Elisabeth MacIntyre
1916 - 2004

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Elisabeth MacIntyre, (also known as Elizabeth and Eldershaw) was born in Sydney in 1916 and grew up in the country town of Bowral in New South Wales. As the result of a horse riding accident, she slowly became deaf at an early age. After training as a commercial artist at the East Sydney Technical College and working as a graphic designerand at an advertising agency from 1937-1942, she began to draw pictures of Australian animals and write children's stories. MacIntyre felt Australian children needed to see their own animals in the books they read and became a true pioneer of the Australian Picture Book. Prior to her publications, books generally appeared as illustrated texts, rather than picture books, due to Australia's limited market and the high cost of production. So it was Scribner's in New York, that the manuscript for Ambrose Kangaroo was first sent to.

Thus, in 1941 came the highly acclaimed - Ambrose Kangaroo: A story that never ends - Australia's first true picture book, which was reprinted again the following year. This is the story of a young kangaroo who runs away from his mother, enjoys a day of freedom, but is then captured by a farmer. His mother arrives in the night and the rescue takes place. Ambrose learns a valuable lesson and life in the bush continues. MacIntyre's works, though printed using a limited number of colours, were cleverly presented. Having worked in advertising, MacIntyre was a skilled artist and designer, knowing a great deal about layout and appeal of text and illustrations. It was released in Australia and America simultaneously, thus greatly increasing her audience and later re-released a further five times in Australia. She followed up the success of this book, with a cartoon comic strip, for one of the Sydney newspapers, centering around her popular protagonist, the cheeky Ambrose. The Ambrose Kangaroo series was later adapted into a television cartoon for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the British Broadcasting Corporation.


Four more books by MacIntyre were created during the early forties, but Muir describes them as garish and vulgar and have conveniently slipped into oblivion. From the titles they are, it seems, twists and plays on old tales. Instead of The Ugly Duckling, we have The Handsome Duckling and 'the elephant who never forgets' became The Forgetful Elephant. However, at the same time (1944), the highly successful Susan Who Lives in Australia also appeared. Published in New York, it was extremely popular with her American audience, as many of their soldiers were posted here during the war. The story did not appear here, or in Britain though, until 1946, when it was released under the title Katherine. Muir obviously enjoyed this one far more, as she comments, 'It was a book which thoroughly deserved its great success' (Muir, 1982, p. 111). And successful it was, with reprints occuring in both 1958 as well as 1963. Rhyming couplets tell the tale and simple pictures illustrate the story. It describes the life of a young girl, living on a station, who later moves to the city, thus appealing to both city and country readers alike. As with Ambrose Kangaroo, MacIntyre makes good use of humour, as she does in all her books, providing childlike and appealing pictures as well as verse.

1944, was obviously a very productive year for Elisabeth MacIntyre, as another Ambrose book also appeared - Ambrose Kangaroo Has A Busy Day. MacIntyre's books are all very Australian and she seems to have the knack of providing each creature, with very appropriate human traits, which are often portrayed in body stance alone. Ambrose Kangaroo Goes To Town, provides a perfect example. MacIntyre uses a double page spread and states that each animal chose the place that suited them best. The solid and dependable Koala Bears choose the bank. The quiet, retiring wombats lived in the church, (with the possums of course residing in the roof), while the Lyre-birds take the Grand Hotel! While the illustrations may appear extremely simple, they show MacIntyre's great skill as an artist. This was one of my all time favourites as a child! It is a delightful animal fantasy, containing all the familiar Aussie animals, who together move into an abandonned town. There Ambrose finds gold and amusing situations follow as they try to have it changed into money.

Calmly, Mrs. Kangaroo,
unknowingly hands the bank teller the wrong card.
Instead of requesting
'Please change this gold into money'
she asks,
'Give me everything I point to'!!


In 1954 came the delightful Mr. Koala Bear, which is quite a delight. written in rhyme it describes the antics of two young bears who cause mischeief and mayhem when they go to stay with their Uncle. As it turns out they go to the wrong house entirely! MacIntyre travelled throughout Australia and continued to write for children throughout the 1960's, producing a number of picture books, rhymes and plays. She also created her very original 'documentary strips', which were similar to cartoons, providing information and facts with amusing 'cartoon-strip' style pictures. Willie's Woollies; The Story of Australian Wool, is her most famous of these, telling the story of wool from the sheep's back to our backs. She later moved to both the United States and then Italy studying and writing 'problem' novels for adolescents.

Despite these successes, it became increasingly difficult to earn a living from illustrating books, but in 1973 MacIntyre was awarded a fellowship from the Australian Government. Her first book after being awarded the fellowship was The Purple Mouse (1975) about a deaf girl, no doubt drawing on her own experinces of losing her hearing when young. She now enjoys traveling to other countries where she remains for extended periods of time in order to experience various people and their customs.For further reading see below.

List of Works

1941, Ambrose Kangaroo: A story that never ends, Consolidated Press, Sydney, NSW. (rep. 1942, Scribner, New York, NY).
1944, The Handsome Duckling, Dawfox, Sydney, NSW.
1944, The Black Lamb, Dawfox, Sydney, NSW.
1944, The Forgetful Elephant, Dawfox, Sydney, NSW.
1944, The Willing Donkey, Dawfox, Sydney, NSW.
1944, Susan Who Lives in Australia, Scribner, New York, NY.
1944, Ambrose Kangaroo Has a Busy Day, Consolidated Press, Sydney, NSW.
1946, Katherine, Consolidated Press, Sydney, NSW. (verse)
1951, Willies Woollies; The Story of Australian Wool, Georgian House, Melbourne, Vic.
- Reprinted in 1963 along with Katherine.
1954, Mr. Koala Bear, Scribner, New York, NY.
- Reprinted in 1966 by Angus & Robertson, London, UK. (verse/rhyme)
1959, Jane Likes Pictures, Scribner, New York, NY.
- Explaining art to children from an artist's point of view.
1964, Ambrose Kangaroo Goes to Town, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, NSW.
1964, Hugh's Zoo, Knopf, New York, NY. (and Constable, London, UK.)
- Winner of the Picture Book of the Year Award 1964. Despite her early successes, this was not a popular choice for the award, as tastes had obviously changed, but regardless of such oppostion MacIntyre's contribution to children's literature in Australia, was well deserving of any award.
1965, The Affable, Amiable Bulldozer Man, Knopf, New York, NY.
- Reprinted in 1966 by Angus & Robertson, London, UK. (verse/rhyme)
1966, Ninji's Magic, Knopf, New York, NY. (and Angus & Robertson, London, UK, 1967).
1975, The Purple Mouse, Nelson, Nashville, Ten.
- An adolescent novel about a girl stricken with deafness.
1977, It Looks Different When You Get There, Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, NSW.
- An adolescent novel about pregnancy and single motherhood.
1977, Ambrose Kangaroo Delivers the Goods, Angus & Robertson, London, UK.
1983, A Wonderful Way to Learn the Language, Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney, NSW.
- An adolescent novel about living in Italy and falling in love. Reflecting MacIntyre's great love of Italy.

Books illustrated by Elisabeth MacIntyre
Shelley, Noreen. 1959, Three Cheers for Piggy Grunter
Fenner, Ruth. 1960, The Story House


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