Feature

Dirtgirlworld for kids

G Magazine

A new cartoon character introducing little ones to the big wide world via cyberspace and digital TV.

dirtgirlworld

Cate McQuillen is one half of the creative team behind dirtgirlworld, a TV show and interactive website designed to educate iGen kids on environmental issues.

Credit: Toni Fuller

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The iGen, kids growing up in the virtual cyberspace world, are not exactly known for their outdoor interests. Enter dirtgirl - a pre-school hero who makes getting into the environment look cool. Her world is a farm where she grows her own vegies, keeps chooks and helps her best friend, scrapboy, make solar-powered ovens out of junk.

Teacher-turned-musician-turned-TV writer and producer Cate McQuillen is one half of the creative team behind dirtgirlworld and its rapidly expanding universe on and off our TV screens. She chatted to G about the challenges of producing a sustainable kids TV show - and how you can convince your kids that "getting grubby" is good clean fun.

Dirtgirlworld began life as a CD. What made you decide to make the shift to a television format?
Well, we [Cate works with her partner, Hewey Eustace] started as musicians, so it was really a matter of using what you're good at. We were living this permaculture lifestyle and we were really interested in sharing that in a positive way with kids. We were also interested in upping the ante with kids' music as well - doing something different, something with more of a real instrument basis.

Did you have TV experience before this?
None. Really none. All we really knew was that there was more of this story to tell, and we wanted to find fresh ways to tell it.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned?
It would just be remaining genuine and passionate. I suppose that sounds a bit odd because it's not generally the biggest box to tick for most people. But for us, it's just such a personal story - and it was so good to sit down in front of people and be passionate.

Dirtgirlworld has a very distinctive look. Tell us about that.
We definitely had a picture in our heads…so we looked into people who were doing that kind of work. We had a list of perhaps 10 things that we wanted. We found out that perhaps 7 of the 10 things on our list were really products of Hackett Films, who are best known for the animation in the credits for the Andrew Denton TV show Enough Rope - the people with the real-life heads.

Why do you think it's important to teach kids about the environment and how receptive are they?
We wanted to create a situation where "nature first is second nature". Kids do, after all, start with a clean slate - they don't have all the nasty habits we've picked up in our 20 or 30 years. We want to teach them to love the Earth, and that you protect what you love.

How does a TV show encourage that kind of lifestyle for kids?
We try to pack in lots of information every episode about how you can love the Earth - things like growing your own vegies and learning about animal habitats. Being outside is another big thing; the characters are basically always outside, except for when dirtgirl is working on her scrapbook, writing about things that she did outside.

There's also a special segment in every episode called "dirtgirl says", where dirtgirl basically speaks directly to camera - mostly about environmental issues. It's an invitation for kids to see how wonderful it is to care for the Earth, and how important it is to be sustainable.

What's next for dirtgirlworld?
We're about connecting with kids, and since dirtgirlworld has been so well received, it's really just a matter of expanding from there. We've already got the ABC website. At the moment we're finishing up a brand new website (www.dirtgirlworld.com) as well. We're really excited, as we're working on a system where kids can create their own avatar, give it their own voice, and send it off to a 'forest' of other kids' avatars. We want kids to feel empowered, and get excited about looking after and being guardians to the planet.

We're working on a second season for the end of the year, but it's really all about getting kids to connect with what they see on the show. We already have real kids on the show - our green thumbs - and we want the website to reflect that culture. Dirtgirlworld is a very imaginative place but there's definitely the idea of this spilling over into the real world, of it becoming a community where children and parents can share ideas.

Watch dirtgirlworld weekdays at 9am on ABC1, and daily at 2:10pm and on weekends at 8:35am on ABC2 - or visit the new website at www.dirtgirlworld.com.