The Woman behind Blinky Bill: Dorothy Wall

August 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

I think it’s pretty safe to say that every Australian knows the character Blinky Bill, but how much do you know about Blinky’s creator, Dorothy Wall? Did you know that she was actually a New Zealander? Did you know she died pretty much a pauper? If you would like to know more, here’s her biography from the Australian Dictionary of Biography site:

Dorothy Wall (1894-1942), author and illustrator, was born on 12 January 1894 at Kilbirnie, Wellington, New Zealand. From the age of 10 Dorothy won scholarships and studied at the Christchurch School of Art and Wellington Technical School. Migrating to Sydney in 1914, she joined the Sun newspaper; in October she had an illustration in the Lone Hand, and in 1920 her children’s story, Tommy Bear and the Zookies, was published. On 4 November 1921 at St Alban’s Anglican Church, Five Dock, she married Andrew Delfosse Badgery, a clerk.

She won recognition as an illustrator of children’s books with her work for J. J. Hall’s The Crystal Bowl (1921). Her rather florid cherubs and pixies, Art Nouveau fairies and naturalistic animals shared similarities with the work of Ida Sherbourne Outhwaite. Wall continued to illustrate books for other writers, including Jacko—the Broadcasting Kookaburra (1933) and The Amazing Adventures of Billy Penguin (1934) for Brooke Nicholls, and Australians All (1934) for Nellie Grant Cooper. An ardent defender of Australian flora and fauna, Wall drew to educate as well as to entertain.

In 1933 she published her most famous book, Blinky Bill: The Quaint Little Australian, based on stories told to her only child, Peter. Blinky Bill Grows Up (1934) and Blinky Bill and Nutsy (1937) followed. While later critics have objected to the anthropomorphizing of her characters—animals dressed in trousers, dresses, aprons and bonnets act out suburban domestic situations in a stylized bushland setting—successive generations of children have delighted in the mischievous koala with his ‘boyish’ characteristics of adventurousness, impudence and curiosity.

Despite the success of Blinky Bill, Dorothy Wall still struggled to establish herself professionally and financially. Divorced in 1934, after she had removed herself and her son to a cottage at Warrimoo in the Blue Mountains, she wrote to her publishers, Angus & Robertson Ltd: ‘I’ve never cared for the honour and glory of seeing my name in print. £.S.D. is what matters to me now’. They gave her supplementary work, illustrating book jackets, for each of which she was paid about three guineas. Touched by the determination of this ‘little battler’, W. G. Cousins encouraged her, sending her advances, buying at her request lottery tickets (in which she had unflagging faith) and helping her pursue her schemes to sell her cartoons to American movie companies or her Blinky Bill motif to English china firms.

Depressed and ill, in 1937 Wall went back to the country of her birth and became an illustrator for the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Weekly News. Although financially secure and comfortable for the first time, she increasingly missed the sunshine, the ‘beautiful gum trees and the hard old stones and shrubs of the bush’. Her health improved, she resigned her job and in July 1941 returned to Sydney. She told Cousins: ‘I’ll have to start the battle over again but I feel much better and more able to combat disappointment’. Six months later, she died of pneumonia on 21 January 1942 at Cremorne. Survived by her son, she was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill, first published in 1939, was reprinted fifteen times between 1940 and 1965.



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