Pro-environment media Liz was banned from consuming as a child

Now, I love my parents dearly, and they gave me a strong grounding in the humanities and encouraged my intellectual curiosity and desire to read e v e r y t h i n g.  But they were also quite strict, not only in terms of discipline, but in the sense of the media they encouraged me to consume.

As it happens, I agree with them that a young child’s reading should be steered a little, and an older child should be encouraged to recognise discuss the ideas and morals behind a piece of media.

It’s just that my parents were a little bit idiosyncratic.  They belong to a right-wing Catholic tradition which, while strongly anti-capitalist, is coincidentally in lockstep with certain capitalist ideas.  Specifically, the environment.

Guys, I was raised by climate change deniers.

I mean, back then we called it global warming and talked about the hole in the ozone layer, but the point is, my parents didn’t believe in it.  (These days, they’ve conceded that climate change exists, but not that it’s caused by human activity.)

Suffice to say, I’ve been looking forward to the Pope’s Encyclical on the environment with no small amount of curiosity and schadenfreude.  And in honour of that Encyclical (probably not a phrase No Award will get to use very often), here is a list of media I was either forbidden or strongly discouraged from consuming:

Possum Magic by Mem Fox

I had a copy, and I vaguely recall Mum loving it, but Dad was not a fan.  Native animals = STEALTH ENVIRONMENTALISM.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

This Australian classic is problematic in many ways, but what gave my parents pause was the knowledge that Gibbs (1877-1969) was something of a socialist and early environmentalist.

An illustration from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie
I don’t think I appreciated how WEIRD these books were.

They discussed the problem (within earshot of me?  Was I a childhood eavesdropper?) and decided that the books weren’t likely to cause any damage to my long-term development.  Which, indeed, they didn’t.  Only confusion.  So much confusion.

(Steph’s aside: No Award will be publishing a post on the issues with Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the near future)

Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeanie Baker

I think I need to find a copy of this book, because clearly I didn't appreciate the art enough as a child.
I think I need to find a copy of this book, because clearly I didn’t appreciate the art enough as a child.

1988 picture book about a boy visiting his grandfather in Far North Queensland, admiring the beauty of the rainforests, musing on their history as a home to Indigenous peoples, and wondering, “But will the forest still be here when we come back?”

It occurs to me that my parents probably disapproved of this, not just because of its environmental message, but because it’s specifically critiquing the pro-development policies of the immensely corrupt Bjelke-Petersen government, of which my mother was a strong supporter, and which, even now, she still remembers fondly.  (Note: by coincidence, she didn’t actually live in Queensland during the Fitzgerald Inquiry.)

I was an early reader, and grew out of picture books pretty fast.  And by the time I was into chapter books, I was … not precisely self-censoring, but mentally distancing myself from any pro-environment/pro-sustainability plots I came across.  Suspending disbelief, basically: “I know the environment is nonsense, but just as I believe in faster-than-light-travel when I watch Star Trek, I’ll put up with this for now.”  Chapter books I distanced myself from in this way:

My Sister Sif by Ruth Park, already discussed here at No Award.

The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline MacDonald, in which Australia is devastated by chemical bush clearance.  The heroine’s parents had a long scene where they explained that, in their youth, “Conservation became a dirty word” because everyone was getting rich, and by the time people realised the land could no longer support (much) human life, it was too late.

“Typical left wing propaganda,” I didn’t think at the time, not having a well-developed political vocabulary, but that was my nebulous and unformed feelpinion.

These days, I think about that scene a lot, for some reason.  I bought a secondhand copy last year and fully intend to do a No Award post on it one day.

But it wasn’t just books my parents were wary of!  It was television!  And song!

WARNING: Earworms dead ahead!

This is a terrible song, and was therefore much beloved by my year five music class.  My parents didn’t share the affection, and not just because they have ears.  They were very pro-woodchipping on the grounds that timber and paper mill staff are completely incapable of training for any other work, and the entire economy of Tasmania would collapse without the tree destruction industry.

As it happens, the value of the timber industry was vastly distorted by government subsidies, and it employed far fewer people than even the unions realised, but that all came to light later.

Why is Captain Planet so much bigger than the Planeteers?
Why is Captain Planet so much bigger than the Planeteers?

Good reasons to hate Captain Planet and the Planeteers:

  • the theme song
  • the tokenistic nature of its multi-ethnic group of smiling young people
  • terrible puns
  • Wheeler is the worst
  • what kind of power is heart anyway?

Reasons my parents hated Captain Planet and the Planeteers:

  • it was produced by Ted Turner
  • who was/is(?) married to Jane Fonda
  • something something Hanoi Jane?
  • please note, my parents were children when the Vietnam War ended
  • environmentalism
  • ZOMG PAGANISM
  • there’s an episode about population control
  • Mum is very anti-superhero
  • terrible puns

Reasons I loved it and watched it whenever I could, even though I knew it was terrible:

  • like, two-thirds of the cast were Star Trek: The Next Generation actors
  • I wanted Wheeler and Linka to kiss

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Okay, this one’s stretching it a bit — my parents didn’t know it often had environmental messages, and neither did I.  It was banned for containing “imitable violence”, ie, martial arts.

I don’t know why my parents were so concerned about this, given that the only television I was interested in imitating at this time was Star Trek: The Next Generation, but there you go.  They also forbade Power Rangers.  If it had been around when I was young, they would have also banned me from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, too.

The Adventures of Blinky Bill

The original Blinky Bill stories (about a cheeky koala and his friends) were published in 1933, and had mild conservation themes.  The Adventures of Blinky Bill, the animated series of the ’90s, ramped these themes up, the series opening after Blinky’s habitat is destroyed by humans, forcing him and his friends to befriend the Dingos.

Mum and Dad thought it was strange and terrible that modern political issues were being forced into light entertainment.  Something something something Puppies.

FernGully: The Last Rainforest

Such an amazing, terrible movie.
Such an amazing, terrible movie.

This is an odd one — I wasn’t forbidden to see this (in fact, Dad took my brother and I to the movies, and really enjoyed it!), but I was convinced I’d get in trouble just for asking to see it.  I got the novelisation via a Scholastic book fare, and it came with a poster that I put up behind my door, where I was sure my parents wouldn’t see it.

(A few years later, I did the same with a pair of ATSI art posters I got from school as part of Reconciliation Week. Apparently I was quite secure in my belief that my parents would never enter my room, close the door behind them and then look at the door.)

Anyway, I was really into FernGully at the time it came out, and was quite amazed when I recently learned that (a) it’s known outside Australia and (b) its international audience is largely unaware that it’s set in real Australian places.  IDK, maybe because all the fairies are white and European-looking?

A few days ago, I mentioned the leaked Encyclical to Mum.

“What is it about?” she asked.

“Climate change, and the need to take responsibility for addressing it,” I said.

“Oh.”

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6 thoughts on “Pro-environment media Liz was banned from consuming as a child

  1. I thoroughly recommend Jeannie Baker’s environment books (Window and Belonging have strong environment/development themes too) as an adult – I have spent ages looking through them when I was teaching them and now with C

    1. THOSE BOOKS ARE SO WEIRD! Like the one that ends with Ragged Blossom wanting a baby, so she goes to a shop and buys one? But she’s a baby herself?

  2. I’m pretty sure that, should I dig around, I could find the FernGully novelisation on one of our bookshelves or in the garage… (when my Canadian friend came to visit and we went up Mount Dandenong, she kept going into FernGully related shock. The existence of Ferntree Gully a suburb or two over didn’t help.)

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