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Foo was here

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Puberty is a confusing time of life which I’d  prefer to forget.
It was a total waste of ten good years.

Adolescent boys growing up in the Victorian goldmining town of Bendigo fifty years ago were blessed with the empowering gift of freedom to explore the countryside around them, but compared to the youth of today many of us were mere babes in the woods when it came to understanding more worldly matters.

Every weekday I pedaled five miles to the brand new White Hills Technical School on the outskirts of town.  At lunch time we were allowed to swarm unsupervised across the Midland Highway to the one hundred acres of abandoned gold diggings where we would climb mullock (tailings) heaps and explore underground tunnels and shafts which had remained unused for half a century or more.

No kids died, or disappeared, or required medical repair.
To the best of my knowledge.

At thirteen I was also impressed by one of my classmates who, when we went into the central part of town, exhibited some special talents, including the ability to identify women in the crowd who were in either the second and third trimester of pregnancy.
The very first time he pointed some of them out to me I wondered what awful thing might have caused these poor women to swell up like that.

“Well I think it happens like this”  commenced Bodgie Carmichael, Form 2A’s fourteen year-old fount of grown-up knowledge, before giving me the dubious benefit of his vast inexperience whilst tamping down his brilliantined Elvis hair and admiring his own reflection in a plate-glass window.
“Wayne, my big brother, said he almost did it once, so maybe we should ask him. There is a difference too between fat and pregnant y’know Goffy and sometimes even I can’t  tell which is which”.

Presiding over all this childhood naivety was Foo the King of Graffiti.  He was everywhere.

He peered over fences or looked up at me from footpaths and roadways and gawked at me from the walls of factories and even the hospital perimeter wall.  He rattled past me trying to disguise himself amongst advertising placards on trams, and he even sped past me one day as a barely distinguishable blur on the side of a red wooden carriage of the Melbourne to Bendigo express train.

Foo was omnipresent.

Whatever happened to Foo?  I never see him any more.

Even Mr Google doesn’t know what happened to Foo.

It seems that Mr Foo was probably born shortly before or during World War II, but his parentage remains uncertain.
Perhaps his name derived from the British and Australian military acronyms for Forward Observation Officer, or FUBAR  
(F***** Up Beyond All Repair).

American cartoonist Bill Holman also discovered ‘Foo’ inscribed on the base of a Chinese figurine and then used the word in his pre-war cartoons. The United States however widely adopted the name ‘Kilroy’ for it’s very own little bald-headed graffiti man. (Possibly named after a Massachusetts Shipyard Inspector J.J. Kilroy)

The original Foo graphic is thought to have been inspired by the following electrical circuitry diagram.

A British naval magazine in 1946 noted that  “Mr Foo is a mysterious second world war product gifted with bitter omniscience and sarcasm.”

I remember him more fondly as the only other witness on a Bendigo tram in 1962 who saw three schoolboys discover a packet of condoms hidden underneath the slatted wooden seat.  The boys proceeded to inflate them one by one to maximum lung pressure before setting them loose out the window onto View Street where they erratically jetted, flubbered and kerfoofed amongst cars and bicycles just like single-minded little spermatazoons in search of the perfect egg.

Mr Foo and I were both appalled at the juvenile delinquency which we had just witnessed.

Has anyone seen Mr Foo or Mr Kilroy recently?  

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

33 responses »

  1. I’ve always known it as Kilroy, but according to where you come from, it’s apparently also Foo or Chad:
    I haven’t seen one in person for maybe 30-odd years.

    • I find it interesting that different countries each had their own name for the little guy.
      Apparently your Kilroy also often sported a distinguishing single curly hair on the top of his head. Isn’t history riveting stuff. 😉

      It’s time for a Foo resurgence in Australia. I need to find some cans of environmentally friendly spray paint.

  2. Funny you mention this GOF. I caught a rerun recently of that old war-time classic “Kelly’s Heroes”. Kilroy even made a cameo appearance in there!

    • Thanks Ninja. I’m wondering if ‘Kilroy’ ever got a foothold anywhere in Australia or whether it was always ‘Foo’ everywhere.

      I do understand that it’s entirely possible that my time could be spent ‘wondering’ about more important things in life.

  3. I think the last time I saw a “Foo” (and kimkiminy is right, here in the States we knew him as “Kilroy”) was in a public restroom over 30 years ago, and the graffiti was visibly worn, as if it had been there for some time. I’ve always associated it with my father’s generation and World War II. Given how ugly and sexually graphic a lot of graffiti is nowadays, Kilroy seems quaint and almost cute.

  4. It’s not just Foo that’s disappeared, it’s the whole ‘was here’ phenomenon, or ‘wozzia’ as we used to say in 1996. No one does it any more. Kids spend too much time on Facebook and Tumblr, and not enough time vandalising public property.

    • Well it must be time for the older generation to step in and show the kids how it should be done. Hint; carton of spray cans and a balaclava for my birthday please.

  5. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Kilroy, either. I had never heard of “Foo” until now.
    It appears that human kind has moved on from Foo onto….who knows what. I think maybe I’ll make a few Foos at work in memorium!

    • I’d also not heard about Kilroy (or Chad in the UK) until I started researching the topic.
      It’s time we started a movement to bring back Foo and Kilroy.

  6. Aah Foo. Not my Chinese friend, but foo. I remember foo. I do recall reading or hearing a long time ago that foo was derived from fu (oo) bar, but perhaps the true origin will remain a debatable mystery for years. I also recall Kilroy from cartoon panels in Cracked & Mad magazines in the 70’s.
    When u find the enviro friendly spray paint, let me know Gof. I’ll help resurrect foo (or Kilroy).

    • Thanks Brad. About 5 years ago a huge ‘Foo was here’ appeared on the road surface of the Gillies highway, and Lo, I was mightily pleased.

      It only takes one little thing to bring back floods of memories.

    • I can’t remember where I first saw Foo, but it would have been somewhere in a magazine.

  7. I continued “Kilroy” defacings on textbook erm…what do you call the sides of the pages on a closed book? If the book was open, you didn’t see it, if you closed it and looked at the opposite of the bound side? There.

    When I say I defaced books, well, I can’t really come up with an excuse other than I didn’t tear apart or deface the covers of pages themselves. I didn’t even use highlighters or pens on the textbooks I bought at uni!

    • “what do you call the sides of the pages on a closed book?”

      You’ve got me MT….I’ve no idea, but I know what you mean……I’ve borrowed books from the library which have also been ‘decorated’ with ‘page-sidal graffiti’

  8. Inga is right … young people today spend too much time on social media bullying each other into suicide and not enough time defacing public (or private) property.

    A nearby city, though, is having a gang related graffiti problem at the moment. I suspect “Foo” or “Kilroy” wouldn’t approve or be caught anywhere near that sort of garbage.

  9. I actually like the electrical circutry diagram better.

    I’m jealous of your remote structure exploring, GOF. That must have been cool.

    • I’m glad that I grew up in that era Amelie. Schoolkids today aren’t even allowed to venture out of the schoolyard at lunch time let alone go exploring ‘dangerous’ places.

      • I’m sure you can only imagine what it’s like here in “every child is special” USA. Some places do not even allow Fs or red correction marks on homework, much less exploring. We were both so lucky, GOF. I remember sleeping in barn lofts, looking in abandoned buildings and wandering off to horse farms (past swarms of bees) to visit the critters. I’d think in this digiatl age, parents would be begging kids to explore stuff outside.

        • Your generation (and Inga’s) was probably the last where children had some degree of freedom to explore without being mollycoddled by adults.
          You can’t let kids outside today Amelie…they might catch germs!

  10. Oh, look at that! You are up waaaay earlier than I normally am, my friend! 😛

    • Yes, I’m normally up well before sparrow-fart Amelie, but with blogging the habit’s getting worse. I’ll wake up at 4 am with an idea that I have to write down immediately. 🙂

  11. My ‘hood is covered in “artistic” graffiti – alas there is not a Foo or a Kilroy tag to be seen. Kim’s link shows the Kilroyed WWII Memorial – an intentional engraving on the memorial which I think is actually pretty cool.

  12. I’m actually writing an SCP entry for Foo as we speak (SCP-J-6238, a1z26 for fwh, or Foo was Here). I’ve included Kilroy as a different entity, namely SCP-J-6238-1, but now I’ve got a few new Foos to add.

  13. My grandfather wrote me a lovely letter a couple of weeks after I was born in 1956 and he signed at the bottom with a “foo was here” character. He died a couple of months later so I never met him but I still have his fabulous letter.

  14. Patricia O’Connell

    Wonderful writing Ian.
    The run down memory lane has scattered my wrinkles and tempered my aching muscles!!
    Spent a few youthful years in Bendigo so I could feel your wild youthful attraction to the mounds of earth, mine slag and shafts

    Foo on fences and along the railway tracks was a non threatening form of graffiti. A little friend poking his head out to check the progress of your travel on the red tattler!

    • Thank you Trish for your wonderful memories of Foo. Apologies for the late reply but this blog is mostly unattended these days although I can always be contacted by email contained in the “Who” tab at top of page.


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