Category Archives: News

Remembering Penny Francis

There is so much to be said about Penny Francis and her enthusiastic support of puppetry.

Penny Francis!  What a powerhouse for puppetry! The last time we saw Penny was at the end of our last visit to Europe in 2017, when we spent a few days in Clapham staying with her.  We had stayed with her so many times and were not the only puppetry people who benefited from her great generosity.  I’m glad to say we had a few chances to return hospitality because she came to Australia a number of times, and was a guest speaker at the first National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit [Melbourne, 2002].  Her uncle, Phil Smith, had been a popular comedian in musical comedies in Australia in the first half of the 1900s, and there was family in Perth.  [Please note that I didn’t make the mistake of writing “1900’s”.  Penny was a stickler for correct expression!].   When quite young she had acted Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion  on tour in the U.S.A. and it was her marriage to the actor Derek Francis that kindled her interest in puppetry. 

 Derek was an amateur puppeteer of a professional standard, and made superb marionettes.  I was lucky enough to see a sample of one of the shows they did for some visiting Indian puppeteers in the marionette theatre at the back of their home in Barnes [London] in 1965.  (As some of you may know, Penny was born in what was then Calcutta.)  Recently I came across a letter I had sent home from England telling of that afternoon in Barnes in which I referred to Penny only as “the wife of Derek Francis”!  (It was Sunday, 24 October 1965. I had quite forgotten that Violet Philpott performed The Egg then, and I had premiered two shadow items that were still in my last performance, in 2020.)  At Penny’s invitation, I visited them again some years later in the big house in Wimbledon, when Penny had become an energetic advocate for puppetry.  

Penny was a driving force behind the Puppet Centre in Battersea, and its publication, Animations.  In 1979 she was the organiser of Puppet Theatre 79, London’s first international puppetry festival, an astounding achievement in a city where publicising such an event is a huge task, but even buses carried the festival’s logo.  She was responsible for a puppetry course at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, a course which is sadly no longer offered, and was editor for three books on puppetry and puppet history by Henryk Jurkowski.  Her own book, Puppetry: a Reader in Theatre Practice, was published in 2012.

It was great that Adam Bennett was able to visit Penny when she turned 92 earlier this year.  That was a happy link to UNIMA-Australia through someone she was very fond of.  When we got details of the live broadcast of her funeral I forwarded them to Nancy Staub in Louisiana.  (Nancy organised UNIMA-1980 in Washington, D.C.).  She wrote:  “ Penny was an inspiration and so kind to me …. Celebrated my 90th birthday June 30, one day after Penny left us.”  And after watching the ceremony wrote: “I always enjoyed her wit and wisdom. We spent a week together at UCONN in 2015 that I will always treasure. I miss her.” 

 And all who remember Penny will miss her.

Richard Bradshaw

Vale Harry Gardner, Life Member of UNIMA Australia

GARDNER. Harry. 1927 – 2018.  Dr Harry Gardner of East Ringwood passed away peacefully on Sunday, 18 February, 2018. Harry was beloved by his family and friends and acknowledged for his many contributions to science, ethics education, humanism, folk music and the community. [Published in the Herald Sun 21-2-2018]

Harry Gardner performing ‘Waltzing Matilda’
(Photo courtesy of Jenny Gardner).

Few people watching the elderly man doing a street-performance of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with marionettes made by the late Ann Davis, or playing the fiddle as a busker in East Ringwood, would have realised the intellectual breadth of this remarkable human being. Those of us who knew him valued his friendship, wisdom and humility.

Harry Gardner was born in Perth and attended the University of Western Australia where he specialised in chemistry, and from where he eventually went as a Fulbright Scholar to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. On a blind date he met a Cornell chemistry graduate, Lorrie Niedeck. It was a happy match and after they married the couple moved to Melbourne where Harry had landed a job with the CSIRO.

Lorrie had become a Quaker, and that is how she met a fellow Quaker visiting Melbourne, Dora Beacham, who came from London in 1966-7 and did some teaching in an Aboriginal community in South Australia. In London Dora was a member of the Educational Puppetry Association and later became a much valued supporter of the Puppet Centre. She introduced Lorrie to puppetry and put her in contact with Edith Murray whom Dora had met in London in 1963. It was Harry who built Lorrie her first puppet theatre and encouraged her to go into business.  ‘The Gardner Puppet Theatre’ became a regular visitor to schools in Victoria for 40 years; it was also a training ground for some talented puppeteers, such as Frank Italiano, Ian Cuming and Ralph Baker.  Lorrie was President of UNIMA-Australia for three years and in that role did considerable groundwork in preparation for the 2008 UNIMA Congress in Perth.   She retired in 2004 because of ill health and a grateful UNIMA-Australia awarded her a Life Time Achievement Award.  When she died in 2005 Harry carried out her wish to endow a puppetry scholarship for UNIMA which bears her name.

Lorrie and Harry Gardner in their backyard
(Photo courtesy of Jenny Gardner).

I got to know the Gardners when I began touring schools in Victoria in 1969 and was often invited to their happy home in East Ringwood. Harry worked at the CSIRO in Port Melbourne, quite the opposite side of Melbourne from where they lived, a three-hour daily commute. I have a memory of visiting him at his work once where steaming retorts on his bench were part of his research into aluminium.  In retirement he visited local primary schools with experiments designed to encourage an interest in science.

Harry was a keen collector of Australian folksongs which he played on his fiddle. Sometimes Lorrie would accompany him on the flute and their son Henry, now a reader in computer science at ANU, continues the violin tradition. Once when Harry and Lorrie were visiting the Southern Highlands some of us puppeteers were having a meal with them in a Thai restaurant and people at the next table started singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ Harry instantly produced his violin and provided an accompaniment.

In later life Harry, who was a member of the Humanist Society of Victoria, became a strong supporter of the teaching of ethics in schools and devised courses for classes.  One of his ethics lessons was based on ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and on at least one occasion he used his puppets to illustrate it.  A rational thinker, he was also a strong supporter of assisted dying and urged Victorian MPs to pass legislation to allow it, personally visiting some 50 parliamentarians in and around Melbourne.  Happily he himself died peacefully and naturally in hospital, surrounded by his children.

In recent years Dennis Murphy, who often visited Harry, has kept me informed of his health. Harry was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003 but it had already metastasised so was inoperable. His survival in good spirits to the age of 91 in 2018 is quite remarkable. At Christmas he wrote:

“My family collected here yesterday, which saved me a lot of effort because I’m nearly 91 (three weeks) and was in the final stage of prostate cancer. However on my own initiative I discovered an isotopic therapy that has worked wonders. I’ve been to Sydney for two such injections of lutetium 177 that has relieved the pain and kept me going. My oncologist is much delighted after originally opposing it.”

Those in the puppetry community who knew Harry have lost a great friend. Our sympathy goes out to Henry, Gayle and Jenny on their loss of a wonderful and impressive father.

I am hoping that the following link still works when you read this, because it will give you a chance to hear Harry speaking last year on assisted dying and hear him play his fiddle. Click here to be taken to the article.  [It will call up a video, so please be patient.]

Although Lorrie was the professional puppeteer, Harry’s ‘Waltzing Matilda’ puppet show was popular at events such as folk festivals. He last performed it in mid-January to a group of elderly citizens. Click here to find out more about Harry’s musical legacy.

[Richard Bradshaw, with help from Henry Gardner, Gayle and Jenny.]

Congrats to Lorrie Gardner Scholarship 2016 Awardee Katherine Hannaford!

Katherine Hannaford with Peter Linz and Noel MacNeal at Beyond the Sock, 2015

Katherine Hannaford with Peter Linz and Noel MacNeal at Beyond the Sock, 2015

Congratulations to Katherine Hannaford who has been awarded the UNIMA Australia Lorrie Garner Scholarship for 2016! From May 30 to June 19, 2016 she will be travelling in the United States of America to Atlanta, Georgia for a return visit to the Center for Puppetry Arts, Texas to attend for the second time, “Beyond the Sock: Puppetry for Film and Television workshop” and Los Angeles to visit the Stan Winston School of Character Arts.

Katherine is a professional puppet builder, emerging puppeteer and she is currently teaching Puppetry as a year-long elective at the high school in NSW where she works at full time as Teacher Librarian.

If you’d like to join Katherine at Beyond the Sock (June 7-11, Texas), registration is still open until May 24, 2016. Workshop participants get to design, build and perform hand and rod puppets while learning from Muppet and Sesame Street performers Peter Linz and Noel McNeal (shown in the photo with Katherine in 2015) and puppet builder Pasha Romanowski from Project Puppet.

For those interested in the Lorrie Gardner Scholarship, the next one will be offered in 2018 to the value of $2500 AUD. The scholarship is only available to UNIMA Australia members who have been continuous for at least 2 years before applying. To allow for new or expired membership, UNIMA Australia is giving the opportunity to join/renew before the 30th of April, 2016.

If you are already a current member, you just need to keep updating your membership.

For more info about membership and to join/renew, go to

An Exciting New Puppetry DVD

"Murray Raine is... Highly Strung" DVD - see more info at

Marionettist and UNIMA Australia member Murray Raine has recently had a documentary made about his life’s work, which was released on DVD in November 2014. The film was produced & directed by Tasmanian documentary film maker Peter Oldham.

“Murray Raine is…Highly Strung” is are a rare gem of a documentary – the film not only guides you through Murray ‘s fascinating journey as a puppeteer but it has rare archival footage of other Australian puppetry greats like Peter Scriven’s Tintookies, Norman Hetherington’s Mr Squiggle and Marti McClelland’s marionettes. There are insightful interviews from leading puppeteers like Richard Bradshaw, Sue Wallace and Steve Coupe from Sydney Puppet Theatre, Peter Oldham (from The Tintookies) and Marti McClelland.

The film captures Murray’s spectacularly flamboyant style and mastery of marionette design and manipulation. It showcases several of his stunning marionette creations, including Vegas showgirls decked in gorgeous plumes of pink, a koala on a flying trapeze and a whole host of hilarious celebrity caricatures like Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Elvis, Pavarotti and Dolly Parton. There is also some lovely footage of Murray creating his “Madame Tipsy McBoozle” puppet from start to finish in his workshop, which is particularly interesting for puppet makers.

This is an important film for Australian puppetry history and particularly good for people interested in marionettes.

The DVD costs $25 AUD (with $5 AUD Postage within Australia. International shipping is available). For more information about the DVD go to:

Puppetry Networking Day in Sydney

Thank you to everyone who came to our puppetry networking day in Sydney on 17 Oct! It was an afternoon of exchanging ideas, skill share ‘show and tells’ (working with moldable plastic, foam clay and making sets with corflute) and catching up with old friends.
Thank you also to Sue Wallace for bringing up our new UNIMA Australia Scholarship Magazines (if you are a member of UNIMA Australia, a copy will be coming your way!).
Unima Australia Puppetry Networking Day

UNIMA OZ – Online Puppetry Magazine

We are thrilled to launch our new online puppetry magazine, “UNIMA Oz”! This first issue is free – please do check it out and share!

‘UNIMA Oz Issue 1/2014’ by UNIMA Australia
An online magazine publication for UNIMA Australia, the puppetry organisation for Australia. We are passionate about fostering the Art of Puppetry, furthering puppetry knowledge and connecting puppeteers in Australia and abroad.