During my recent wanderings through the bush I’ve come face to face with many banksia men. I heard murmurings in the scrub that many were dissatisfied with decades of ill will from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie readers. A few of the banksia elders urged me to show the world their real nature. I agreed but approached the assignment with trepidation, after all, these guys had a scary reputation.
All the bad Banksia men were sitting in their boats laughing and clapping their hands and looking up at a high cliff. There, on top of the cliff, stood the baddest of all the bad Banksia men. In one hand he held poor little Snugglepot and in the other a great stone. At his feet was a deep, deep hole.
Lots of bad. Very bad. With their slitty eyes and they sly grins bad Banksia men are the stuff of nightmares.
So with camera in hand and heart aflutter I set out to infiltrate the ranks of the Banksia men. My findings may surprise you.
I found that young banksias (banksia boys?) all start out beautiful but quite uniform.
As they grow older they develop their own varied and fascinating personalities. Rarely are they bold and raucous like the bad Banksia men. Many are, in fact, quite shy and can be found hiding quietly in the leaf litter. Gonzo here, was nervous about getting his picture taken and insisted I wait till he smoothed his whiskers.
There are the extroverts amongst them, however, these are fun-loving and cheeky, rather than cruel. This cheerful banksia lad showed me the ultimate act of kindness by laughing at one of my jokes (Sorry about the bad photo quality – he was jiggling with mirth).
Admittedly some of the elderly are a little grumpy but I guess you would be too if you were woken from an afternoon nap by a camera flash…
..but later when he woke up fully this Banksia man was a personable old fella. He told me he’d overheard a mother tell her little girl that he was wicked and evil. This upset him. He said he’d never harmed a single creature.
I found you could no more label banksia men as one thing or another – bad, good, cute, ugly, than you could a crowd of people. Each was an individual with their own style and temperament.
There are the straight up and down, clean-shaven sorta guys (slightly nerdy).
There are the backwoods men with their bald heads and flowing beards. Like Bob here. He did like to spin a yarn but he was all ears when I told him about my mission to seek the truth about banksia men.
Of course you get your flamboyant types who are very at home in front of the camera. They love showing off their body decorations and eccentric hairstyles. They are not particularly worried about the ‘bad’ label but did think the styling of bad Banksia men was apalling.
I also met a few happy-go-lucky, scruffy types who didn’t care a nut about what people thought of them.
In all my time amongst the different tribes of banksia men I didn’t find one who wanted to kidnap, loot,scratch or spit. So please, parents, when you go walking through the bush don’t allow your prejudices to colour your views. If you look hard enough among the banksia trees you will find more good and generous types than bad and devious.
So what of the other enemies in the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories. Do they deserve a reprieve?
Certainly, I could do a piece on the poor, maligned, Mr Snake. Snakes, like banksia men, are not all bad. Yes, it is easy to shudder at the sight of their slithery, scaled bodies but, every one, poisonous, non-poisonous and constrictors alike, serve a purpose in the bush community.
Mr Kookaburra even admits. “It would be very awkward for me if there were no snakes to eat.”
What of the other main enemy in the May Gibbs stories? The ugliest, strangest creature of all.
“They have many skins which they take off many times. When all the skins are off (they) look like a pale frog..
This horrible enemy traps Ragged Blossom and Cuddlepie in a jar and, just for fun, shakes them about so their poor little heads knock against the glass.
“Just because we are little they think we can’t feel,” said Cuddlepie…
I’m afraid I have to agree with the wise, laughing bird on this particular baddy.
“These Humans,” said Mr Kookaburra “are as bad as bad,..”
You’ll get no argument from me, Mr Kookaburra. Destructive, thoughtless and selfish, humans are beyond redemption.
Footnote : I owe a great deal to May Gibbs. Her stories were not of strange foreign places like the England of the Famous Five or the India of The Jungle Book. She wrote of my childhood landscape – the coastal Australian bush. I knew the gum blossoms and nuts, lizards and kookaburras and, of course, bad Banksia men. The characters May Gibbs created were my friends and… enemies, if I imagined them to be. To me the bush was already a wonderful playground. The stories of the gumnut babies made it magical as well. One of my proudest moments and earliest memories was of a neighbour and I winning a fancy dress competition dressed as Snugglepot and Cuddlepie ( it’s not what you think – we had pink leotards on). I so wish I had a picture, or some remnant of those outfits. I do, at least, have my treasured original copy of, The Complete Adventure of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, with the inscription:
To Leigh with love from Mum and Dad on your 8th birthday.