I found there was a substantial overseas market for shows that fill peak-viewing timeslots. That is why we added the romantic interest.’
Woman characters in the series were generally represented as accident prone, often getting lost or just getting it wrong. Assistant editor Sara Bennett commented in recent documentary Skippy: the First Australian Superstar (2009) that behind-the-scenes treatment of female crew reflected this on-screen portrayal of women. This included much gratuitous off-screen filming of body parts and a ‘no jeans or trousers policy’ for women except for ‘slacks on Saturday’.
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
This episode of Skippy was made at a time when views of Aboriginal people in Australia were slowly transforming. As Tammy mentions in her clip notes it was the same year as the 1967 referendum which meant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples could be counted on the census as people and not as fauna. These changing views influenced the subsequent representation of Aboriginal people in film and television in Australia.
In the 1960s – years before opportunities for self-representation developed – Indigenous people were subject to portrayal by non-Indigenous filmmakers and producers. Fortunately Lee Robinson, the series producer, depicted the ‘tribe’ favourably: as knowledgeable of the landscape and means of survival, seen in their guidance of Clancy back to the headquarters and provision of food and clean water; and as skilful and artistic, evident in their elaborate feather body adornments and the men seen painting at the campsite.
However well meaning his representation, it is still limited to stereotypes. It certainly seems strange that in the mid 1960s a group of half-naked ‘natives’ would be living off the land within a short walking distance of a New South Wales national park headquarters.
The tribe, from Yirrkala in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, were members of an Aboriginal theatre troupe who were visiting Sydney. They appear in this and two other 1968 Skippy stories: Tara and They’re Singing Me Back. In all three stories Aboriginal people are represented as primitive, and anywhere between mystical and menacing, with no real place in the modern world unless they assimilate to white values and beliefs. In this episode the men turn out to be kind and helpful but for almost half the episode their intentions towards Clancy are unknown and even appear sinister or threatening.
Clancy’s relationship with the tribe could be interpreted as representative of Australia’s relationship with its Indigenous peoples. She is initially frightened by their presence but, even after she finds a way to communicate with them and their intentions are clear, she remains untrusting of their abilities due to the perceived insurmountable differences between her and the men.
Interestingly, Clancy finds it easier to communicate with Skippy, one of Australia’s most famous native fauna, than with the Aboriginal men she encounters in the bush, and who were once only considered as fauna by law.
Additional Notes by Sophia Sambono