When a writer like my mate Liz is confronted by careless neighbours who are making magpies fall from the sky due to pesticide poisoning with the cozy permits of local councils the pen must become the sword in the battle of protection for the environment and all creatures great and small.

As many environmental activists know, the most frustrating thing is our public servants who are getting a full-time wage and maybe a car are not acting on what we expect. Thus the ancient Davids have to use whatever is to hand, to write press stories, blog, organise placards, attend meetings, fundraise because what is common sense is mystifyingly suspect.

Praises to all the good folks around Greenbank who persevered against toxins in their home environment. It shouldn’t have been necessary to have to embark on such a long, drawn-out campaign which caused unnecessary stressors on relationships and between neighbours and the officials of their local government who should have the wellbeing of their residents as first concern.

The corruption of values doesn’t seem to go away. The interests of capital over people and the natural environment is real and ongoing all over the country and the world.

As Germaine Greer rehabilitated her land, a Gold Coast hinterland farmer had told her any organic agriculture was pointless on their properties after the Queensland authorities bought all the excess chemicals like DDT from the USA at the end of the Vietnam War, and sprayed it along every roadside and park for council weed-killing…….

They wouldn’t do this sort of thing in this day and age would they? It seems our elected representatives are willing to kill the Great Barrier Reef for short-term material gain, so we have to let the grand-kids know, sorry you can’t trust them to do more good than harm.

Good on ya Liz and Kim – you survived to tell the tale of the Aussie battlers of Greenbank, and now more time to sing and write and rehabilitate.


A Novel project in progress for 2014


There is one story about Cromwell and his Roundheads which you may not realise you know.

The nursery rhyme

Goosey goosey gander,
Where shall I wander,
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by the left leg
And threw him downstairs.

This refers to “goose-stepping” Roundheads who would search houses for Royalists. Anyone who refused to accept Puritan ways was arrested and thrown in jail.

 When I was a little girl walking home from primary school I wished I could explore my family tree. What triggered this desire has vanished, but being 51 now with adult children flown and nests of their own, I have my  PC and wi-fi of my own, plus a home of my own(though not a house-keeper like Virginia Woolf).
The Past and Present have are aligned with my desires and scientific applications. Dr. Who and I time-travellers in t.v. 51st year!

THE OBSESSION LANDED AT THE FEET OF MY 11th Great Grandmother Thomasine Cannaday born in the Parish of Stepney, baptised at St. John of Wapping C of E 11 March 1632. Daughter of Hugh, a Mariner and Rope Maker. Resident at Gun Alley.

Then the first civil war began. The separation of powers was fought in blood and mayhem. The East London folk built barricades in 1642 to defend themselves against their own King – Charles 1st…

This was where she first met John Clark.

My Great Grandmother 12 generations past.

A Novel project for 2013.  A year gone by already and what have I done? I must stop pressuring myself – allow the characters to live within the context of the times. January or Janus reminds me I am looking back and realising we are still dealing with the same issues – control – power – justice….




My Faith was shaken to the core.

A black disease had been released by a demonic dagger. My breath became laboured. I needed Johnny. He was my Rock, but I couldn’t desert my Post outside the rooms of General Cromwell. This was a test of my character. God knows why. It didn’t sound like the General was battling with his conscience!

Thou Shalt not commit Adultery! It had been drummed into us at many chapel meetings. We had fought and won a Holy war for a better society. We were New Model soldiers singing Psalms in unison with the vision and power to create a better world to live in.

The first Acts of Parliament struck the tone. The penalty of adultery was death. It seemed a bit harsh to me and John afterall you would be killing off most of the population of Sailor-town like my dad in Stepney after he’d had too many ales..
We trusted our superiors to know what they were doing. They had a higher calling. My loyalty ran deep to General Cromwell.

Confusion knawed at my insides. Cromwell was my Commander, yet God, through the Lord Jesus Christ was Supreme Commander in this world and the next.

I wish I hadn’t said I would be honoured to fill this guard in the Palace this evening. It was obvious Providence had placed me here. I prayed to be relieved of my duty.

Perhaps I was imagining things? It was worse than if my own Father, had been fornicating with another woman and I as witness. When a rumour of his infidelity reached my long suffering Mother she told me the betrayal might hurt, but adultery always ended up being hung around the woman’s neck in any coupling.

Another time Mother came home from Church and said she’d thought long and hard about the Fall and how God had cursed Mother Eve for the want of learning and then Father arrived with his drunken mates he’d met down the tavern and slapped her on the arse and told her to get some cooking for our good friends.
“Help your good mother cater for our guests, Thomasin” and he winked and took out his mouth organ to incite them to sing some of the old sea shanty’s. It helped us perform our duties to everybody’s satisfaction.

When later I met John at Ratcliff Stairs I asked him. Would he commit adultery on his wife. He shook his head and I believed him.
“Such questions from a young maid” he exclaimed as if he was ancient! Would you John. Will you make a trust worthy, Godly husband? He blushed. Why was he blushing? That was a whole other life-time. We had been through wars together, witnessed far worse atrocity against the Almighty than sticking the cock in a woman when she wanted it.

Even with these thoughts I, Private Thom Clark was bitter walking back to the billet later that evening. She could tell her soul to John and he would listen. Thankyou God for providing such a godly man. Thankyou. Thankyou. Thankyou. Amen.

Dear Jesus, what would you do finding your apostle breaking your Father’s commandment; Thou shalt not commit adultery.

That is what was going on, wasn’t it? Adultery? I had heard the Lord Protector talking so familiar to a woman in his room. I thought it was his wife. It was nice to hear him laugh, but I grew uncomfortable as the voices sounded flirtacious. You would expect it of course, except when Private Hubbard broke from his stern demeanour and mouthed to me, it’s not his wife – and typical of a soldier, even most Puritan ones, he lapsed into a rude gesture suggesting he approved of what his Lord was doing.

The image of the Lord Protector in the front of my eyes. His laughter delighting her, his mistress?

He shouldn’t be laughing like that, nor she! Where was

At the very beginning of the Commonwealth, when we signed up for a Puritan society grown to it’s natural grace there was an Act of Parliament imposing the death penalty for incest and adultery and 3 months for fornication.
John and I agreed it would save the sacred institute of Marriage between a man and a woman and make is sacrosanct. It protected the integrity of the family. Though John had some doubts some men couldn’t control their urges and you’d kill half of the men in the land for being too weak to walk away from temptation.

You have to take charge of your manly tool as much as a soldier maintains his weapon. You saw secret men’s exercising their birthright to self-release. Girl, your name is Eve! God wanted to protect his children as a good Father.

Tears were running down my face. John, I wouldn’t be without you! Perhaps that’s what our Lord Cromwell thinks about his Mistress. She is his relief from ravages of war so he has a clear head to command. Afterall we are no persons to judge our superiors when we ourselves are trespassing the codes. If found out we would surely swing by the rope, even without fornication.

I sat on the edge of the camp bed. So it’s all right to make the Law and not obey it? What is the word John? To describe it?

John shrugged. You can go. I want to be alone.

You are right. Let this remain between them and God’s will. We are humble servants and soldiers. I will pray for guidance John. I will lay my head and rest. Tell the lads I am recovering from some rum.

She lay her head and the word sprang to mind – Hypocrite – her most admired man in this world was an adulterer. God had revealed this fact to her. Why?

Would she be an accuser and have him held up as an adulterer? John had told her sincerely, it was not her job to save Cromwell. Then why was she a witness to his sinning?

DNA of the Black Death at East Smithfield, London

Julie McNeill:

I am achieving potential thanks to internet technology.

My self-learning of British history and herstory  show knowledge is power – like the motto on my primary school building. I’ve been born to mature into a time where the democratisation of knowledge is easier.  It has become common knowledge the genes we carry can protect us long enough to survive and procreate, but they also give us a pre-disposition to other diseases including mental well-being.

Deaths by disease on individuals have devastating impact on families affecting the next generation. Joining the British Army to feed and clothe yourself can be catastrophic on the woman you marry as Syphillus like my Grandparents in 19th and 20th century Scotland and Ireland.

T.B. killed leaving widows and young children in a time when the woman was evicted for being without a bread-winning husband….no wonder there was such resistance for women getting the vote.

If a woman could survive childbirth without an infection, she was lucky. Medical discoveries like antibiotics have relieved us from suffering and stopped us from dying.

Open minds and willingness to follow scientific leads – will lead us further in insight. Investment in scientific research may help us defeat the bacteria and viruses evolve resistance to our old potions and give us Hell on earth – obliterate our existence.

Australia has a Conservative Prime Minister who has devalued Science – no tax on pollution to fund greenhouse reduction,  an ignorance of the necessity of Science as a key threat to the economy by not interested in conserving ecologies, or even bothering to have a  Minister for Science. 

Science is everywhere not God Prime Minister – exploiting knowledge for money’s sake can also be our down-fall, our misery, our extinction. It depresses me. 

Now, I escape, time-travel the generations and enjoy the ride to the destintion. I have  arrived in East London 1600! A Mariner, called Hugh Cannaday marries Thomasin Lloyd in 1631. I can find documents of 5 children, but only 1, my Great Grandmother x 11 – Why? Was she the only one to survive – a new fact of life and death and grief emerges.

Sailors, Prostitutes and Puritans!

More bodies for the Thames.

Bills of Mortality

Originally posted on Contagions:

It seems as though every couple of months a new paper is published reporting Yersinia pestis DNA from ancient remains. This week brought the latest installment from London’s East Smithfield Black Death cemetery. This cemetery holds a special place in the scientific investigations of the Black Death because it is so well documented as being specifically for the first wave of plague in 1348-1350 and the  recovery of so many well-preserved skeletons. This cemetery has been the subject of several bioaracheological studies, primarily by former plague skeptic Sharon DeWitte, making this one of the best characterized set of Black Death victims yet to be discovered. DeWitte is also one of the co-authors of this study.

Using a new method of ‘targeted enrichment’  and high through-put sequencing an international group led by Hendrik Poinar was able to clone and sequence relatively long stretches of Yersinia pestis DNA from recovered remains. They…

View original 579 more words


Ireland with Cromwell

Roundhead Silent Drum photo (c) Iain at flickr

8 pence a day – NEW MODEL ARMY Training – 1649


Spitalfields-Map-1720 artillery ground

Ever since they were kids they’d grown used to pirates hanging at Execution Dock, bodily excretions and carcasses of human and God’s other creations swept away down the Thames River or along the alleys and roads around the Tower Hamlets.800px-Demi-culverin-circa-1587

see sections of my familial, novel in progress here:


New Model Republicans from Westminster with Love.

Parish church of John and Thomasine Clark(returned souldiers), whose Battle Cry chorused with their Lord Protector and General Oliver Cromwell in Ireland, Scotland and England, 1649-1655.

Parliamentary Medal presented to New Model Army soldiers at the Battle of Dunbar.

Great Grandmother x 11 Thomasine Clark, with her husband Great Grandfather John Clark of London were worthy of a ballad in 1655. 

thanks to the English Ballad Archive  www.ebba.comfrom the Roxburgh Collection at the British Library

thanks to the English Ballad Archive
from the Roxburgh Collection at the British Library

Inspired by research of the 17th century my ancestral rooting about  down the blood-line of my mother’s mother has brought me to a novel obsession;

Working Title – Love In an English Republic

The realisation it is I who is the working-class  black-sheep of the family – being the only one who has never been able to get or keep an ordinary job, and must do what she does best and write!

If I am to be useful it’s about time the proletariat were plucked from obscurity to share the his&herstory of the common folk.

Those landed ladies and gentlemen, Lords and , Earls, Kings and Queens can play the extras  on the periphery for a change!

Here I am working from Terre Australie, an imagined continent of my Early modern Great Grand-parents sea-faring community of the Tower Hamlets on the River Thames.

I never imagined I was related to the authentic EastEnders!

When London poet and pamphleteer John Milton visited the Italian scientist Galileo who was under house arrest for turning the world upside down with his knowledge that threatened the Roman Catholic Laws of Nature, the English were heading towards civil and religious war.

In 2012 New planets are constantly being mapped in the universe, but my gaze is back to the potent democratic debates including the less recognised input of the women who also marched and petitioned in their thousands.

 Today in the Commonwealth of Australia we are still governed under the Westminster Parliamentary system with Britain’s Monarch staunchly holding on as our Constitutional Head of State…Every time a Royal gets a free trip they mention they won’t be offended if we cut the ties, but we cling to what we know. We don’t have to fight over it!

John Clark and Thomasine grew up in a time of passionate politics and religious rhetoric.  In 1647 the ideas and plans for social democratic ideals were laid before the Generals of the Parliamentary regiments.

Oliver Cromwell listened…army at putney

Thanks to the world wide web of blogs ‘ and scholarship, the sharing of knowledge is compost to this seeker of stories.

Great Southern Land

The descendents not yet mapped.

As I write, the modern day Puritans were elected to the Queensland Parliament democratically. There are petitions and protests by various community groups including apprentices…They might not have banned Christmas but their by-word is austerity – leave the giving to volunteers and charity.

352 years later we share the same Hereditary Monarch who comes to visit and reinforce the established order of things.

My Republican DNA will have to express itself creatively while the Tories dismantle the rights and policies of the last twenty years, which raised the standards of those most disadvantaged in a capitalist society.

after the English Revolution 1642-1650

the first national army – New Model Army of the English Commonwealth


My husband and I went to Westminster in 2010 before I knew about my family history and the fascinating history of the warring sides of the English Civil War. In all my 11+ years of Birmingham schooling the historical record of learning was stuck on the Tudors. Shame.

Westminster 2010

Democracy Village, Westminster 2010
subdued compared to 1642!

To follow the commoner Clarks hereditary line go to INHERITANCE, A WORKING CLASS PEDIGREE:                      and novel in progress at :


nr Telford/Iron Bridge

Addicted to geneological research  I went with my husband to Europe for their Summer 2010 forming this poem after visits to  cemeteries where ancestors were buried. 

Hardly enough to live on, 

Nothing left to rot with;

No sword or jewel of infinite

Value – our commoners of

England, Ireland, Scotland, 

Are one of many paupers after

Another; piled in layers

Of dirt, after a shitty life.  

Agricultural Labourers of Worcestershire

Nearby, deliveries came in a black glass

Carriage, emptied and covered, a standing

Stone Mason has inscribed  the name of a

Citizen who lived once beneath the stars,

Under  the influence of a Celtic Cross;

Intricate, masterfully chiselled and

Paid for with a tidy sum before

Meeting their Maker.

Celtic Cross

Ornate marble tablets quarried

From the mountain tops proclaim

A devoted wife, husband, a child

Called to Heaven above the dismal clouds.


Will this class of  ancestor be equal

In eternity with my own dear departed?

Unable to inherit success or rise above

The Gutter;

Salvation came much

Later with the biological sciences.

Within the subsidised grassy spaces

 Layers of my blood and bone

Peasants,  Nailers, Miners of coal

And limestone, brickies labourers,

Even British Imperial soldiers…

Occupy my thoughts.

Hill of Tara, County Meath, Republic of Ireland

Generally illiterate, sometimes called


 Wives were burdened and bloody

Infected by birthing,  dirt and soldiers

Syphillis  and beatings with booze;

Left  behind Wards of State and

Church ‘bastards’,  survived to earn

A crust, however they could.

I have no fantastic psychic impressions

Of past lives as a Klimt-like Austrian

Princess or Harem dancer as a Medium

Once claimed!

My inner Shaman is un-spooked  treading

By Regency damp and mossy tombs in

Gothic Romanticism, searching for

 Surnames in vain.


 Having acquired the generational

Narrative which casts my proletariat


I create a cast of characters to a virtual

fate; in blogs and bricks of words -

This family’s  black sheep grazing around

Their burial plots.

The Pub's still standing

 Irish republicans and suffragettes are

Remembered at Glasnevin

For heroism in the fight for  democratic

Secularity, and though the parades

Long gone, further afield from the

Dead and buried slum dwellers - 

Chief  Daniel O’Connell and the

Executed Independence martyrs still

Attract  sorrow and gratitude graveside.


Free from the mad and mean world, the

Collective of  Celtic kin under the grass

Are strangers, political and spiritually

 Yet I find comfort in thinking their

 Last gasp or TB cough was  



Finally liberated from death-bed agonies,

The verses rote learned in lines of  Holy

Scriptures will sound like poetry, along

The kids playing outside. 

The promise of an after-life free from

Bacterial battling, and oppression

In hovels of working-class containment

Or Asylum, is a blessed sigh of relief ,

Giving up the  ghost in a society 

Of sadness and shame.


Body snatchers sneaked over nameless

Dens, searching for valuable

Corpses; their human remains hidden,

No contribution to medical science.

 My generation’s  Scientists  find markers,

Not by stone and marble to connect us, 

But the trace of  a Double Helix. 

We  join scholars to trace geneology

Before  the days of  St.Patrick and Bede

Self-learners on a sojourner’s stay in  

Ui Niall’s territory - entering

Passage-ways and tombs to the 

 Underworld dug into the Hill of Tara.

Breaking bread beside the erect penis

Of Celtic destiny

Reflecting  on our mothers and fathers,

Whose  DNA travels with us and through

 Into our off-spring, we silently breath

The sacred air;  a brief resting

Spot on the planet.

Procreation of Celtic genes

Hill of Tara, Navan, Ireland

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The Cost of Living by Julie McNeill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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I was anxiously awaiting an audience for Jika Jika Puppets from North Fitzroy, Melbourne. They were part of my Youth Arts program for the first Melbourne Fringe Festival(1983) that I was a founding member of, and hardly anybody had turned up!Summoning courage I went up to the puppeteer, Roy McNeill, who was dressed in black clothes. He eased my feelings of incompetence by saying it was okay, because he was training a puppeteer(Maeve Vella) into the show of The Four Chinese Brothers and they would look at it as a rehearsal.

A group of young unemployed performers and musicians who had hitched their way up the Nepean Highway from Frankston sat with me, cross-legged on the floor. We were enthralled by the Japanese style Bunraku rod puppets and the way they came to life. The sets were original, incorporating musical instruments within them, like the giant triangle used as a gong.

Committed to audience participation in all of his shows, Roy inducted us 17-25 year old young punks into the joy and wonder of our basic creative spirits: waving silks, making music and working puppets from the primary school show.

The Asian influences were breaking through to the arts and culture of Australia in 1982. Roy later explained to me when we met again at a Winter Solstice night feast in Brunswick Street a couple of months later, that his experience at Osaka for Expo ’70 had changed his artistic vision and direction in life.


Roy trained as a puppeteer with the Marionette Theatre of Australia (M.T.A.), when he was seventeen. His father had read a Melbourne’s Age newspaper classified for a young person interested in theatre and wanting to travel. Roy didn’t know anything about theatre but he did want to get out of a grim future working as a salesman at McPhersons Hardware.

Amazingly, he passed the audition where he was asked to work a puppet and carve a pair of hands. He must have shown a natural talent, as well as being young and cheap … There were not many women employed as they could not carry the large, heavy ‘bridge’, tracks and set. The one or two women there helped to set up the puppets.

“We had 3-5 tons of equipment. All the puppets were large, long string marionettes, whose heads were carved by sculptors from which negative moulds were made.””The heads were then moulded with Silastic (a glue-impregnated material softened with acetone),” recalls Roy.

“They were then covered with a skin made from pearl glue and whitening.These heads were very strong and light. The bodies were from half inch wood padded with flocking and canvas. Joining pieces like hips and waist joined with thick canvas webbing. Elbow and knee joints came from door hinges which had been loosened.

The bridge from the ground was about 5 metres high. The puppeteers worked 3 metres up and controlled the puppets on the stage.”

The M.T.A. was part of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Under its umbrella were the first flagship companies of the Australian Ballet, Opera and Marionettes. It was a fateful connection because Roy was able to unleash a performance talent and develop into a multi-skilled puppeteer who gained confidence to write, design, build and manipulate puppets.

For a lad from Leeds who had arrived in Australia in 1964, this was a fabulous opportunity. The shows were accepted with applause around the country, but off-stage, life was risky. In the late 1960′s life on the road was often lonely. Roy hadn’t quite found his place socially; the rest of the guys were ‘gay’ but they looked straight with their suits and ties and short haircuts.

It was Roy who was the odd one out; proud of his long wavy hair and excited by the fashion of the flare and fancy ruffled shirts with costume jewelry, many a Queensland country town male accused him of being a ‘poofta’. Not being tolerated, being beaten up regularly, caused an aversion to Queensland and Australia’s limited tolerance of difference.

Fortunately a tour of SE Asia gave him a raison d’être to escape. He got to celebrate his 20th birthday in Osaka, Japan for Expo ’70 with two shows, The Magic Pudding – a classic Australian story by Norman Lindsay and Tintookies 2000, a futuristic production that showed the evolution of humankind with lots of peace, love and harmony at the finale.

This production was innovative as for the first time it left the marionettes behind and the puppeteers worked a variety of styles of rod, glove and hand and mimed rod puppets “It didn’t go down well in Australia as everybody wanted the cute little furry creatures on long strings.”

The show was cut from the repertoire and never performed again. “It wasn’t given a proper chance” says Roy.

However, the opportunity to discover a distinctly different culture and form of puppetry gave him the impetus to research the rest of the world’s puppetry. He had saved his touring allowance by not eating in the hotels, and it wasn’t long before he was on the ‘hippie trail’, going overland through Asia across to Europe.

Roy was disappointed. In Sri Lanka the artform was dead, and all of the puppets that he saw, though beautiful and interesting with the different controls, were kept in museums. Though puppetry was a living presence in India it was hard to find as, like the circus, the puppeteers moved from village to village and when he did hear that there were puppets, there was a war that prevented him finding them!


“On arrival in England I saw most of the puppet companies, as I am interested in the different styles of puppetry and was also looking for work”, Roy wrote in a letter home to his mum and dad in Highett.

“I did not find any work as most puppet companies in Britain consist of a hard core of two or three puppeteers, and the rest of the company was made up of out-of-work actors, trying to gain hours on the stage to be able to join the Union, or middle-age matrons. Both groups were willing to work for a very minimal wage.”

“I was not very interested by their type of puppetry. I don’t really know if this was a reaction on my part because of not finding work but it all seemed so trivial and removed from reality (possibly this is what they wished to achieve). They all were beautifully-carved wooden dolls.”

“I reacted against it as I wanted something more spontaneous and stimulating, something which was not totally removed from reality but an extension of it. Wood was no longer as easily obtainable as it was 200 years ago. I settled for plastic and cardboard. I must say here the choice of materials was partly due to my own economic conditions.” (Finnsbury Park,U.K. 1972)

One puppet company was explicit about the industry, telling Roy that if he wanted to be a puppeteer in England, he’d have to go and get a job in Yorkshire. In other words just as the ABC only had BBC spoken presenters, back in ‘the homeland’, regional accents were a form of class distinction.

Roy got a job as a postman to save money to go back to Australia. Even with alternate 8 and 16 hour shifts, with youthful energy and optimism, he wrote his own puppet script, The Dragons Secret Treasure, and designed puppets made with plastic bottles, egg boxes and fabrics. These early designs would become the foundation of his commitment to taking the art of puppetry into schools with his own puppet company.


The Pilgrim Puppet Theatre was an old Church in Hawthorn that was run by Robert and Nancy Aitkins. It had a great puppet set-up with a stage that moved across, backwards and forwards to change sets easily, just like the Japanese Kabuki stage.

It was the best-equipped puppet theatre but, like many theatre companies, the issue of survival was a constant pressure. There were school shows during the week, but the first petrol crisis was occurring and it cost more to bus the audience in than the cost of the show.

To cut the cost of using professional actors for the pre-recorded voices, the puppeteers decided to design a more stylized, simpler puppet show using a combination of marionette and rod puppets, and used their own voices. Roy was involved in designing, making and writing the scripts. The puppeteers negotiated to get paid four days a week and the use of the theatre and equipment on weekends for experimenting with the artform: sheets of cardboard made into breathing triangles with soundtracks and other objects reacting with each other. Then Roy wrote his first Nativity – A King is Born. “It had to be very reverential – no funny bits, but it was still a hit and Robert praised the Lord! Unfortunately he didn’t praise the puppeteers for their almighty effort.”

It was announced that this success was a sign from God that they were to do more religious-themed shows so half the puppeteers left. Roy stayed for David and Goliath but the atmosphere was too nineteenth century to linger.

Roy left Pilgrim Puppets with $600.00 saved and he had a choice to start up his own puppet company or go on a cruise to New Guinea. As it also coincided with the breakdown of his five year marriage, Roy was ready for a sailing adventure or, as it turned out to be, near death experiences! He would return to Melbourne with a profound respect for solid ground, and moved into a shared house in Fairfield, taking over the garage to build puppets and sets for the shows he’d always wanted to produce.

In the mid-1970′s the Melbourne arts scene was flourishing with optimistic, experimental and socially conscious young people. Some were fresh out of Arts and teaching courses, some like Roy were un-schooled, self-taught scholars with a working-class wit (the teachers hadn’t been able to knock the stuffing out of him) – perfect for puppetry.

Enthusiasm for the potential of contemporary, exploratory puppetry, connections and alliances were made with people of similar ideas and intentions. Roy freelanced around town with newly-formed companies like Handspan, Kooka Puppets and B’Spell Performance Troupe, until in 1980 at the age of 30 years he launched JIKA JIKA PUPPETS.

Towards the intersection

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, I was aged 18yrs and no longer captive to the new suburb of Clayton, where my family had emigrated in 1978. My alcoholic mother and step-father shared no respect for the Shakespeare I was reading, or the history of Asia I was absorbed in, so I looked in her Year. 11 Legal Studies book to see when I could leave home without getting in trouble.

Safely sixteen, and resourceful, I lived in spare rooms, shedding poetry about the waves of my emotions. I was initiated into Emile Zola, Tolkien and Camus by my friendly, pot smoking, fresh faced college graduate teachers, who supported my path to individualism. I performed centre stage in sixth form plays, and was encouraged to pursue a life in the arts.

There was purpose in writing for Hard Times, a free newspaper I picked up in a Sandringham Op-shop, because I had stories to tell about being on the Under18 dole of $36.00 a week. Jobs were elusive. I didn’t have the right clothes or the train and bus fares. My energy was leaching out of me, until I couldn’t get out of the bed I was renting in an old lady’s back garden shed.

Co-incidentally, all at once, a job in Abbotsford, close to the city, came from a perceptive accountant who appreciated a well-written letter, and was amused by my quirky dress and pixie boots. A surprise visit from a friend of a friend who needed a new flat mate in Elwood and I was whisked away to roads with tram lines and the delights of Acland St.

There was a vibe in the village, a multi-cultural openness, along with an appreciation of enticing cakes and cafes with delectable soups and decent coffee. All around the walls and the windows, there were art and posters to read and be persuaded to be an audience to – admission by donation. I picked Seven, a collaborative, experimental performance from an ensemble of ex-Rusden student friends.

Significantly we all shared a knowledge of how to live an artistic life very cheaply. They nurtured me, in my uncertainty, handing me brushes to experiment with paint, initiating me into the magic of the Pre-Raphelites and Picasso, Matisse and Bolero. They brought my attention to the wonders and details of Nature that I hadn’t had since primary school. I was a novice, learning how to be a woman under a spiritual eclecticism of the gods, goddesses and Tarot cards.

In my flat, elevated by Hoist’s – The Planets and Dexy’s Midnight Runners I wrote poetry as one long performance piece. I was unaware that I was expressing all the fears and hopes I had, and the occasional psychotic hallucinations, which I know now were the signs of my struggling with the lows of depression and the ecstasy and thrill of life in hypomania. Nobody talked about mental illness then, but through good friendships, fun and art I stayed sane enough to work on the other side of town.

Fringe Network, a coalition of non-mainstream artists, established itself in the old Flying Trapeze Café in Brunswick St. Fitzroy. I happened to be younger, less educated and probably most naïve. Stirred by the artistic intensity and community activism I put my hand up to represent Youth Arts. At that time there was no Next Wave in Melbourne. Only South Australia had a dedicated interest in the cause of promoting young people who were keen to be mentored in all the art forms via the state sponsored Come Out Festival. I had a cause and flew with it.

Funding was received from employment and training initiatives like the Commonwealth Employment Scheme, which enabled many community projects to pay wages to their volunteers and receive training in administrative skills. The first Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival 1984 was the pivotal event of my new life.

Meeting Thom the Street Poet at the first celebration of Fringe Network in City Square meant I was invited to perform my poetry at the friendly writers’ venues like the Living Room run by Anita Sinclair, who also had a passion for masks and puppetry.

Life-long friendships were made during this festive time, and it wasn’t hard to find a lover … I wasn’t looking for a husband, but when I saw Roy the Jika Jika Puppeteer walk in to the Winter Solstice party in the building above the Black Cat Café, I was drawn to his side. I reminded him that we had met before, and he remembered that he hadn’t been paid! I’ve been working for him ever since!

Within two weeks of a whirlwind romance, where I was introduced to Roy’s culinary arts and the preparations of the premiere of his latest puppet production, we decided to live together. Going backwards and forwards down Hoddle St was time wasted when you didn’t want to be apart … plus the set of The Adventures of Platypus Phil which graced the whole of the lounge-room, and most of the rest of the North Fitzroy terrace house, wouldn’t have fitted in my flat.

At that time Roy employed a part-time administrator to get bookings and two other puppeteers who helped to make the puppets and perform the shows. Roy was so inspired by my Rubinesque physique, that he sculpted Mt. Higginsbottom out of dyed foam rubber as part of the rural setting, where the thorny devils hung out. So uniquely Romantic!

The tale of a platypus who was curious about the world outside of her burrow and ends up on South Melbourne beach after a big storm was topical in its expression of children’s rights and the wonders of our flora and fauna. Then one morning I was woken early by news that one of the puppeteers hadn’t turned up and they had a show to do in two hours!

I had seen the rehearsals and the shows they said … all I had to do was do the Rock Wallaby part and they would be able to cover the rest! Within ten minutes I was in the van travelling to my first gig, learning my lines up the Calder Highway!”


“Like any adventure” says Queen Snooze to the children, “it is exciting but also a little bit scary, but there’s no sense ruminating, we must set off!” Roy rehearsed me into THE DREAM GOBBLER – an enchanting tale with a medieval style about Princess Lullabye who is having bad dreams. A variety of hand, rod and body puppets were used with a north/south/east/west set so that the Royal pair would take their puppet horse through the audience and be led to different countries where they might find a cure for bad dreams.

Jika Jika Puppets continued its hand-to-mouth theatre-in-education schedule but was knocked back from the Australia Council and Victorian Ministry for the Arts for project funding for the adult puppet show script and designs of Kitchen Sink.

“We were performing Dream Gobbler and Four Chinese Brothers, rehearsing Platypus Phil, so we hired a student dramaturg from Victorian College of the Arts to work on the application forms. The task was to take the strengths and weaknesses of all the different kinds of puppets and give them a character.

The strongest was the Mother who was a body puppet, and the Father was a rod puppet whose movements were mechanical so he was a process worker. The Son was impressionable so he was a marionette blackboard boy. The impetus came from the slap around, slap stick of the Punch and Judy tradition and the social realism of theatre that had been revolutionary in Britain, so I wanted to do the same with puppetry, but once there was no funding for it, the puppeteers slowly started to leave.

They’d given their all with the shows, plus the company was financially unsustainable. Mailing out 3000 flyers only got a one percent return. On a good week they would get a hundred dollars.

Roy had always wanted to have children and he had proposed kids, not marriage, in the first fortnight before moving in. He explained to me that he couldn’t wait around as he was thirty-three. In 1984 we married in the Edinburgh Gardens (a rare thing in the artistic community then)!

Domestic issues came to the fore. Overcome by the experience of pregnancy and child-birth I wrote my poetry play RITES OF PASSAGE while breastfeeding. Parts of the production used slides and shadow puppetry to dramatise the conflicts of my ruined relationship with my parents.

I performed the show at La Mama for the first Next Wave festival, Universal 2 for the Fringe and also the Women’s 150 festival. It was well received and I produced a cassette of the show.

It was also hard to keep performing with Roy in The Dream Gobbler. Half-way during the show my breasts would be so hard! By the time Queen Snooze had shared her magic cakes and was laying next to the children to have a snooze, ready for the witch to appear, milk was seeping out of my costume!”

Thinking of our priorities, we got a loan for low-income earners from the State Government and moved to a solid home and garden in the child-friendly town of Kyneton. Roy took over the middle room to build a new show, THE QUEEN BEE.

It was a perfect show for primary school students as it was made completely out of rubbish: cardboard boxes, tubes, plastic containers and material. Roy was showing them how they could make great puppets with everyday things. He had been reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettleheim too, clarifying the importance of fairy tales to our lives and so our creative partnership became REAL FANTASY THEATRE.


It was during this time that somebody in the audience had appreciated the joy and wonder of the other show called LET’S NOT SAY GOODBYE – about endangered species. After years of packing out tons of heavy wooden puppets and sets Roy had worked away, making his puppets light and transportable. Foam rubber was a perfect material. It could be dyed an array of bright colours, was easy to sculpt and glue with contact adhesive and it gave the puppets an ease of life-like movement.

Centre stage was a tree set over an aluminum step ladder. A branch represented every continent and that housed the different puppet characters who all had their own humorous voices and sad but true tales. The vast variety of animals represented Roy’s passion for Nature and his concerns for their future, but I also was certain that they portrayed all the different aspects of his personality!

There was the tapir and toucan, the bush baby and python, wooly monkey and sloth, a rhino who loved to sit in the bog and dream, and Possum Gaddafi who was threatening to rap-dance in peoples ceilings. The European rat who was hitching a ride to Australia said his hair was green due to acid rain.

Fortunately there were visionary public servants in Victoria at this time who were inspired by Roy’s ability to pass on an environmental message to a large, diverse audience in such a comically visual way. The recycling unit of the Environment Protection Authority commissioned a play and it was called MANY HAPPY RETURNS.

Scraps, a hungry backyard duck is scavenges for wrigglers.

“Just as he is hedonistic, amiable, funny and a little nerdy, each individual component of the piles of rubbish has its own peculiar personality and delivery. There is the rhyming compost heap, a pile of bottles eagerly awaiting their friendly bottle-o and their consequent transformation; the soft drink and baked bean cans who are to seal their various friendships by being crushed together and lastly the stack of papers as big as a tree who are also keenly anticipating their next re-incarnation.” (Wendy Boynton, Lowdown, Feb, 1993).

Although I was unable to perform in the shows with two toddlers needing most of my attention, the family toured schools around Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales in our trusty yellow Mazda 1800 van. Loaded up with dog, kids, and nappy buckets and camper-trailer it was a working holiday of which the highlight was a Northern Territory tour that included a two week residency in the Aboriginal community of Lajamanu.

This meant, when Sweet tries to cheer her can-pal up about being recycled by saying: Just think, if we are to be crushed so tightly together we will become as one….or two or a whole stack of little cans! AND SHE SHOVES HIS SUN GLASSES ASIDE AND YELLS: Ah come on, just take off those sunnies or I’ll crush them! AND KISSES HIM the Queensland Arts Council wanted to tone down that whole scene…


As the children got in the higher grades it was becoming problematic to go on the longer tours, so Roy would go by himself which he didn’t like. He would even drive back a 1000kms after two or three shows on a Friday, just to be home at the weekend.

Three months in Northern Queensland and the Torres Strait was a fantastic experience and good money but the light plane only fitted the puppets, the puppeteer and pilot. It was too lonely and Roy decided he’d never ever want to be away from the family for so long again.

After thirty years as a professional puppeteer one can be called a Master, but a Master Puppeteer also delivered diagnosis of osteo-arthritis, and the realisation that there was no accumulated superannuation. Living expenses were increasing and less work was coming in, meaning more time dealing with social security and having to apply for jobs in which he had no experience and was too old for.

Regional isolation had meant being out of the loop for opportunities with colleagues and new projects, so being squeezed into a supporting puppetry role for a children’s television series called Lift Off was a dent in Roy’s sliding self-esteem, even though the pay was great.

An agent had engaged Roy to take a puppetry film to country schools and then run ‘rubbish’ puppet-making workshops. A book proposal for a How to series published by Angus & Robertson fizzled out due to the series being abandoned. He went back to Kitchen Sink, offering the play to funded companies, but they had their own agendas. Even applications to be Artistic Director in companies he had connections to were rejected, especially galling when non-puppetry people were appointed instead. I encouraged Roy to spend the time creating a new adult show which he had been dreaming about, based on the surrealism of Max Ernst.

The interpretation was not to the painter’s trustees liking, and they rejected it strongly. Having the same difficulty as Roy finding regular work, I learned to drive and put together a one woman show for pre-school audiences called THE GINGERBREAD KID. Roy made the puppets and sets and I set off doing shows but it was still not enough.

After 30 years of professional experience and evolving artistry Roy couldn’t get a different job or find a way to pursue his ambitions in the puppetry world. His last application for support was at the new Melbourne Museum to be an Artist in Residence – bringing the arts and sciences together in an imaginative, accessible way – but he was pipped at the post by an academic who was writing a dictionary on the language of Antarctica.

The Energy Information Centre also applauded the innovative way of using funds by commissioning a show on the issue of energy conservation: IT’S UP TO YOU.Although a seemingly difficult concept to put into an entertaining play with puppets, Roy’s ability to transform representations of everyday objects into startling characterisations solidified his unique capacity to inform with content, art and fun.By 1994 this trilogy of curriculum-based puppet shows was failing to lure teachers in a climate of Kennett-led job pay-outs and school closures. It was an icy wind in Kyneton too, so the family decided to audition the recycling show for the Queensland Arts Council.There was hope that under Labor’s Goss government the censorship of the Joh Bjelke-Peterson days was on its way out. MANY HAPPY RETURNS was allowed to enter Queensland primary schools but only if the two soft-drink cans, Sticky and Sweet, were not so full of double entendre.

The State we left behind,
Had no use for us,
So stagnant had our life become,
Our visions meaning nothing, and
So we picnicked in that gutted Albert park to fare-well
Friends, surrounded by yellow flickering ribbons for
A car race, then up the Calder we drove
Away from the rows of daffodils.

For us, a tropical, new labour dream as
The ties on the trailer tarpaulin flapped
Showing glimpses of old shows, bits of plywood
And foam scraps for new puppets;
Trash to other eyes so no fear of theft, them
Polystyrene balls, bags of fabric, tubes, beads and
Tins of glue, all seeds of fortune for us
Poor transient artists riding up the Newell.

The only hope for the future was to sell up and start again. The Queensland Marionette Theatre was winding up and there was a good chance, said the project officer for Arts Queensland, that REAL FANTASY THEATRE would do well there, especially with their latest black theatre script, REEF. It was promising.

Brisbane City Council aided promotion of the recycling show, but the chief at Queensland Arts Council didn’t want Roy back, though he might look at a new show. We suggested that a couple of tours would bring money to create a new show, that we had had consistently good feedback from students and staff, but we were not what he wanted. It was made clear that we wouldn’t be able to go into Queensland schools without their authorisation.

I networked from the Tivoli caravan park, building up clients and re-working THE DREAM GOBBLER for parties and fetes. When the stormy season hit, the black light theatre application for THE REEF project was rejected. However the family had found a home on a hectare of land. With somewhere safe and private to settle, I let the tears and agony of a major depression flow.

It slowly dawned that puppetry had no future without recognition and funding, especially for the projects that we wanted to deliver for our souls to grow. Roy was burned out from years of producing quality, uniquely Australian puppetry, contributing to a dynamic culture.

The priority was our daughters. Thriving on the love and creativity of our parents wasn’t enough in the teenage years; new sneakers and clothes, orthodontist treatment and money for a decent education were what were needed.

Driven to wear suits and shiny shoes
We presented ourselves to a myriad of
Arts administrators at many meetings in
Designer furnished towers and
Civic buildings to bid for a share of
Creative Nation with our puppets,
Poems, Plays and possibilities of
Producing to thrive ‘stead of
Merely survive.


Puppeteering is an important part of creative culture in Australia that needs to be nurtured and supported more than it already is. Sharing the joy and wonder of learning through the artform of puppetry to young and older is unique. A puppet enters – the audience laughs, it moves, it speaks – laughter and excitement.

The content of the message is absorbed on many levels. Teachers and children have witnessed miracles as previously ‘shy’ or ‘troublesome’ kids participate in the shows when invited by Roy to work a puppet.

In towns like Moree, with a sorry history between black and white populations, the astonished reaction to an indigenous girl being picked to play the part of a princess was an indication of how the arts can transcend race and cultural barriers.

The magic of puppetry is that the discipline and skills of the puppeteer is translated as anarchic, a life force of its own making. Even the Christians used puppets as props for their biblical stories as have Shamans for their proselytising. The puppets are okay when they use it, but not when a free running puppet gets loose! For some young boys who find it hard to contain or communicate their feelings, their natural inclination is to hit and pull when all they really want to do is to cuddle the cheeky puppet!

Rather than punish, aggression is channelled into creative and respectful behaviour. The puppet promises that if they sit quietly on their bottoms, they can shake the rock-wallabys foam paw, or if they stand up and are kind and gentle, the python will wrap itself around them and give them a big hug!

Our discipline becomes theirs as they learn to interract with the puppets gently whilst still having the fun of spontaneity. As a reward for being a great audience they are invited to ask questions about the puppets and sets. Then they get to work a puppet and join in with Roy as he leads them through an improvised performance, revising the themes of the show.

The response of adults is as joyful. Their child within comes forth and they cherish the experience. Laughter is freeing. It is wild and silly. A class of Year 7,8 & 9 private school girls turned to look at a teacher to see if she was laughing. Was it proper to laugh at the crazy duck antics? Scraps the duck was so uncool he was hilarious. There’s a lesson in that too.


We laughed when Roy got a job as a carer for Disability Services, as the ongoing family joke from his Uncle Jesse was: “Hey lad, have you got a real job yet?” At forty, Roy could lift the fog of his mother’s dementia by telling her how much he was earning on a regular wage, plus shift allowance and superannuation.

For the first time in our lives we had a secure income, which our daughters both appreciated, declaring that there was no way they were going to pursue a career in the arts!

Occasionally we do a puppet show and workshop, but these are rare events. I utilise my creativity and experience within the Diversional Therapy field. Roy’s passion for the artform has transformed into planting native rainforest trees and other indigenous plants, plus looking forward to a well-deserved long-service leave!

Julie McNeill arrived in Melbourne in 1978 and wrote her first poems. Homeless at 16, she managed to get through Year 12 to the U18 dole. Julie wrote her first journalistic articles for ‘Hard Times” newspaper for the Unemployed. She learned book-keeping for a year before getting depressed and moving to St.Kilda, where she discovered painting and writing for poetry performance. She is a founding member of ‘Fringe Network’, a resource for artists and Youth Arts Co-ordinator for ‘Melbourne Fringe Arts Festival’. She met lots of life-long, loving poet friends at various reading venues and has performed multi-media ‘Rites of Passage’ 1985 in Melbourne theatres, inspired by the births of two daughters. Julie was trained by her husband Roy as a puppeteer, performing in schools and community venues throughout Australia for the next 20 years. She continues to write poetry, prose in Queensland. Julie has recently used her creative skills and intelligence in work as a Diversional Therapist in disability services and aged careFirst e published, Thylazine No.11 (June, 2006)