Puppets Plus @ Wilmington

Trip Start Aug 05, 2013
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
The Church

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Saturday, April 26, 2014

Distance Travelled Iron Knob to Wilmington 112km
Total Distance Travelled: 11,968km

Next morning we shopped a few provisions in Port Augusta. On the way through Wilmington the 'open' banner was flying at the Sansouci Puppet Museum. Karen Roberts, whom we met at Broken Hill, loved her visit here and we were keen to see it. The bland exterior (an ex-ANZ bank building) conceals an astonishing collection of vintage puppets. This is one of only four such collections in the world - the others being in Prague, Munich and (somewhere in) Russia. Puppets are the passion of Pommie, Brian Whitehead and his wife Rosemary who live in the house directly behind the museum. From the UK they moved to Canada, then South America, the West Indies and eventually Australia. Retiring to Wilmington 7 years ago they opened the museum with 250 puppets. They now have over 1,000 puppets, marionettes and ventriloquist dummies ranging in age from 100 years plus to the present day. Puppets, both old and new, in the first section of the museum are for sale. Then, hidden behind a partition wall is Brian’s treasured collection. For a modest gold coin donation, he will gladly show and tell us all. Joined by another young couple, together we squeezed into the secret room crammed full of colourful characters. In this tiny space Brian can apparently fit up to 10 kids, who often arrive by the busload, for the tour.

Puppetry began as therapy for Brian about 17 years ago, following a stroke that left him paralysed. In the stroke ward of the hospital he met fellow patient Geoff, a puppeteer, who one day produced a box of puppets from under his bed and gently "bullied" Brian into helping him present puppet shows for kids the hospital children’s ward. Brian, extremely self-conscious after the stroke left him with arms that didn’t work and facial muscles he couldn’t control, soon discovered that the kids didn’t care what he looked like. They were enthralled with the magic of puppetry – and so was Brian. Every day, for about six months, these two put on a puppet show. Gradually Brian regained not only the will to live, but an abiding interest and an entirely new perspective. After leaving hospital he began to work with kids and puppets. When Geoff died a couple of years later Brian received a box of 25 puppets, together with a letter from Geoff’s widow, expressing  Geoff’s hope that Brian would carry on ... and that is just what he did!

Brian has several Punch & Judy sets. One of these, dating back to 1896, complete with its tent, shipping/travelling trunk and a hand written script. It was interesting to see the different versions according to country of origin. For instance, the German Judge puppet has a square head because, during both the first and second world war, German soldiers were known as “squareheads”.  There are several Pinocchio marionettes, including one of the earliest. From Mickey Mouse to Andy Pandy to the Beatles to Mr Squiggle & Miss Jane (who died only last year) ...they’re all here to play with Brian. The stories accompanying many were fascinating, encompassing political and social mores of the times. Golly Wogs are now plain Golly’s. The Nigger became Sambo in 1972 and is now Jim Crow – apparently still politically incorrect! And did you know they even tried to ban the Teletubbies because the purple one carried a handbag? The Whiteheads continue to collect according to availability and price which can be anything from several hundred dollars. We spent a fabulous hour or so being entertained and enlightened by Brian; and left feeling delighted and elated. If only all collections had the joy and magic of this one this everyone would see the world for the happy place it really is! Thanks Brian and Rosemary for sharing the fun with us!
We got to The Church on Time ... for tea and more marvellous days with A & P.
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