Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball dies

By Melissa Nightingale

Colleagues and PM pay tribute to ‘goofy and generous’ Footrot Flats creator.
Murray Ball was “an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life”, according to friend Tom Scott.
Murray Ball was “an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life”, according to friend Tom Scott.

Footrot Flats creator Murray Ball has died, aged 78, after a battle with Alzheimer's - but fellow cartoonists and fans say his ink has left an indelible mark on the New Zealand landscape.

Friend and long-time collaborator Tom Scott said he received a call this afternoon to say Ball had passed away.

"I know he had been ill," Scott said.

"He was being nursed at home for a terrible illness."

Scott and Ball worked together on the full-length animated Footrot Flats movie.

"He was an unbelievably strong, fit, handsome man all his life, with a full head of hair," he said.

Scott said Ball was "funny and goofy and generous, and incredibly serious about inequality".

"He mourned the New Zealand he remembered being fair, and I guess if he had his life over again, Murray would rather have been an editorial cartoonist."

Scott said he had "left it a bit late" to see Ball before he died, and last saw him six years ago.

Illustration / Guy Body
Illustration / Guy Body

"I heard he was so unwell that he wouldn't know who I was ... I regret not going when I knew. He deteriorated physically very, very quickly.

"I have to forgive myself for that."

He shared tributes for a man who was strong, fit, and would "thrash" him in every sport.

In the paddocks behind Ball's homestead was a slip-prone hill, so Ball planted a forest there.

"Murray planted, I don't know, 500 trees, and ran up and down every day with buckets of water and watered them. There's a whole forest behind it that he bottle fed, literally.

"When the illness struck him, his great, powerful heart kept him alive."

Scott said he was terribly sad but also relieved at Ball's passing.

"He's no longer suffering and his family are no longer suffering.

"Heroic efforts were required to keep him going."

His fondest memories of Ball were about being continuously thrashed in sports games.

"He constantly teased me about being a fat bugger, and I loved it. He was just wonderful company to be with."

He recalled one day when their two families played a game of front-lawn cricket.

"It got pitch black and none of the kids wanted to stop, they were playing with Murray Ball ... I remember just smiling in the dark at the way the kids loved it.

"I was lucky to know him and to have worked with him."

Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson said it had been "a very sad couple of days".

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

"There's two very large holes in the cartoon universe tonight. The Australian's Bill Leak died on Friday, and now Murray Ball.

"Murray was prolific. His Footrot Flats captured the true essence of NZ farm life. But farm life is virtually the same the world over, hence, it quickly became a household icon both here and abroad.

"I can remember sitting with a bunch of cartoonists in the Santa Rosa [California] studio of Peanuts creator, Charles Schultz a few years ago. Schultz was the master but he had nothing but the highest praise for the 'Dog from NZ'. 'Sheer brilliance' he said laughing. It was more than that. How lucky are we to have had the pleasure of Murray Ball's home-grown genius to entertain us when we needed it most."

President of the Australian Cartoonists Association Jules Faber also shared a tribute for Ball.

"It is with great sadness that the ACA received the news of the death of Murray Ball," he said.

"It is always heartbreaking when a cartoonist of such standing and with such a contribution to popular culture passes away. However, we are left with his enormous legacy to cartooning from his childrens' book to his books for adults through to his so well-beloved series for everyone, Footrot Flats.

"Murray was a great influence to many Australian cartoonists and will be long remembered by his friends across the sea here in Australia.

"On behalf of the ACA I extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Pam, and children."

Fans have taken to social media to farewell Ball, who died at his rural Gisborne home. He is survived by his wife, Pam, and children. Pam told Radio New Zealand in an interview in January last year that he has been suffering from Alzheimer's and that his health has been poor the past six years.

"Thank you, Murray, for the daily dose of joy," one woman posted on Facebook.

Another man expressed his sadness as the loss of a "legend".

"RIP Muzza. Your stories of Wal and the Dog will live forever," he said.

Another poster said he grew up reading Ball's cartoons, and had a whole collection of his comic books.

"He inspired me to do my own drawing and write my own cartoon strips when I was younger. Heartbreaking that he is no longer with us."

Others took to Twitter to post their messages of ''RIP''.

"There can be few folk in the last 30/40 years to have bought so much laughter to New Zealanders as Murray Ball, Dog & Horse," one person tweeted.

"RIP Murray Ball," said another.

"My Grandad gave me every single Footrot Flats as a child and I absolutely loved them. You hugely shaped Kiwi culture."

The Kiwi cartoonist was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002 for services as a cartoonist.

The Manawatu man settled in Gisborne and began working on his comic in 1975.

- NZ Herald

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