Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Tintookie Man, the Last of His Tribe: A Story of Peter Scriven

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Tintookie Man, the Last of His Tribe: A Story of Peter Scriven

Article excerpt

I first became interested in Peter Scriven, puppet-master and entrepreneur, roughly three years ago when I began writing a screenplay loosely inspired by the little I knew about him from available puppetry histories. While doing further research for a second draft, I discovered that the 'factual' traces of his life and work were far more compelling than anything I could make up. I am not a puppeteer: my journeyings through the available resources, both living and dead, have been guided by the concerns and prejudices of the historian, the performer, and the seeker of a good story. This journey is not over, and the following narrative represents a broad cross-section of my research to date. There are many stories to tell about Peter Scriven, both flattering and damning. My story thus far is an attempt to persuade the reader that Scriven and his 'little people who live in the sandhills' can serve as an intriguing historical metaphor, illustrating in miniature how European Australia has sought to fashion its identity through its relationship to both Indigenous Australians and its Asian neighbours. My endeavours have been continually emboldened by the melancholy observation of Jane Marie Law, an anthropologist of Japanese puppetry and folk religion, who has written that 'a large part of studying puppetry is spent apologizing, justifying and continually explaining this choice to otherwise broad-minded and intelligent people'.1

The search for Tintookie Man

On 3 September 2003, Paul Keating, former prime minister of Australia, launched The History Wars, by Stuart Macintyre and Anna Clark, at the State Library of Victoria. Keating used the opportunity to vent his spleen at the Howard Government and its supporters, berating them for being 'tiny', 'timid' and 'resistant to novelty and to progress'. 'Their story is simply not big enough for Australia', he claimed. The speech was to arouse much controversy in the media, not least because he saved his most colourful invective for the conservative commentators of the Murdoch press. 'They will simply be a smudge in history', he declared, dismissing them wholesale as 'lickspittles' and 'tintookies'.2 According to Macintyre and Clark, Keating's 'epithets sent journalists hurrying off to the dictionary'.3 The following week, one of the accused columnists, the Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt, railed against the speech: 'We're "tintookies", too, whatever that means'.4 Covering the speech for The Age, Michael Gordon came to Bolt's rescue. He was unable to find 'tintookie' in either the Oxford or the Macquarie dictionaries, yet was able to report that it was 'thought to mean "puppet"'.5

Gordon was right, in a sense. Although Keating's speech may be the first recorded instance of 'tintookie' sharing the humble puppet's pejorative connotations, for a generation of Australians growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s 'tintookie' was used synonymously with 'puppet', achieving the same level of linguistic purchase as 'muppet' for children of the 1970s and early 1980s. While the media's unfamiliarity with the word in 2003 indicated that the signifier had long since fallen off the cultural radar, there is evidence that the signified and their progenitor, Peter Scriven, still hold nostalgic weight. In 1998, Richard Bradshaw, shadow-puppeteer and puppetry historian, was able to assert that 'for many an older Australian the very word "puppet" still calls to mind the once-famous names of Scriven and his Tintookies'. Similarly, practising puppeteer Murray Raine, whose marionettes and working style owe much to Scriven's inventions, also claims that any reference to 'tintookies' during his performances in rural communities tends to rekindle fond recollections among audiences over a certain age.6 As the memories of Scriven's audiences return to dust, it remains to be seen whether his tintookies, unlike Keating's pallid impostors, can survive into the future. But first, the story of a man who was, perhaps, just a little too big for Australia. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.