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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!

  • I’d like to know more about GRENDEL GRENDEL GRENDEL and ABRA CADABRA myself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abra_Cadabra_%28film%29

  • Fascinating. The Wiki-article for Grendel Grendel Grendel states “this was the second full-length fully-animated film ever made in Australia (coming after 1972’s Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon).” The plot thickens!!

  • There’s much of Eric Porter and other pioneers of Australian animation in Craig Monahan’s 1989 feature documentary “Animated”. Don’t know if the film is widely available (and with a title like that, it’s hard to separate it from all the other search engine results), but it’s well worth a look if you can dig it up.

  • Sparky

    Agree with Greg, the “Animated” doco features quite a bit about Eric P and some early history and a cool bunch of old fella’s sitting around drinking wine and gas bagging about the old days!
    ..btw…The name of the production company was Air Pictures International (API).
    there’s a terrific person in Melbourne doing her PhD in early Oz animation history (Lienors Torre) and bringing to light a lot of these incredible pioneers…including Alex Stitt of “Grendel” fame.. Will try and find some refs for you

  • S Barker

    Just a clarification: the ‘Canberra Film Archive’ referred to is actually the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. There website is http://www.nfsa.gov.au

  • Roger Hallett

    My father Beresford Hallett worked with Eric Porter at the North Sydney studios. Apart from working on a new Optical Sound system used in TV commercials, I believe the equipment was used on the sound track of Marco Polo. I visited the studios and watched as the animators were drawing each frame on foils before they were put to film frame at a time. The movie was completed but I was lead to believe that the ‘closed shop’ distribution system in Australia effectively killed off the film. Bloody shame!

  • Cam Ford

    I was one of the sequence directors on “Marco Polo Jr”, and one of the “cool bunch of old fella’s sitting around drinking wine” that Sparky mentions. I remember “Marco” with great fondness. It wasn’t perfect, and the American-written story was a bit clunky in parts, but overall, on a budget of $650,000 – about one eighth of a Disney feature of the time – I reckon it wasn’t too bad!
    I worked with Eric for a number of years, so any thing you want to know about “Marco”, feel free to contact me!

  • John Haymes

    My wife, Gaye (now Gaby) Porter, is Eric’s daughter. She will be posting some more information as soon as she can get some free time from the grandkids. Eric won the “Raymond Longford Award” in 1983 for his contribution to the film industry. He was also awarded an AO just before he died in 1983. Contact Gaby if you would like to see Eric’s biography.

  • gail brown

    Maro pollo was my first jobI have newspaper clipping of showing at movie. Invition for staff. Brosur ext.

  • Maybe you could contact Gaby (Gaye) Porter, Eric’s daughter, who established the Wombarra Sculpture Garden. She is a real wealth of knowledge abour Eric, who won the Longford Award and was awarded an Order of Australia for his work. Gaby also has an OAM for her contribution to sculpture and the arts. Eric’ wife Joy died a few years ago, but gave a lot of material to the Film Archives in Canberra. Also contact Michael Kraaz (mikeolmec@yahoo.com) who is preparing a chronical on Eric’ life.

    gaby@wombarra.com. 02 4268 2695

  • December 2015
    National Film and Sound Archive has just released MARCO POLO JNR for sale on DVD. It also includes a short about the making of the film, showing one single sequence through from initial storyboard through to finished film. The DVD came from a new HD telecine transfer of the best preservation components held in the archive. A DCP has been made and is available for screening.
    Link to NFSA Shop – Marco Polo Jnr
    http://shop.nfsa.gov.au/product_info.php?products_id=4076

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