Big Malcolm Turnbull and Barbnaby Joyce puppets

It’s been a while… almost three years since I last posted. So some catching up.

Following on from the ‘Real Big Tony’ Abbott puppet, I made a ‘Real Big Mal’ puppet head of Malcolm Turnbull (when he replaced Abbott as Prime Minister in September 2015). His handler, Matthew Armstrong, repurposed Real Big Tony as the Ghost of Tony – not much has changed! – and for a while both puppets appeared together. Prior to the 2016 election I also made a big Barnaby Joyce puppet head. At this stage Matt did away with the large body suits, just wearing the heads on top of ordinary suits. I think all three puppets may now have been retired.

Political puppets for Puppet Government

I made four puppets of Australian politicians earlier this year – Abbott, Bishop, Turnbull and Hockey – for Puppet Government, an indie youtube parody series.  So far four episodes have been made, with more presently in the works.

Here are some photos from making process:


4th National Puppetry & Animatronics Summit, Australia

Just a reminder that the early bird period for registration fees for the 4th National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit in Australia will end in a few days. After 24 June you will have to pay the full rate, so jump in quickly.

The summit will be held in Melbourne, 5 – 8 July, 2012, and hosted by the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. The program is looking good, and I’m looking forward to it!

4th National Australian Puppetry & Animatronics Summit

If you have a paper, workshop, or performance that you would like to present at the 4th National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit in Australia, please submit your proposal to the Summit Steering Committee by 31 January 2012.

The summit will be held in Melbourne, 5 – 8 July, 2012, and hosted by the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.

Building on the best experiences of the previous Summits, the 4th Summit will provide a stimulating and provocative program of workshops, masterclasses, and forums for policy discussions and debates that celebrate the arts of puppetry and animatronics.

An exciting new feature of the 4th Summit is a ten day performance project masterclass lead by an international guest artist which culminates in a presentation at the opening of the Summit. There will also be a film program and a Summit Club where puppeteers can perform experimental items and works-in-progress.

I’ve been to the previous summits in Melbourne 2002, Hobart 2006, and Perth 2008 and found them very worthwhile, so it’s good to know there is another one coming up.

Tarrengower Puppetfest

The inaugural Tarrengower  Puppetfest is coming up quickly! It takes place in the central Victorian town of Maldon on 10 -12 March 2012. The relaxed rural setting, where people can easily walk between performance venues, cafe’s and eating places, should be a drawcard as it was at the One Van Puppet Festival, which used to be held in Blackheath in the Blue Mountains.

The artistic director, Richard Hart from Dream Puppets, has put together a great program, and there are more performances yet to be included, including a puppet slam. Dream Puppets also puts together the Oz Puppetry Email Newsletter which is a good way of keeping up to to date with Australian puppetry news, and the festival.

Handspring’s Woyzeck on the Highveld

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

On the last day of Unima 2008 Gary introduced me to his friends Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, who co-founded and continue to run Handspring Puppet Company, and I was lucky enough to go backstage to see the puppets from Woyzeck on the Highveld. Thank you all!

The play itself had been a festival highlight for me. First staged 16 years ago, it tells the story of Woyzeck, a man of sensibility and principle, who is brought down by jealousy; but his struggle is informed in every way by the hardships of the migrant labour system under apartheid in the South Africa of the 1950’s.

Two aspects of the show intrigued me in particular.
One was the power of director William Kentridge’s back-projected animations which formed part of the backdrop to the set. They provided not only physical settings to the action and shadow puppets, but at times gave excruciating visual metaphors for what characters were thinking and feeling. For instance, in one scene, Woyzeck is worrying about setting his master’s table. He is doing fine in reality, but in contrast, as he gets increasingly anxious about doing it perfectly, the animation shows great smudges and spills amassing into a chaos that ends in, among other things, a plane crashing and burning.

The other was, of course, the puppets. They are bunraku-style puppets, with beautifully expressive carved (and hollowed out) wooden heads and hands. Adrian is the master puppet maker and designer. He explained how after touring Woyzeck extensively for some years, the company saw selling the puppets as the only way to move on to doing new work. Their latest production, Warhorse, would have been too big to tour, and fortunately, to their surprise, the Munich City Museum was happy to lend the puppets back for the gig at Unima 2008.

Margaret (?), Andries, with the accordion, and Maria with her baby:

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

The Miner:

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

The mysterious newspaper death-like character:

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

Adrian Kohler with the Miner, explaining how the implements in his hand can be changed:

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

The rhino, showing the rods and mechs on the operator’s side. There is a universal joint in it’s sternum. The red bulb is it’s bladder! (not to be confused with the 2 red chairs in the background).

Puppet from Woyzeck on the Highveld

Here is a video of the rhino in action. You can hear Gary and Adrian chatting.

I loved the rhino most, because it has so much character, and moves in such a life-like way, while being impressionistic in style. I’m very interested in this. Kohler has developed the style much further, too, since building the rhino, as you can see if you look at the horses in Warhorse. Warhorse is the first production where Handspring has moved away from performing their own work, and Adrian commented there were advantages in being solely a maker at times, rather than being a maker/puppeteer.

Incidentally, Handspring is hoping to bring out a DVD of Woyzeck, including the animations, and there is to be a new season of Warhorse in London later in 2008. There’s just a chance I might around to catch it!

Articles I enjoyed reading about Handspring:

Some welcome optimism

A friend who is a public servant was telling me how, in her department, it feels as if a great weight has been lifted since the change of government.  I certaintly feel a great relief to have done with the awful Howard era.  So far the signs are promising:

Rudd ratifies Kyoto Protocol in the first official act of his new Government: We now have a high profile portfolio for Climate and Water, as well as one for Environment, and the promise of the issue addressed as all-important.

Jeffrey Sachs, speaking on the 7.30 report: ‘Australia has given me a huge boost of optimism with this wonderful election result and the leadership that the new government is showing. How could anybody be a pessimist when we see what Australia’s doing now on taking on the challenge of climate change’.

Prime Minister’s Literary Award : a thumping big new award for writers. The Arts portfolio is now being handled by a senior cabinet minister, while Sports moves to the outer ministry and a junior minister.

Exciting, defining times for women :

But if I had to nominate a flashpoint when I felt my body jolt upright with exultant anticipation and gushing love of country, it actually came courtesy of the first lady-elect, Therese Rein.

When Kevin Rudd walked on stage to claim his place as Australia’s 26th prime minister, the woman he calls his life partner stood with her hand in his beside him, and shimmied. She leant forward and, with a cheeky glint in her eye, shook her shoulders from side to side and shimmied. And it was glorious.

If ever there was an image to differentiate the old from the new on election night, it was Therese Rein’s shimmy. As surprising as the revelation that I’ve placed a shimmy above Australia electing its first female deputy prime minister and Maxine McKew’s “in heaven no one’s blind” moment might be, the shimmy said it all.

Yeah! It was at that point that I sat up and said ”Oh! I think I am going to like her!”.


It sure was a happy night last night – after all the nail biting of the last few days and the start of the count last night, the John Howard era has come to an end!

Shan sent me his last election puppetry video, Howard’s Way, yesterday, but I must admit it felt too much like tempting fate to post it then!

Shan might have the first Rudd puppet out there:

Of course, now I have to decide what to do with my own two Howard puppets. They are too toxic to burn (just like the real thing, really!). I’m going to close my Vigil blog, but the puppet, which started out as an anti-war one, remains, as does the scarecrow one I made as a protest against the Howard government’s refugee policies. Any suggestions?


Pollies masks

The GreensBlog has some politician masks you can download and print. They were intended for halloween, but, you know, they might come in handy in the next few weeks!

Here in Canberra this time around we have a unique opportunity to alter the balance of power in the Senate immediately. The Coalition parties hold 20 of the 40 seats in the Senate, and it only requires the loss of one of their seats to a progressive to bring some accountability back to the Senate. In the ACT we can do that immediately if only 11,000 people change their vote to a progressive one in the Senate. GetUp! is running a campaign and unique multi-party ad to this effect.