March 31, 2015

The Mad Dog Gang meets Rotten Fred & Ratsguts -- Ian Mune

Guest post by Kelly

I can remember buying this book from Ian Mune himself sometime in 1977. The TV programme, which this book is based on, was pretty big at my primary school. The purchase was made from a bookshop in Devonport  that I remember as being called Evergreens but in fact was called Greener Grass.

I used my own money. Ian Mune signed it, which seemed kind of cool to seven or eight-year-old me.

Photo: Auckland Libraries (id 786-A008-6)

Apparently this is how Devonport looked in the 1970s. I don't think so. I remember it in colour. A whole world you roamed at will, often bored, but with agency. (In the background of that picture looms Mt Victoria. My Uncle Pat once told me and my brother about how he and his friends, sometime in the 1940s, rolled an empty truck off the top. I'm sure they were back home in time for dinner by six o'clock.)

Actually, this is what my childhood looked like but with less clouds and with more topless sunbathers. 

Photo: Auckland Libraries (id 996-10)

I am currently reading The Mad Dog Gang meets Rotten Fred and Ratsguts to my seven-year-old and last week he was curled up tight on the bed next to me with his hands pressed to his mouth, tense with excitement, filled with trepidation. The soon-to-be-formed Mad Dog Gang were creeping up on Rotten Fred’s shack. In this time, so removed from that past, his reaction to the book has been one of excitement, of pure enthusiasm.

He is desperate to know if The Mad Dog Gang will make friends with Rotten Fred and Ratsguts but I won’t tell him.

If you look around you can find the programme on Youtube (in colour too, but, like my memory, more than a little bleached by time). It’s not without its charms, I'm sure Seamus would like to check it out, but I would be reluctant to show him. It is not a patch on this book. The book is a masterpiece. The writing is taut and exciting. From cover to cover there is hardly a word out of place. Told from the kids' perspective, there is not a trace of sentiment.

If I was asked to describe the book in one word I would have to choose ‘classic’. Seamus has already opted for ‘epic’.

"It’s epic, eh Dad?" says my kiwi boy with an Irish mother.

Thinking about why I prefer the book to the programme I conclude that the book seems more dangerous. The details are more intense. The talk seems like the talk of my childhood. Mr Newman, (Pooman), the teacher at the school, while initially friendly enough is revealed as being a bit of a petty prick. Angela Marks, top of the school, is a source of contempt for natural born rebel Harvey Kepuni.  ‘Angela-Bangela-stuck-up-bitch’ he thinks when she reprimands him for picking on Tony and Suey, the new kids at school. Tony and Suey will soon be his allies and co-conspirators in after-school shenanigans. (This includes assaulting an angry orchard owner with a large stick, a scene Seamus found tremendously amusing).

Like any great read, The Mad Dog Gang meets Rotten Fred and Rats Guts is not one thing. There are not just laughs and adventures. It is also a book with a deeply serious side. In it children face death for the first time and it does not offer a tidy or easy or comforting lesson. Seamus was silent and somber in this part of the story but did not complain. This is stuff he has thought about and at an age much younger than his current seven-and-a-half. Mune knows children.

The world of The Mad Dog Gang is a world where you don’t tell adults a thing and you sort out problems yourself. This is a book where the children have agency.

In closing, here are a couple of images from the golden days when kids tv programmes featured seven-year-olds smoking cigarettes*…

…and dogs featured top billing in the end credits.

(*Seamus was scandalised. "He can't do that Dad, he's the the hero!" he said)

-- Kelly

Book cover photo and South Pacific promo clip from KiwiTV website

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 20:57


  1. As you I purchased this book in the 1970's. I bought it through the school scholastic book club system which still operates in primary schools today, which is amazing in our computer era, and which still makes the children excited to be able to choose a book for themselves. "When will it come!" different children ask their teachers each day as they wait the weeks before the orders arrive. Anyway, the Mad Dog Gang provide this boy so much imagination as we lived up in the bush of the Waitakeres and the neighbour kids and I spent hours playing in the bush, sneeking around the neighbour's properties and making old sheds and abandoned houses our gang headquarters... acting out the excitement of the book. Good times! The years have passed and now I have come full circle and have been a primary school teacher for the past 18 years. Guess which book my 9/10 year old students will experience a a class book which they sit on the mat. I have read the Mad Dog Gang every year of my teaching career and without fail the children at the end of the year tell me that of all the books I read over the year the Mad Dog Gang was their favourite, second usually is Roald Dahl's 'Danny Champion of the World'. Two classic books written for children with absolute knowledge of children. Thanks Ian
    Mr A (Antony Alexander)


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