TRAVELS IN TIME Fun in the outback

Adults have fond memories of the books they encountered on their journey as readers. In this series, we look at some favourite books from childhood. This month, Tony Quinton tells us about his most-loved loan from his local library.
 


Bottersnikes and Gumbles is a journey into a world very different from the green, suburban village I grew up in. I came across it in primary school and returned to it many times.
 

SA Wakefield’s tales of the mean, crotchety Bottersnikes and the funny, loveable Gumbles are enchanting. The short stories are basically Wile E. Coyote versus Roadrunner style battles between predator and prey. The twist is that the Bottersnikes don’t want to eat the hapless Gumbles – their cruel intention is to use the Gumbles as servants.
 

Of course the Gumbles are having none of it. Unfortunately their cheeky, fun loving nature and utter helplessness when they laugh makes them easy to capture. Fortunately they have Tink, a Gumble who has beautiful ideas to get them out of trouble.
 

The author takes every opportunity to illustrate the utter laziness of the Bottersnikes as illustrated by this extract:



The King’s ears turned bright red because he was angry – this always happens when they get angry – and the cause of his temper was a thistle growing through the bottom of his bed. But he was too lazy to pull it out and just stood there looking, with his ears growing redder.



The author takes care to contrast Bottersnike behaviour with that of the Gumbles. They are kind and helpful to the other creatures of the Australian bush country. As a child I always rooted for the Gumbles. The Gumbles used their brains against Bottersnikes brawn and I appreciated their ingenuity. 


However I also loved the Bottersnikes because they were so funny. Their ruthlessness was tempered by complete ineptitude. Their failure to keep the Gumbles captive is often a direct consequence of their own greed, selfishness and inability to keep their temper.
 

The Bottersnikes are not just a generic enemy. They have clearly defined personalities. The self-important and aggressive King Bottersnike is a very different character to the sly and conniving Chank. While sleepy Smiggles can dream things that become real and the Weathersnike clearly thinks itself intellectually superior to all other snikes.
 

The description of the human rubbish being used as the Bottersnike habitat reminds the reader of how the natural environment is so easily spoiled by people. I liked the way both creatures repurpose items thrown away much like Elizabeth Beresford’s Wombles.
 

You can’t discuss this book without highlighting the wonderfully crafted illustrations by Desmond Digby. He takes Wakefield’s descriptions and creates renderings of the Australian landscape and its inhabitants that enhance the stories. They made me laugh no matter how many times I read the book over the years.
 
My much-loved copy of Bottersnikes and Gumbles.
 [Picture credit: A. Quinton]

 
Being short tales they are ideal for reading aloud at bedtime. The contrast between the growly Bottersnikes and happy-go-lucky Gumbles provides amusing possibilities for any parent who is a frustrated actor.
 

In 2016 the stories were turned into a set of short animations by Netflix. Fortunately the wild and freewheeling style of the books is still maintained. The rubbish dump backdrops are rendered beautifully while the animated characters faithfully reproduce Desmond Digby's original drawings. The vocal talents bringing the tales to life include Miriam Margolyes, Jeff Rawle and Kathryn Drysdale among others. Episode One can be found on YouTube.
 

Bottersnikes and Gumbles is a funny book. As a child, the short tales worked well and persuaded me to read just one more. SA Wakefield is skilled at showing the contrast between kindness and anger. 


Among all the capers and silliness there are environmental messages about looking after the world we live in too. There are also interesting insights into human failings. How we treat others as objects to be used. How our negative emotions can take over and consume us, overriding our ability to get along with others. 


Meanwhile the Gumbles warn us about complacency. Don't get too distracted by having fun – there's always a Bottersnike waiting to pounce.
 


*Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S.A Wakefield; illustrated by Desmond Digby 
First published: 1967; Puffin edition: 1972; HarperCollins: 2016 

 

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Gulfem Wormald (she/her) is the Editor of Words & Pictures
Contact: editor@britishscbwi.org.  Twitter: @GulfemWormald

 

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