Was Kwicky Koala made in Australia?

Kwicky Koala is an atrocious Hanna-Barbera cartoon, originally broadcast in 1981. I first saw it the next year, when it showed up as part of the school-holidays-only breakfast cartoon transmissions on our local commercial TV channel NEN-9/ECN-8.

Cartoons were a rare treat in our two-station market. But I could never warm to a poorly-animated koala – “the world’s fastest Australian bear”, the opening credits promised – proclaiming “I love eucalyptus leaves” in an American accent. Just more cheap US cartoon trash, I figured, and went back to reading Asterix books instead.

So I was a little surprised to discover that, apparently, Kwicky Koala was made in Australia. That’s what it said on the show’s Wikipedia entry, though there was a telling “citation needed” footnote against that claim. Further investigation was needed.

Obviously the show wasn’t solely made in Australia. Creator Tex Avery was American, as were the voice cast giving that high-speed koala a Yankee accent. But US animated series often have the animation itself produced overseas. Was that what happened?

A little digging soon establishes that Hanna-Barbera had indeed set up shop in Sydney in the 1970s. Dan and Lienors Torre devote an entire chapter of their Australian Animation : An International History (2018) to Hanna-Barbera Australia.

The operation kicked off in 1972 and ran until 1988. In 1974 Australian book publisher Hamlyn acquired a 51% stake, and produced a series of spin-off books featuring Hanna-Barbera characters. But the main reason for the studio was simpler: it was, the Torreses explain, “motivated primarily by a desire to significantly cut production costs” compared to making shows in the US.

That didn’t mean cartoons were entirely produced in Australia, as the book explains. Creative direction usually came from US HQ. Key animation was often done in Australia, with layouts coming from Brazil and various elements also outsourced to Spain.

During the 1980s, the Australian studio needed to push out a minimum of two animated episodes a week to be profitable. It was eventually sold to Disney when a reduced per-hour rate for shows from US networks made the business unviable. The TV animation business in the 1980s changed from one where the show itself was the main focus to one in which it was a medium used to flog toys (think Transformers or Masters Of The Universe).

That’s useful background, but the Torreses make no specific mention of Kwicky Koala. This is unsurprising given it was effectively a one-season flop, but means we’ll need to look further afield for full confirmation of what happened.

Animator James Baker (like me, a former Armidale boy) provides some useful evidence. In a fantastic blog post about his early career, he notes how in 1981 he wrote to Hanna Barbera Australia seeking work experience. This is what happened:

After mailing them letters and drawings for a year or more, they finally responded by sending me a drawing test. Using character model-sheets as a guide, I was to pose Hanna-Barbera characters in as many different situations as I could. The model-sheets were from “Kwicky Koala”, the last ever cartoon by Tex Avery, a TV series that was made in Sydney the year before. 

Animator Jon McLenahan also worked on the show amongst several other productions at the start of his career, as he recalled in a interview with Platypus Comix:

“Drak Pack,” “Popeye” (the worst ones ever made), and oh yeah, “Kwicky Koala” which was the last series Tex Avery had anything to do with … he died mid-series . . . Those were what I would call “The Dark Ages” of animation. The shows were badly designed and poorly conceived. There was this sense that kids would watch anything. There was no inspiration behind them. And they got worse.

Good to know even the animators agree with me about the show’s quality.

But for the most definitive evidence of Kwicky’s down under origins, we can turn to the 1981-1982 annual report from the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT).

Back then, Australian TV networks were required to produce a certain amount of Australian content in given categories (drama, news and so forth). Similar rules remain in place today, though they’re weaker. Each year the ABT would list all the relevant productions that qualified to earn each network “points”.

And in amongst the expected episodes of A Country Practice and Hoges For Prime Minister, here’s the entry for Kwicky Koala:

In this context, “Drama Series – Part Indigenous” means, as the ABT documentation explains, “drama, one or more basic elements of which (writing, acting or production) are non-Australian”. The numbers refer to the points per hour available for initial showings and repeats during peak and off-peak viewing hours.

While Kwicky Koala was clearly aimed at a kids’ audience, it didn’t qualify for the special “Children’s” category because that only applied to shows broadcast between 4pm and 5pm. Hence it was plunked under “Drama Series” instead.

Anyway, the evidence is clear. Kwicky really is part-Aussie,and broadcasters scored points for showing his terrible antics. Time to update that Wikipedia entry, methinks.

For more deep dives into Australian broadcast history, check out my definitive guide to the Star Wars Holiday Special in Australia.

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