March 2011

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Bunyip Bluegum & Albert, A Magic Pudding

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Bunyip Bluegum was a fine, round, splendid, well-bred young fellow. Compelled to leave home by the size of his uncle’s whiskers, he set off to see the world. In his rush to leave, however, he quite overlooked the issue of lunch. Fortunately, just as the pangs of hunger struck, he came upon two people – one a sailor, the other a penguin – in the act of eating a pudding. But this was no ordinary pudding. It was a cut-an’-come-again pudding, a pudding that positively cried out to be eaten. “Call him Albert when addressing him,” advised Sam Sawnoff, the penguin, for the pudding had a cranky temperament and a tendency to run away on its spindly legs. So begins Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, published in December 1918. It was a critical success but a slow seller. A guinea was a lot to ask for a children’s book, however lavishly bound. But for Lindsay, then 38, the task of writing and illustrating a children’s storybook might well have served to distract him from a deep and recent personal grief.

For almost 20 years, Norman Lindsay had been the resident cartoonist and illustrator for the Bulletin, providing the editorial visuals for its race-based nationalism. Aborigines were lazy children, Jews were hook-nosed money-grubbers, Chinamen were both comical and threatening. And, when fresh cannon fodder was required during World War I, Lindsay provided the recruiters with a powerful propaganda tool in the form of virulent pro-conscription posters. Huns in pickle-sticker helmets with the faces of bloody-fanged slavering baboons. The Trumpet Calls, and so forth.

In 1915, his younger brother, Reg, answered that call. He was killed in France the following year. He looked, it was said, a lot like the heroic Anzac in Lindsay’s recruiting posters.

Like many experiencing a similar loss, Lindsay tried spiritualism. And, if only because of the time and effort required for their creation, Bunyip Bluegum and Albert must have offered a form of consolation.

When Norman Lindsay died in 1969, his name was synonymous with images of frolicking nymphs with voluptuous breasts. Classical allusions, wonderful use of watercolour, Elle Macpherson in the nuddy.

Meanwhile, the Magic Pudding became our national metaphor, as fought-over and self-replenishing as the original Albert. Keating called Howard a Puddin’ Thief. PP McGuinness, himself a dead spit for Bunyip Bluegum’s poodle-whiskered Uncle Wattleberry, declared the very concept a dangerous socialistic fantasy.

As for the dark history of how this limitless resource was acquired in the first place, little is remembered and even less said.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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