dirtgirlworld misses out on Logie

Dirtgirlworld creators Cate McQuillan and Hewey Eustace, of Whiporie, are enjoying international and local success with their animated children’s series, which follows the exploits of gumboot-wearing girl with a green thumb.
Dirtgirlworld creators Cate McQuillan and Hewey Eustace, of Whiporie, are enjoying international and local success with their animated children’s series, which follows the exploits of gumboot-wearing girl with a green thumb.

BABY Boomers like to tell how as children they could roam the outside world as they liked from dawn to dusk, completely free from adult scrutiny. Some even recall Mother pushing them out of the door with an apple and a sandwich and instructions not to come back until teatime. As babies they were put outside in their prams for their naps and, as toddlers, played in the garden or in city parks.

For Generation X it was starting to change, particularly in urban areas. With both parents often at work, security dictated that children should be easily located, preferably indoors – preferably behind deadlocks – when not at school. The world outside didn’t seem quite so child-friendly as it once had and anyway, Gen X’s interests were often indoors-based.

When we found that Generation Y had to be prised away from their computer screens with a crowbar to get them outside to see a rainbow, it was clear our society had reached a point where children had lost contact with nature in a way that now has psychologists and educators seriously concerned.

Perfect timing for a TV show aimed at children that extols the pleasures and rewards of playing outside, living closely with nature, and getting their hands (and faces, clothes and feet) dirty.

For Cate McQuillen and partner Hewey Eustace, of Whiporie, a good idea has turned into a hit TV show that’s taking the world by storm. Their animated series dirtgirlworld was the only nomination in its category – Outstanding Children’s Program – in this year’s Logies. It has also been nominated for a Prix Jeunesse international children’s TV award.

It’s now screening, in morning prime time for preschoolers, in Australia (ABC), England (BBC), and Canada (CBC) The US Sprout channel started showing the series last week, playing the first episode on World Earth Day. France and Korea are due to come on line soon as the dirtgirlworld craze spreads.

It all started several years ago when the pair home-produced a CD of Hewey’s original, green-themed songs for kids, which won a Dolphin Award in 2002 and was nominated for an ARIA the following year. The CD sold like hot cakes.

“Then the responses started pouring in,” Cate recalls. “Letters from children, drawings from children, stories from parents, phone calls from parents late at night during which anxious children were coaxed to sleep with the promise to replace the lost dirtgirlworld CD booklet – dirtgirlworld was obviously loved by whomever came across it.”

From the CD came the idea of producing a dirtgirlworld pilot for TV. Cate and Hewey’s company, Mememe Productions (‘where immaculate children’s content is conceived, born, and eventually fostered out’), set up three years ago, now employs 170 people worldwide, about 30 of whom are in the Northern Rivers area.

The show uses 3D CGI (computer-generated images) animation combined with photomontage. An original idea of the animators has been to combine real eyes and mouths with cartoon figures, giving the faces of characters like dirtgirl and her friend scrapboy a direct intensity and mobility of facial expression that is quite startling.

“The technique is somewhat ground breaking,” Cate explains.

“The incorporation of real mouth and eyes allow our characters to tell a heartfelt story, encapsulating all that is great about the human range of expression and the quirkiness and fantasy that animation brings to a story world. The bodies are real bodies. Combined, it brings a connectedness and physical fluidity to the performance ... creating ‘gorgeous’... with an edge.”

Not surprising when you hear that the series director is Jean Camden, whose credits as an animator and director include the title sequence for Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope, The John Butler Trio’s Good Excuse music video and the ABC telemovie Stepfather of the Bride, among others.

From a musical (Hewey) and theatrical (Cate) background in Melbourne, where they got together, the pair decided to go bush and have lived for the past 20 years on their farm at Whiporie, halfway between Casino and Grafton, which was part of the inspiration for dirtgirlworld.

Bits of the farm – chooks’ feathers, the bark of a tree – actually show up in some of the shots in the 11-minute episodes. Series One, comprising 52 episodes, is now complete and Cate and Hewey are dealing with their extensive fan mail and demands for merchandise associated with the show.

“Gen Y parents – the parents of the kids who are watching the show – see something like dirtgirlworld on TV and they want the merchandise immediately!” Cate says. “But we are taking it one step at a time.

“We didn’t invent dirtgirlworld to make landfill. Our commitment to nature and the outdoor life as it’s expressed in the program, extends way beyond the show. We are an eco-based brand and we want the things we make and sell, like CDs, DVDs and T-shirts to be made using recycled materials and soy inks. The whole process, including the way we look after the people who manufacture these things, will be done in an environmentally conscious way that still fits in with retailing.”

The way Cate and Hewey live on their Whiporie farm illustrates this ethos. The wild success of dirtgirlworld hasn’t altered their lives all that much. They grow veggies, have an orchard and ducks, and love to spend time outdoors when they can. Their home, a converted church, houses the office and music studio from which all the music and sound effects for dirtgirlworld are created. Their rooster, Roger, sadly deceased from old age, is the rooster in the program; the chooks are their chooks.

“We get up every day happily and do things in the garden, go for walks, and although now I do a fair bit of jetsetting around, it hasn’t changed us all that much,” says Cate.

“We’re basically the same people, who just happen to have had a dream come true.

“And no, it hasn’t made us rich. There are a lot of people who have to be paid back before we draw much money out of it – and anyway, what would we do with money? We’d still be having a nice time, living here. What dirtgirlworld has brought us has been the opportunity to show something new, and say something we really believe in.”

Cate planned to spend less than $15 at the op shop buying a dress to wear as she walked the red carpet at the Logie awards ceremony in Melbourne. As it turned out, she managed to find ‘something that will do’ for only $12.

Even though they didn't end the night with a trophy to take home, Cate and Hewey believe they’ve already won.

“We’re the only animation nominated in our category, by our peers in the industry,” says Cate. “We’re really so appreciative of that, that we’ve been nominated as outstanding Australian children’s television.”

About the show

Dirtgirlworld is a 52 x 11min preschool animation series co-created by Cate McQuillen and Hewey Eustace. Made for four to seven-year-olds, it airs on ABC1 at 8 am and ABC3 at 1.30pm, Monday to Friday.

“The technique is somewhat ground breaking”

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