Set in the fictional Waratah National Park (NSW), the Skippy series focuses largely on the adventures of a young boy, Sonny Hammond, and his intelligent pet kangaroo, Skippy. Sonny is the youngest child of Head Ranger Matt Hammond. Matt was left a widower in his early forties when his wife Mary died not long after Sonny was born. Other principal characters are Sonny's older brother Mark, Flight Ranger Jerry King (the park's helicopter pilot), and Ranger Clancy Merrick, the teenage daughter of another park ranger.
Skippy was very successful both in Australia and overseas (being sold to 128 countries overall). Its popularity led to a number of illustrated children's books about Skippy, along with a large array of merchandising products. Two separate televison series based on Skippy were produced in the 1990s: The Adventures of Skippy (1992) and an animated series produced by Yoram Gross.
The Intruders, a feature film starring Skippy and the regular television cast, was released in 1969.
The popularity of the film They're a Weird Mob saw producer John McCallum and production supervisor Lee Robinson join forces with Sydney lawyer Bob Austin to set up Fauna Productions, to produce Australian television series that had a strong local flavour but would also suit the international market. McCallum's interest in such a venture dated back to the 1950s, when he tried unsuccessfully to get English producers to base a television series on Ben Hall. The company's initial idea was to follow the success of They're A Weird Mob with a spin-off series, but they cancelled this idea due to its limited overseas appeal. On the advice of a London agent, they eventually decide to produce a children's series, and came up with the concept of a kangaroo as the focal point of a half-hour series. In this respect, the idea was to replicate the Hollywood-type series based around an animal, but with a uniquely Australian animal. To that time, the most popular shows had been Flipper (a dolphin) and Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and The Littlest Hobo (dogs). In his biography Life with Googie, John McCallum credits Lee Robinson for coming up with the kangaroo idea and the name Skippy, and indeed gives him most of the credit for the series (p. 232).
A pilot episode, titled 'Man from Space,' was made in 1966, and this was then taken by Lee Robinson and Bob Austin to England, Europe, and the USA to gauge the response, which was overwhelmingly positive (even from the NBC network in America). Australia's Nine Network, headed by Frank Packer, had been offered first refusal of the show by John McCallum. Packer was sufficiently impressed, however, to pay the $6,000 per episode price, reportedly the highest price the network had then paid for any series.
Considerable preparatory work was required before filming could commence (May 1967). 'Production offices had to be set up in Sydney, and permission was required from the NSW State Government to occupy land in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney. Co-operation was received from the NSW National Parks And Wildlife Service and the Ku-ring-gai Chase Trust, who set aside 24 acres of land for use as a film set, and granted access to a further 500 acres of surrounding park. A house was built in the park to function as Ranger Headquarters and residence in the series, both for exterior and interior scenes. Power and water supply had to be connected and roads had to be constructed, together with a helipad and servicing area for the helicopter. A number of expensive 'props' were used in the series: a helicopter, a speedboat, an elaborate two-way radio set-up, and several motor vehicles. All of which added up to quite a sizable investment' (Classic Australian Television).
A documentary on the series, Skippy: Australia's First Superstar, was broadcast on ABC television 17 September 2009.
While Skippy is generally regarded as one of Australia's best-known and most successful television exports and Skippy himself as perhaps the country's first international animal star, Skippy was not the first fictional kangaroo to find widespread popularity and generate an extensive merchandising program. The film Orphan of the Wilderness (q.v., 1936) is based around a kangaroo called Chut. Andrew Pike and Ross Cooper (1980) note that that film's popularity, and the popularity of Chut the kangaroo in particular, saw it become a favourite of children's matinees for many years. 'Chut dolls were sold in chain stores, the story was serialised in children's magazines, and Chut made numerous public appearances in theatres and shopping centres' (p. 231). Orphan of the Wilderness was also voted Best Film by the newly formed Film Critics' Circle of Australia.
'Australian children’s TV may have recently picked up an Emmy Kids award for the ABCME animation Doodles, but otherwise kids’ TV in this country is in a dire state.
'Free-to-air TV networks have to commission certain amounts of children’s programs each year. But in recent years there’s been a dismaying lack of new live action shows, or recognisably Australian content. Instead, local children’s TV has become dominated by animation with little sense of place.'