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Question: What is the name of Australia’s first animated feature film? If your answer is Dot and the Kangaroo, you’re wrong, as a chance discovery and some slap-dash research reveals. Having dredged an obscure animated short of Australian origin from YouTube, this post was originally going to be a follow up to Paul’s post on the WWFFU’s Click Go the Shears [1956]. It’s vintage quality and cultural relevance made it interesting viewing in and of itself, but when Ozanimate looked closer it shed a remarkable light on the obscure origins of the animation industry in this country. This three minute short, uploaded by a ‘retired [American] film producer and editor’ about this time last year, is simply titled Waltzing Matilda and offers no further hints as to who created it or when. As the title suggests, it’s a retelling of Banjo Paterson’s bush-ballad, but with a kitsch twist – the Jolly Swagman becomes a variation of Casper the Friendly Ghost and reaks terrible, terrible vengeance on the Troopers that pushed him to take his own life. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the short is the attention paid to the details of the Trooper’s uniforms, unique to Australia in the nineteenth century and reminiscent of the white riding pants and black boots featuring in the costumes of Charles Tait’s The Story of the Kelly Gang [1906] which, as a fun fact, was the world’s first feature film as defined by length.

As for the animator, the best guess Ozanimate could make at first was based on a sole comment on the upload given by an anonymous collector of classic Australian television, which states the creator was one Eric Porter, a pioneering animator who supposedly went on to create Australia’s first animated feature film, The Adventures of Marco Polo [1972]. Having never heard of Eric Porter and always assuming Yoram Gross’ Dot and the Kangaroo [1977] was Australia’s first animated feature, this Ozanimateur did some Indiana Jones style archeological research and found a comprehensive article on the Australian Government website which confirmed both the existence of Eric Porter, famous for Aeroplane Jelly cinema commercials in the 50s, and what is actually titled Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon [1972], Australia’s first animated feature. Now here’s the weird thing. Googling Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon revealed almost jack, and the Wikipedia article told you no more than the government website, in fact Eric Porter doesn’t even have a Wikipedia article. All we knew was that Marco was an 80 minute feature, directed by Eric Porter, produced by Animation International Inc. and told the story of young Marco Polo Junior and his friend Sandy the Seagull on their quest to the mythical kingdom of Xanadu to rescue Princess Shining Moon from the evil magician Foo-Ling. Luckily, however, IMDb was more comprehensive. It revealed more about Eric Porter in that he was born in Sydney, 1911, and was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to the film industry. It also revealed that Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon was a project that originated in the USA, having been tendered to a number of countries by American producer Sheldon Moldoff before finally being won by Eric Porter Studios, Sydney. It is unavailable on Blu-Ray, DVD, VHS or Beta Max, although apparently the Canberra Film Archive have originals and are awaiting a restoration deal with Kodak. I say apparently because, again, the source of that information was an anonymous guy on the internet. A guy who ‘attempted to source the negative from Porter’s widow, who was thrilled to see renewed interest.’ But the story doesn’t end here! Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon returned to the States in 2001 to become a re-edit and partial re-make, using footage from the Australian original. A snippet of Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu [2001] is available on YouTube. So without further ado, Ozanimate presents a taste of what the first animated Australian feature might have looked like.

And there you have it. Miyazaki it ain’t, but its an historical starting point at least. There’s much more to Eric Porter which will hopefully be explored in later posts. The Aeroplane Jelly ads are great! However, the fact that there’s so little written about him and barely any coverage of his significant contribution to Australian animation highlights the fact that in many ways animation is still a pioneer industry here. Hop on Wikipedia and write whatever you like about Eric Porter, you’d be the first to do so!

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