Celebrating 50 years in the Australian Arts: Michael Salmon

About Michael Salmon

Since starting his career back in 1967 with solo exhibitions of his cartoons and paintings, Michael has been busy entertaining young Australians with 176 children’s books, toys, merchandise, theatre and television work.

Michael Salmon 1 300x199In 1978 ABC-TV took Michael’s character ‘Alexander Bunyip’ from his first book (‘The Monster that ate Canberra’ 1972) and made him into a national star on afternoon television for a decade. In 2011 the ACT Government unveiled a bronze statue of Alexander celebrating his role in helping children to read over the years. Michael spends most of his time these days visiting Primary Schools around Australia; having fun, drawing his cartoons and encouraging students to develop their own creativity.

As a child, what was your relationship with books?

As the eldest child of a travelling History Professor my younger days were spent in several different locations (New Zealand, United Kingdom, and Australia) as he researched and lectured at his Universities. Literature and the love of books were of great importance in our family. My father’s bedtime story reading to me included most of Dickens, Kipling, C S Lewis and of course J R R Tolkien. I lived very much in my own fantasy world, with my voracious appetite for books, my large collection of toy soldiers (+ creating dioramas for them), making up model aeroplane and sailing ship kits and a talent for watercolour painting, my bedroom was very much ‘the centre of my little universe’

What inspired you to focus on the arts for children?

thKMCW7JSF 300x225Our family moved to Cambridge, England, in the mid -1950’s. As a kid I had a great time: I was a Famous Five Club member, received my Enid Blyton monthly magazine, and enjoyed the kid’s shows on early Brit-TV. I loved the classic UK comics like Eagle, Beano, and Dandy. Devoured the Boy’s own stories + the classics: Kidnapped, Sherlock, Arthur Ransome, C. S. Forester titles … and just about every other adventure, magic and mystery book in both the school and local library. All that kindled the creative spirit …..

How did you get started in the industry over 50 years ago?

image006 300x1602017 marks 50 years of work in the ‘Australian Arts’ (i.e. actually making an income/business of it!) It started with my first psychedelic/cartoony art exhibition in 1967 (Canberra) which led to my first professional theatre job only a few months later. I was hired as the stage manager/trainee designer with the Tintookies Marionette Troupe (A company of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Potts Point, Sydney ….our ‘big brothers and sisters’ there were The Australian Opera & The Australian Ballet)

I relied on art exhibitions for several years then decided that I really preferred entertaining young people.  My first book came out in 1972 (The Monster that ate Canberra) and I’ve written and illustrated a further 175 since then. A much varied career has included TV work ‘The Alexander Bunyip show’ (ABC TV 1978-88), pantomimes (scripts, lyrics, set and costume designs), toy and board game invention and varied merchandising designs from household fabrics to clothing and homewares etc

What are you working on now?

I’ve produced three new picture storybook series in prototype form and intend marketing them in 2018

What is the most important thing about what you do?

image001 1 300x273Visiting Primary Schools around Australia has been an important part of my life since 1972. I’ve been presenting ‘shows’ to students of all ages … with quick cartoons, lots of chat and audience participation.

I focus on the importance of individual creativity, this is the most important thing I do.

(Hopefully passing on confidence and reassurance to budding authors and artists about their own talents … 45 years of encouragement)

You have seen so many changes in your long career. Do you still face any new challenges?

image006 1 258x300Over the many years of writing and illustrating children’s books I’ve seen many changes, observed the rise and fall of popular figures, and been very thankful to still be making a contribution to the industry. A recent publisher described my work as ‘retro’ as they produced a couple of my latest books together with some boxed sets of ‘Noddy in Toyland’! That’s fine with me, as long as they continue to get those new ‘retro’ titles out.

What advice can you offer to aspiring authors?

….. Just keep at it, NEVER GIVE UP!!!

You have achieved such amazing success. What does success mean to you?

thKMCW7JSF 1 300x189When I walk into schools and see my titles from many years ago still on library and classroom shelves …. and the teachers who still remember my visit to their own schools, when they themselves were in younger grades ….. That gives a great sense of fulfilment.

You’ve accomplished so much already. What is your ultimate goal?

thOFMID2DM 300x240In 2011 the ACT Government erected a 550kg bronze statue of my Alexander Bunyip as a tribute to his role of both providing a source of humour to the Canberra populace and in helping their little ones to read ….. My ultimate goal is to outlive that statue in the Gungahlin Town square, ACT … and keep on doing exactly what I’ve been doing over the last fifty years …