New home for Mr Squiggle

Mr Squiggle.

Mr Squiggle, the man from the moon, has landed at the National Museum of Australia!

The beloved children’s television puppet Mr Squiggle, and his friends Blackboard, Rocket, Bill Steamshovel and Gus the Snail, have landed in Canberra after being acquired by the National Museum of Australia.

With a pencil for a nose, Mr Squiggle delighted generations of children with his impromptu drawings and cheerful banter. The original Mr Squiggle marionette and more than 800 related objects, including fellow puppets, artworks, scripts, costumes, props, sets, production notes, merchandise and audio-visual material, have joined the National Historical Collection 65 years after first debuting on Australian television.

The extraordinary collection captures the life’s work of Norman Hetherington, master puppeteer, cartoonist, artist and performer who was the genius and the voice behind the characters who featured in Mr Squiggle and Friends.

Katherine McMahon, Director of the National Museum, expressed her own excitement at the arrival of the collection.

“Mr Squiggle was a feature of my childhood and I, along with generations of Australian children, was enchanted and inspired to draw by Mr Squiggle, who starred in one of the nation’s longest running and most beloved television series,” Ms McMahon said.

“We can’t wait to share the collection with Australia and give grandparents and parents the opportunity to revisit their childhoods and share their memories with today’s little ones,” Ms McMahon said.

Ms McMahon paid tribute to Mr Hetherington’s daughter, known to many Australians as ‘Miss Rebecca’. Ms Hetherington was the last presenter of the show and led the decision to establish the Norman Hetherington collection at the National Museum.

“We are grateful and humbled by Rebecca Hetherington’s decision to entrust this treasured collection to the care of the National Museum. The acquisition will become a highlight of the National Historical Collection and will be cherished by us and the rest of the country,” Ms McMahon said.

Rebecca Hetherington said, “I’m so happy that my father’s collection has found a home at the National Museum of Australia so that it can stay together and retain its character and significance.”

“My father was one of a kind. He combined unceasing artistic energy and creativity with technical ingenuity, an amazing work ethic, whimsy, kindness, humour and a wonderful imagination,” said Ms Hetherington.

Dr Sophie Jensen, Senior Curator at the National Museum, who worked with Ms Hetherington over several years to bring this collection together, welcomed the acquisition.

“The Norman Hetherington collection is an extremely significant addition to the National Historical Collection. The range of the collection items offers a fascinating glimpse into one of the most original and creative minds our country has produced. Norman Hetherington delighted and inspired generations of Australians. The richness, diversity and magic of this collection is a direct reflection of Hetherington’s particular genius,” Dr Jensen said.

“We are looking forward to bringing all of this to light as we research and document the collection and make it available for everyone to enjoy,” Dr Jensen said.

Mr Squiggle and Rocket will be on show at the National Museum from 29 April to 16 May 2024. A larger exhibition featuring more of Mr Squiggle’s friends is in development.

Collection highlights

The complete set of puppets from Mr Squiggle and Friends, including Mr Squiggle, Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel, Gus the Snail and Rocket, and those from the first show in July 1959.

Scripts and squiggles from Mr Squiggle’s 40-year run.

The Nicky and Noodle string puppets, which appeared as part of the first broadcast of ABC TV on 5 November 1956.

Norman Hetherington

Generations of Australian children were delighted and inspired to draw by Mr Squiggle, the star of one of the nation’s longest running and most beloved television series, and thousands more were entertained by Hetherington’s theatrical performances, television productions and live puppet shows.

In 1942 Hetherington enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force, where he joined the Army Entertainment Unit as a performer and cartoonist.

He worked as a cartoonist at the Bulletin from 1945–1961.

He was born into a Methodist family and became involved in creating a variety of performances with the Methodist Order of Knights from 1948–1951.

He worked as a designer and illustrator from the late 1940s onwards, producing freelance pieces for clients such as the Bank of New South Wales, the University of Sydney and the Australian Puppetry Guild.

Hetherington had a long-standing interest in puppetry and working at the Bulletin as a cartoonist gave him the creative space and freedom to pursue this interest. He built his knowledge and connections with the Clovelly Puppet Theatre from 1952.

He went on to create, produce and perform his own puppet shows in theatres, department stores and preschools around Australia, including at the Sydney Opera House.

Hetherington was creating puppets and doing puppet shows around Sydney when a director of the ABC TV Training School saw one of his shows and asked him to join the school. He continued working at the Bulletin and doing puppet shows around Sydney while also working at the training school, preparing for the introduction of television and the beginning of ABC TV. Nicky and Noodle were part of his original retinue of puppets and appeared on the opening night of ABC TV on 5 November 1956.

He became the inaugural president of the Australian Puppetry Guild when it was founded in 1969.

He created and performed puppets for other television shows including Pinocchio, Blinky Bill, Skippy and Playschool.

He created Mr Squiggle and Friends. The show first aired on 1 July 1959 and ran for 40 years, with its final episode airing on 9 July 1999.

He completed over 10,000 drawings during his 40-year run with Mr Squiggle, with many of them being completed upside down.

In addition to Mr Squiggle, Hetherington created, performed and voiced all the characters that appeared in the show, including Rocket, Blackboard, Bill Steamshovel and Gus the Snail.

Hetherington and his wife, Margaret, who wrote scripts for the shows, received several honours and awards for their work on Australian television. In 1984 and 1989 they received a Penguin Award from the Television Society of Australia ‘for their outstanding contribution to children’s television’. In 1989 Hetherington received a signed artist’s smock from the Australian Cartoonists Association when he was awarded life membership, and in 2009 was honoured with the Jim Russell Award for his outstanding contribution to Australian cartooning.

In 1990 Hetherington was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia ‘for service to children’s television programs and puppetry’.

The Norman Hetherington collection at the National Museum of Australia includes costumes, props, sets, scripts, artworks, designs, cartoons, promotional material and awards associated with all these aspects of his life and career.

Details: Norman Hetherington Collection Acquisition | National Museum of Australia (nma.gov.au)

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