Healthy Harold: Nostalgia helps save Australia's drug-fighting giraffe

Children visit a Healthy Harold van in Australia Image copyright Life Education Australia

For many Australians, an anti-drug message delivered by a puppet - or sometimes animatronic - giraffe remains a key memory from their childhoods.

Healthy Harold has, for 37 years, rolled up outside schools in his iconic van to deliver responsible messages to children aged between five and 13 about drugs, alcohol and healthy living.

So when it emerged on Tuesday that Harold's programme, Life Education Australia, would no longer receive government funding, Australians erupted in nostalgia-fuelled ire.

Image copyright Twitter/Andrew Barrett
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The government had opted not to renew a request for A$500,000 (£290,000; $370,000) in annual funding, explained Life Education Australia chief executive David Ballhausen.

Mr Ballhausen lamented that an estimated 750,000 young people would be deprived of the programme in the next year alone.

Image copyright Life Education Australia
Image caption Harold is even available in merchandise form

He said Harold had become particularly useful in educating school communities about the dangers of crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice, a drug which has had a devastating impact in Australia.

The backlash grew throughout the day, with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, also commenting.

"Of all the things to cut, why would you cut an iconic program that teaches kids how to be healthy? Mindless," he tweeted.

In the face of such public anger, it took less than half a day for the government to reverse track and announce it would fund the programme after all.

"We support #HealthyHarold & will work with Life Education Australia to ensure the funding & the program continues," tweeted Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr Ballhausen confirmed the government funding would continue.

"Thank you for the extraordinary support we received last night," he said. "It was critical in helping generate this positive response from the Australian Government."

Although the saga came to a swift resolution, discussion of Harold did not, and more people reminisced on social media.

Image copyright Twitter/Tim Byrnes
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Image copyright Twitter/Dee Madigan

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