Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Australia's first astronaut is 50!

"Happy 50th Birthday" to Mr Squiggle.

Mr Squiggle
Mr Squiggle, the man from the moon.

He hasn't aged a day! (Sigh. Unlike moi.) He can draw with his nose. He rides a rocket to the moon every week. He's a marionette friend to talking steam shovels, snails and blackboards. I watched him on TV as a kid, even worked with him (briefly) when we were 21 and 20 respectively, and now we are both past the big 5-0.

I did the kite-making in a 1980 episode of "Mr Squiggle and Friends", entitled "Space Age Kites", directed by Virginia Lumsden. I appeared on the little TV which Gus the Snail wore for a shell, and I had to teach Miss Jane (real-life daughter of actor Willie Fennell) to make sled kites out of beautiful, shimmery, polymer film. (I was taught how to do them by my wonderful teachers college craft lecturer, Klin Sullivan, who is a long-time puppetry colleague of the Hetherington family; Klin recommended me for the gig.)

My episode was made in the January of 1980 but didn't air until the August. It was quite a fluke as to how I became involved. I had stayed in touch with Liz, a prac supervising teacher in my second year at college, and her school kept inviting me back for their end-of-term celebrations. Knowing I was finishing up at Christmas 1979, I was invited to do some volunteer work at the Marrickville kids' drop-in vacation centre - located at Tempe, in the old heritage-listed nunnery by the river. (The students were bussed over every day in a mini-bus, and they were great kids, who were so appreciative of my efforts as a then-fledgling craft teacher.) We did several all-day excursions over four weeks of the school vacation, including Taronga Park Zoo, Channel Seven TV studios and the Festival of Sydney in Hyde Park.

It was at the Festival's hands-on craft exhibit where I bumped into Klin, and she said that if I'd come back on the weekend she'd upskill me to make space-age sled kites for the "Squiggle" show. All I had to provide my own eyelet punch, and fame could be mine! When it came time to tape the episode, the ABC and Miss Jane were able to come to us at Tempe, where we had a ready made child audience - they loved me! - and then we drove to Centennial Park in the afternoon to fly the kites we made for the cameras.

Not a bad opportunity for a 21 year old graduate teacher with no experience.

You know, despite the glorious rainbow vibrancy of Mr Squiggle himself, and the amazing purple and silver sled kites, I've never seen the episode in colour! The week my episode was due to air on TV, there was a lengthy bread strike - I was working in my Dad's independent depot bread shop in Ramsgate. I had to take my portable b/w TV in, and the episode ran for the entertainment of the queue of customers who were lined up to buy their meagre rations of daily bread. Mum and Dad couldn't see the episode at all, since they were back at the Bexley store, serving their own queue of customers. There were no commercial home video machines yet, of course. I had even asked my old college to tape the episode for their archives (and me) - on U-matic video - but something went wrong with their aerial socket that day, and it taped in b/w! (Somewhere around here I have a fairly clear b/w crosstape, but it's probably on Beta. Sigh. Unless I once made a VHS copy.)

Also: a man named Terry Dowling sang a silly song about an alien in the episode - and it was a shock, years later, to meet him in Galaxy Bookshop and realise that Terry Dowling the folk singer was THE Terry Dowling, SF writer - and the husband of Kerry, a fellow ASTREX Star Trek Fan Club member! Small universe!

1 comment:

Therin of Andor said...

Vale Norman Hetherington. The radio news is reporting his passing this morning. I stood in line to chat to him at a recent exhibition, but his groupies were many, and I had to be satisfied with a shared smile across the crowded room.