Giant Tony Abbot puppet: Liar, liar, pants on fire!

At the rally
Liar, liar, pants on fire! Giant Abbott puppet at Bust the Budget, Parliament House, Canberra, 6 July 2014

Over the last few weeks I’ve been involved with the making of a giant 3 metre tall protest puppet of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, with the theme of Liar, liar, pants on fire. Matthew Armstrong, who came up with the concept, brought together the skills of a number of Canberra artists to make, assemble and perform the puppet within a pretty short timeframe. Thanks, too, to Dario Vacirca and Mark Timberlake from KneeHigh, now Open Space,  in Adelaide who hired us the frame and advised us on various aspects.

The Abbott puppet debuted at the Bust the Budget anti-austerity rally on an icy cold day at Parliament House, Canberra, on 6th July. Matthew is now improving the puppet in a number of ways, ready for more appearances.

I made the head of the puppet from foam sheeting. Here are some photos of the process.


Puppets for Canberra Youth Theatre’s TANK

I had a really enjoyable build recently, making a swag of zany puppets and props for Canberra Youth Theatre‘s production TANK, which is playing now at Canberra’s spring flower extravagaza, FloriadeTANK is a rather Pythonesque look at our relationship to water, written by Adam Hadley, directed by Pip Buining, and designed by Imogen Keen. It’s told in six 6-minute stories, played to an audience of six per story. Performances are free and run at Floriade on 12,13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 September 2009. Later, on 23 – 28 November, it will play in Garema Place in Canberra CBD, at 11am and 12noon.

Here are some of the puppets and props; check my Flickr portfolio set for others.

The meercat and the meercat hat:

Meercat puppet

Meercat puppet and hat

Yiying Lu in the meercat hat!

Yiying Lu in the meer cat hat :)

I got rather fond of the hat…

Meercat hat

The pirate captain (finger puppet):

Pirate captain

The rat (rod puppet):

Rat puppet

Kevin, the polar bear (worn on shoulders):

Polar bear

Hans and Donaldine, or the other way around… (glove puppets):

Hans and Donaldine

The shark (worn on shoulders):

Shark puppet

The amoebas (glove puppets):

Amoeba puppets

The eggbeater time machine! Love this great design idea!

Time machine

Two rockets:


The multiple eyes of Veruna, the water goddess. In motion.

Veruna's eyes

Kenny Koala

Kenny Koala

Kenny Koala

Constable Kenny Koala has been working out over summer and is looking like a new koala! Do you like his spiffy new jacket and cap? Kenny is a much loved community liason officer with the Australian Federal Police, and has been educating children in Canberra on a range of crime prevention and child safety messages for the last 25 years or more.

Pacific School Games bunyip mascot

Pacific School Games bunyip mascot

The Pacific School Games will be held in Canberra this year, from 30 Nov to 6 Dec. About 5000 primary and secondary school students from Australia and Pacific countries will be competing. I made their mascot, a bunyip, which was launched a few weeks ago. Here is a photoset of the making process. I like the way its tail waggles the best:

A big day

Yesterday’s apology to the Stolen Generations felt momentous. I had read the official words that would officially constitute the apology, but I hadn’t reckoned on the speech that the Prime Minister went on to deliver (full video and full transcript). It was breathtakingly good, unexpectedly ballsy in it’s directness and honesty, and struck a fine balance between a personal sincerity and respect, and government responsibility. I hadn’t anticipated getting teary, but did at the point when Rudd said

As Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. And I offer you this apology without qualification.

Euphoric, we watched and cheered as parliamentarians stood to applaud the speech and the indigenous guests in the house, and saw the exchange of hugs between the leaders and the guests (the most touching was that between Jenny Macklin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Lowitja O’Donoghue).

Then Brendon Nelson, Leader of the Opposition, gave his right of reply speech. It’s amazing how quickly a mood can change. We knew he should be politely let to say his piece, knowing he would have to appease the naysayers in his own party (after all, he was one himself a couple of months ago – it was the issue that gave him the edge to win leadership over Turnbull after the election – an intersting reflection!) . If Nelson had had any sense of what had just happened, and the wits to think on his feet, he would have realised he had been completely gazumped, and that anything that he said short of ‘We agree, we are sorry for our part in it, lets pass the motion’ would seem mealy-mouthed.

But no, as his speech, delivered in a kindergarten teacher tone, went on it became misguided, then inappropriate, and finally offensive. On the lawns outside where I was, the euphoria and celebration dissipated, replaced with some anger but mostly a quiet, almost desperate determination not to pay attention to those things that he was trying to rub our noses in. As Ampersand Duck relates, we momentarily thought better of turning our backs, but as things got worse, it was necessary. Apparently crowds all over the country chose to do the same, a reference to the occasion in 1997 at a reconciliation conference when the audience turned their backs on John Howard. Nelson’s speech was a blight on the day.

(Update: I forgot to say that the Opposition actually voted to support the apology. What Nelson said amounted to excuses: ‘I’m sorry , but…’)

The crowd turning their backs:



This guy was giving the finger in double proportions:


I dropped by again a little while later in the day, and the party was still kicking on with concerts at both the lawns and the tent embassy. I wandered up to the forecourt of Parliament, listening to snatches of conversations, stories being told, interviews being given, people sitting around eating and talking and hugging. I wanted to reflect on it all, and be grateful that it had happened, and hope that it means more good will come from it in the future.

Actor Ernie Dingo being interviewed. He was one of the invited guests.


It was fun to bump into Ampersand Duck and Crit. They both have cool photos and accounts of the day :)

Tim was also there. Isn’t this photo cool? He will probably post more over the next week or so, too, so check back on his site.

I’m sorry

sorry 13/2/08

(photo via Get Up!)

A four thousand candle display designed by candle artist Jorge Pujol on the lawns of Parliament House here in Canberra on Monday night. Today I’m going to be there when the apology to the indigenous people and the Stolen Generation is given.

Roadside teddies at Bungendore

Roadside bunny

Just out of Canberra on the Kings Highway to the coast, especially on the part between Queanbeyan and Bungendore, there are lots of teddies and other soft toys nailed and tied to trees. Often they are quite high up, and some of them have been there for some years. Its easy to drive along and not see most of them, unless you are particularly on the lookout. I’ve heard there are some down near Moruya, too.

Roadside soft toys

It’s curious, and although there a few theories around, no-one really seems to know why they are put there or who puts them there.

I find them interesting and quite thought provoking, and I would like someday to photograph more of them. Overall I find them rather sad and poignant, as teddies should be loved and cuddled, not tortured and abandoned to the elements. Do the nastier teddies on the market deserve this, or should I remember that for the most part kids can imbue even a mere cloth or stone with character and lovableness? Is there a war going on in teddy land? Are these teddies free in spirit even if their bodies are nailed to one place? I also like that it is unexplained, and that the number is growing gradually, an silent unordered social activity. And I am interested in the weathering patterns and process on the teddies, and how it changes their character.

Roadside soft toy

Roadside teddy

Roadside teddies

More in my photoset at Flickr. LaRuth also has a couple more.


Ah, yes! The wonderful irony of Canberra Liberal MLA, Steve Pratt, calling in the media to record him heroically scrubbing off graffiti, only to find that it was a legally commissioned work, and now he will be charged with vandalism of public art. It’s pure gold! I will refer you to Ampersand Duck’s full account, since she does it so well. The artwork was done by byrd, and I was fond of it; it was relatively close to where I live.


The irony is no doubt especially sweet for the Labor Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, following the brew-ha-ha when he was forced to fire one of his aides for doing some anti-Howard stencil work behind the Ainslie shops a couple of years ago:

If the boots don’t fit redux

(photo via the Canberra Times)

Speaking of sculptures, one of my first blog posts was about Greg Taylor’s satirical bronze, If the boots don’t fit, which depicted the prime minister as dwarf ANZAC. I got a bee in my bonnet, and tracked it all over town. I was pleased to see that its still doing the rounds, and has most recently been placed on the high water mark on Horseshoe Bay at Bermagui, as part of the Bermagui Seaside Fair ‘Sculpture on the Edge’.

Taylor is quoted as saying Bermagui now has “arguably the safest beach in the world.” “What terrorist is going to come ashore there? And there will be no global warming – the sea will not dare rise.”

The best photos (and commentary!) I can find of the sculpture at Bermagui are by JohnG here: 1, 2, 3.