How Footrot Flats shaped my identity as a New Zealander

By   /   March 13, 2017  /   9 Comments

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My childhood was shaped by Footrot Flats. Every year in the stocking would be the annual Footrot Flats compilation – every summer I would feast on Ball’s rural farming fantasy world, giggling my way through his interpretation of what being a Kiwi was.

Murray Ball has died, long live the Grey Ghost.

My childhood was shaped by Footrot Flats. Every year in the stocking would be the annual Footrot Flats compilation – every summer I would feast on Ball’s rural farming fantasy world, giggling my way through his interpretation of what being a Kiwi was.

The weird pride I felt that we could have our own cartoon series that had our own quirks and our own voice on par with anything anyone else put out was my first patriotism.

Dog, Wal, Cooch Windgrass, Cheeky Hobson, Aunt Dolly, the goat, the magpie, Horse the cat, Major the pig dog, Jess and Rangi – all his characters seemed to be manifestations of NZ caricature that were immediately and culturally identifiable to me in my childhood.

Wal’s gruff exterior with a romantic heart of gold, Rangi’s fierce Maori nationalism, Cooch’s environmentalism – they were all recognisable in the rural community where I grew up.

Dog seemed to sum up all the optimism and stupidity of us as a young country, but there were also moments of deep poignance that always surprised by how sad they were…

Ball was political and was always willing to lend his art to progressive movements like the MMP campaign…

…and his offshoot Stanley set within me a political curiosity that told me it was okay to be political in a country that seemed too intellectually insecure to form an opinion beyond rugby and sheep …

… I remember how excited I was when I went to the old Footrot Flats fun park. It was a no frills Disneyland, with all the do it yourself charm of a homemade lemonade stand.

For me, Footrot Flats was an important part of how my identity as a Kiwi formed, with Ball’s passing a bit of my childhood leaves with him.

Much love Murray and my grateful thanks to your gift in helping me feel comfortable in my skin as a New Zealander.

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  1. countryboy says:

    Yep. You had me until dave fucking dobbin.
    And lets all spare a thought for John Clarke. AKA Fred Dagg before that one drops off his perch too.

    The investment b-wankers grow old in rude good health, pickled in their own vile juices, while NZ’s best creative hearts and minds dissolve into the soil.
    Someone wrote; This Earth, this planet, this place is Hell. Literally. This is Hell.

  2. WILD KATIPO says:

    You have summed up exactly how I felt , Martyn… it made me smile as I read it – and yes !… I remember those cartoons you used as well ! L0L !

    And you really set the tone with that ” I got one up on you ‘cos I can being a dog ” sly backwards glance of the dog as Wal and his mate wander on past …

    HAHAHAHA ! … so endearing.

    My Dad had a Huntaway /Kelpie cross who once wandered up to my Dads foreman , cocked his hind leg … and issued forth a golden fountain of acceptance of said foreman’s leg when he was a wee pup – we called him Bowser .

    Sheep dogs… lol! … Just a tad more shrewd than our German Shepherd was…

    It was a wonderful time in New Zealand thanks to talented people like Murray Ball… I too always had to have the latest compilation… in fact Ive still got a bunch of them.

    Guys like Murray Ball helped to define an era.

    And it was a grand era to boot.

  3. mary_a says:

    A great big slice of Kiwi has gone.

    Murray Ball was the voice of what being Kiwi was.

    Long may Stanley and Footrot Flats continue to make us think and put a smile on our faces.

    RIP Murray.

  4. Iain Mclean says:


    Absolutely loved your article.

    Yes, Footrot and Ball were great. Sadly miss. He will go down in NZ folk law.

    My generation got Barry Crump covered in Std 6 and early college from memory.
    Which evolved into Fred Dagg. Now with Television.

    Although a little older than yourself at the time I had a similar experience to
    what you so vividly describe. Fred Dagg became my entry into politics,My hero. He still is.

    But back to cartoons, I too enjoyed the xmas present books.
    But the movie was a bit of a letdown for me,though. I enjoyed the music clip.

    In passing,who did the forrester and the hedgehog? Can’t quite remember.


  5. ‘Footrot Flats’ was a part of my subconscious psyche. I’d look out for it in the newspapers just to see what poignant commentary Wal or Dog had to make on a given day.

    It wasn’t as “strident” as ‘Stanley, The Paleolithic Hero’, it was more subtle. But it had that underlying current of egalitarianism and humility in ourselves, running through it.

    In a way, Murray Ball was part of the growing, changing, maturing national psyche of the country. But I fear he have have become despondent at where his beloved Aotearoa went, post-1984…

    • Patrick says:

      As my neighbour, who was captured by the Africa Corp in North Africa and spent the rest of the war hungry in Germany, said to me ” This country was set up for us to look after each other. What is happening now ( think Rogernomics circa 1986) goes against everything we believed in and fought for.”
      He was right but it’s too late to go back now.
      Murray’s NZ was the one I remember growing up in the 50’s.

  6. Coz says:

    The original LOL, LMFAO,ROTFLMFA etc.