All in the family for Footrot Flats

UNCANNY: Wairarapa farmer Arthur Waugh is Murray Ball's cousin and the inspiration for the character of Wal in Footrot Flats.
UNCANNY: Wairarapa farmer Arthur Waugh is Murray Ball's cousin and the inspiration for the character of Wal in Footrot Flats.

Until now it has been a little-known fact that the inspiration for one of the country's favourite cartoon characters lives near the end of a dusty metal road in northern Wairarapa.

Arthur Waugh, 66, was the inspiration behind Wal in Footrot Flats, the long-running cartoon series by Mr Waugh's cousin, Murray Ball.

Mr Waugh, who with wife Sara owns a 2100-hectare (5189-acre) Surreydale farm 20 kilometres east of Pahiatua, agreed to "go public" after being approached by The Dominion Post this week.

He says he has always loved the strip, which ran in more than 100 newspapers around the world from the mid-1970s and was also the basis of a movie and play.

"I suppose I'm just at a stage where I'm not too fussed. I don't think it is derogatory in any way. I quite like Wal, actually."

Mr Waugh and Ball grew up together in Feilding and were close friends in the sixties after Ball, a budding cartoonist and All Black triallist, returned from South Africa.

Mr Waugh was a top shearer at the time and confesses to having a few similarities to Wal.

Both poke their tongue out the corner of their mouths when concentrating, both hate being in helicopters and both like Muscovy ducks.

Unlike Wal, Mr Waugh did not attend Foxton Agricultural High and did not excel in tractor reversing and rooster imitations. "There were various things [in the strip] we recognised, but I never thought of it as based on myself," he said.

Mr Waugh has all the Footrot Flats books – Murray sent them every Christmas. He first learned he was the inspiration while visiting the Balls in Gisborne in about 1975.

His three daughters know he was the singlet-wearing character's inspiration, and he thinks his seven grandchildren may know, and a few neighbours certainly do.

The secret had slipped out a few times, often when Mr and Mrs Waugh were on holiday overseas, "where the locals seemed to ask all Kiwis about Footrot Flats".

"It's got a hell of a following overseas that people just don't realise."

Ball said Mr Waugh "always seemed like a typical farmer to me and filled all the requirements of a character".

The Dominion Post