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.