Friday, January 31, 2020

Australian space icon: Mr Squiggle, the Man from the Moon

The impact of the Space Age was not just in science and technology - it was also in popular and everyday culture. If you were a kid growing up in Australia from the 1960s until the the 1990s, you would have been familiar with a children's television icon: Mr Squiggle, the Man from the Moon. Mr Squiggle is a huge part of Australian television history, but I'm more interested in what the programme says about how space travel was perceived in the 1960s and after.

Squiggle basics

This is Mr Squiggle's theme tune:
Here's Mr Squiggle
With lots of fun for everyone
Here's Mr Squiggle, sing a happy tune
You can see we're as happy as can be
Mr Squiggle, the man from the Moon.

Mr Squiggle was the brainchild of political cartoonist and puppeteer Norman Hetherington. The pencil-nosed puppet's television debut was in 1959. At first Mr Squiggle was part of a six week stint on the Children's TV Club on the ABC, but soon gained his own stand-alone programme. Margaret, who married Norman in 1958, wrote the scripts for the show while Norman performed all the character voices. (Note that while Norman has his own Wikipedia page, Margaret doesn't).

Children would send in their 'squiggles', and Mr Squiggle used his pencil nose to make them into pictures, accompanied by a female sidekick. Other characters included Bill Steamshovel, Gus the snail, Merv Wallop and his nephew Wayne, Reg Linchpin, Doormat, the grumpy Rocket and a talking Blackboard.

Mr Squiggle lived at 93 Crater Crescent on the Moon and travelled to Earth every week in his rocket or by going for a 'space-walk'. He could also break out into gravity-defying 'space-walks' spontaneously in the middle of shows. Sometimes, if Rocket was very grumpy, Mr Squiggle would use an umbrella for the descent. 

The action takes place in a very ordinary, regular backyard, with gum trees, in the fictional location of Bandywallop. (The Collins dictionary defines Bandywallop as 'Australian informal: noun. An imaginary town, far from civilization'). There's a rainwater tank where Bill Steamshovel hangs out, and old, weathered yards surrounded by bush. I guess part of the appeal of Mr Squiggle, as we got so much US and UK children's television, was that it was set in Australia with Australian accents and culture. 

Mr Squiggle's female sidekicks were:
The science fiction writer Terry Dowling was a resident guest on Mr Squiggle, from 1979 to 1982. He wrote songs and performed them on the programme with his guitar.  Comedian and radio personality Mikey Robins played Reg Linchpin for a year in 1989-1990. The programme ended in 1999. 

Two books were spin-offs from the series. Margaret Hetherington wrote them, and Norman did the illustrations. They were Mr Squiggle and the Great Moon Robbery (1980) and Mr Squiggle and the Preposterous Purple Crocodile (1992). There was also a colouring book in 1989 - Mr Squiggle and His Rocket Activity Book

Bradshaw, Richard 2010 Eulogy for Norman Hetherington 1921 - 2010. OPEN: Oz Puppetry Email Newsletter Issue 11

Gorman, A.C. 2018 Gravity's playground: dreams of spaceflight and the rocket park in Australian culture. In Darran Jordan and Rocco Bosco, ed. Defining the Fringe of Contemporary Australian Archaeology. Pyramidiots, Paranoia and the Paranormal. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 92-107.

Gorman, A.C. 2011 The sky is falling: how Skylab became an Australian icon. Journal of Australian Studies 35(4):529-546

Jones, Melissa 1989 Mr Squiggle chalks up 30 years. The Australian Women's Weekly p 65 (reproduced at

Solman, Peter 2010 Norman Hetherington Remembered. A personal recollection by Peter Soloman. OPEN: Oz Puppetry Email Newsletter Issue 11

Wilkins, Richard 2011 Black Ties, Red Carpets, Green Rooms. Chatswood: New Holland

Wilson, Peter J. and Geoffrey Milne 2004 The Space Between: The Art of Puppetry and Visual Theatre in Australia. Sydney: Currency Press