Speech to Parliament: Ginger Meggs Comics and Growing Up in Hornsby

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Speech to Parliament, 2 December 2021

Ginger Meggs is part of every Australian’s childhood. After five cartoonists and a hundred years, kids and grown-ups alike are still revelling in the adventures and comical capers of the redheaded larrikin kid who never gets old.

In creating this comic strip, Jimmy Bancks drew on his childhood experiences growing up in my electorate. Bancks’s father, John, was a railway cleaner, and when Jimmy was three the family moved to a railway cottage at Hornsby.

Ginger Meggs first appeared in the comic strip Us Fellers a hundred years ago, in November 1921. Names and places of the old neighbourhood were used in his books without alteration. Frank Buckle, who became the first captain of the Northern District cricket team, scored a mention. So did George Lumby, a childhood friend who went on to operate a hardware store in Hornsby. Ginger and his mates frequently stole fruit from Fosters Orchard or Higgins Orchard, which were local landmarks. Ginger Meggs’s character was based on the antics of Bancks’s old neighbourhood friend Charlie Somerville. By the time the comic strip was appearing, however, Charles Somerville was no longer the boisterous boy of Bancks’s creation. He was a war veteran, a businessman and a long-serving mayor of Hornsby Shire.

With his vivid red hair; his larrikin, boyish charms; and his never-ending ability to get himself into and out of trouble, Ginger Meggs is a mischievous character whose everyday escapades echo the experiences of million of Australian children. Throughout his lifetime, readers have seen Ginger Meggs evolve from the 1930s world of billycarts, wireless radios and cricket games played in the street to the computer drawn images of today in which Ginger Meggs laments the loss of his internet connection—which is sadly still a common experience for people in my electorate.

Occasionally, Ginger Meggs steps into the real world. He crossed the Harbour Bridge on its opening in 1932, the same year he met cricket legend Don Bradman. During World War II, Ginger was drawn on the sides of Australian aeroplanes and appeared in Army news, and he was used in a road safety campaign in the 1950s. Produced by the Road Safety Council of New South Wales, it covered school bus safety, road crossing, riding bicycles in the neighbourhood and playing in the street. It included sketches of Ginger getting into and out of accidents on his bike. Ginger Meggs, the movie, was released in 1982. It starred Garry McDonald and Drew Forsythe. The strip was also adapted into a stage musical which has been running since the early nineties.

Bancks wrote in an annual compendium of the comic strip:

I have tried to make Ginger a real boy, human, natural and for the most part worthy of sympathy and goodwill.

Bancks died in 1952. He was 63. The Ginger Meggs baton has been passed on to Ron Vivian, Lloyd Piper, James Kemsley and, today, Jason Chatfield. Ginger Meggs remains enormously popular and is still published in over 120 newspapers across the world.

While Hornsby has changed dramatically from the town of a century ago, the spirit of Ginger Meggs lives on in the hearts of many locals. In 1997, Hornsby council renamed the park in Valley Road where Bancks played as a boy as Ginger Meggs Park. It remains a popular park today.

I want to acknowledge Jimmy Bancks and everyone involved in contributing to the Ginger Meggs story over the last century for your contribution to Australia’s unique cultural heritage. On behalf of us all, happy birthday, GingerMeggs.

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