• 'Wrestle' is a new children's book from the team behind 'Gayby Baby'. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The kids featured in the documentary 'Gayby baby' have authored a new children's book telling the story of a brother and sister who dress up as their favourite wrestlers for Mardi Gras.
Stephen A Russell

14 Feb 2019 - 11:01 AM  UPDATED 10 Feb 2021 - 8:56 AM

When plans to screen Maya Newell’s big-hearted documentary Gayby Baby, about the kids of four same-sex families, was banned from being shown in NSW schools on Wear it Purple Day in August 2015, it was in reaction to a Daily Telegraph front page article attacking the film. Accompanying the piece was a photograph of one of the doco's subjects, 10-year-old Gus Skattebol-James.

One of the film’s cutest draw-cards, it was little Gus and his boisterous sense of humour and obsession with wrestling, much to the chagrin of his pacifist mums, that endeared him to audiences.

Mardi Gras can be as exciting as Christmas for lot of kids in our community.

Newell, a ‘gayby baby’ herself, clearly remembers her surprise at the stoush as we speak on a group call with Gus, now 17 and in the middle of his HSC.

“It was a PG film about real kids’ lives and I was really shocked by that," she says. “If anything, it made me want to continue making documentary films that support the stories of minorities and of people who don’t usually get a say.”

It was the first time she really understood the power of cinema and of storytelling, adding that, “first person narratives like Gus’ can speak truth to power.”

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Ironically, the pushback to the pushback ultimately propelled the movie into more cinemas, but Newell still worries about the cost. “In some ways it was great, because no one had heard about this little film until it was on the front cover, but then it was also pretty horrible, and I don’t know if you could ever wish for it.”

Looking back on the controversy, Skattebol-James is philosophical. “I didn’t actually mind all that much,” he chuckles. “I’m pretty cheerful by nature and I’m all about the spotlight.”

Mardi Gras can be as exciting as Christmas for lot of kids in our community.

Back in the spotlight again, the pair have co-written Wrestle, a sweet kids’ picture book, with Gayby Baby producer Charlotte Mars. Beautifully illustrated by Tom Jellett, it relays a wrestling tussle in the Skattebol-James household in bright, bold colours, as he and sister Rory dress up as their favourite wrestlers for Mardi Gras.

“I’m really proud that it represents the Mardi Gras parade in a family frame,” Newell says. “Mardi Gras can be as exciting as Christmas for lot of kids in our community."

The idea came about when Newell was approached by publisher Allen & Unwin, who had seen the film . Newell sounded out Skattebol-James’ opinion.

“I said to Gus that, when I was young, there just weren’t any stories that represented gay families, or if there were, they were always focusing in on the fact like the end twist,’ she says. “Ta-da, they had two mums or two dads.”

Immediately Skattebol-James piped up that his favourite childhood book was all about a gay family, and Newell was surprised, asking which one? He told her it was Jez Alborough’s Some Dogs Do, about a dog who believed he could fly, but no one else was buying it.

“What I loved most was the fact he has two mums and it didn’t shine a...flashlight on the fact,” he says. “It was just a regular part of the story.”

Except that it wasn’t. When he unearthed the book to show Newell, a big surprise awaited him. “It was the first time I’d looked at it in years, and I realised my mums had just gone through it and white outed all the words that said dad and put mum instead.”

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Both laughing uproariously, the pair say they had a lot of fun working together and the story sits perfectly with the movie’s intent. “We were all kind of growing out of Gayby Baby this felt like the last hurrah, wrapping up the project in a way,” Newell says. “We wanted to honour its roots.”

It also manages to deliver the book that neither of them really had as kids, while also appealing to a broader audience. “Gus’ passion for wrestling isn’t a story that is particular to a queer family,” Newell notes.

“It’s a story that any child can connect with about a passion for toys, and how we overcome challenges and conflict within our family and deal with difference, which is a great message for everybody, but at the same time it’s also about a young boy who is working out his masculinity in a lesbian-headed household. We’re really happy with the result.”

Skattebol-James still enjoys watching wresting, but these days he’s graduated to practising Japanese martial art Aikido. “I still I have all my action figures, my favourite wrestlers, but I’m not as into it as I was back in the day, but it will always hold a special place in my childhood, so I’m really glad the book captures that.”

Follow the conversation on SBS Australia socials #WeRiseFor #MardiGras2021 and via sbs.com.au/mardigras.

The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras live Saturday 6 March 6pm AEDT on SBS On Demand or catch the full parade at 7:30pm on SBS and NITV.