The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek

Premiere 21 January 1980
Venue Trade Union Picnic, Mornington

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek, Handspan Theatre - puppet kangaroo and emu flanking actor in mask and costume as bunyip

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek in rehearsal

From left, Andrew Hansen as Emu, Helen Rickards as Bunyip and Peter J.Wilson as Kangaroo

Photograph © Jon Conte, 1980
I was happy to see you doing such an original type of program. It was grand to feel you really loved the children from the very beginning when you chatted to them... that small girl's utter delight when she made the emu find worms.
Joan Rayner, Australian Children's Theatre1 , 18 November, 1980

THE BUNYIP OF BERKELEY’S CREEK was based on the children’s book of the same name by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Ron Brooks1 .

THE BUNYIP OF BERKELEY'S CREEK was Handspan’s first non-commissioned work. It followed the success of The Mouth Show with primary school audiences but was created to play to general public audiences at local and community events – indoors and outdoors – as well.

The book appealed to Handspan for its interpretation of the theme of self-discovery. It was a relevant concept for Handspan’s young audiences, but less determinedly message-laden than The Mouth Show, which was still in the company repertoire at the time. The story’s Australian setting and iconic animal characters also offered interesting opportunities for interpretation and staging that mixed puppetry, actors and masks in a flexible and accessible play.

The Story

THE BUNYIP OF BERKELEY'S CREEK adapted by John Rogers and Tony Rickards followed Jenny Wagner’s storyline closely. The Bunyip appeared from his muddy creek, asking all who pased by: “who am I?”. Raucously laughing at him, the Kookaburra pointed out that he had feathers; the Platypus identified his fur; the Emu and Kangaroo squabbled over his tail and running ability; and the doctor wouldn’t listen. Fortunately for the increasingly woebegone Bunyip he met another of his kind and a happily-ever-after conclusion ensued.

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek Handspan Theatre actor in feathered and furred bunyip mask and costume emerging from painted backdrop waterhole

The Bunyip (Andrew Hansen) emerges from the waterhole asking 'Who am I?'

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek, Handspan Theatre Actor masked actor in front of stage flats painted with simple landscape, speaking to large group of children in classroom

Another bunyip (Helen Rickards) asks the audience 'Who am I?'
Company snapshot, 1981

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek Handspan Theatre 2 actors in bunyip costumes embracing and singing

'We're Bunyips ...bunyips...' (Helen Rickards & Ken Evans)
B & W Photographs © Jon Conte, 1980
Click photos to enlarge

Ken Evans design for the staging, puppets and costumes reflected Ron Brooks’ illustrations for the book but didn't attempt to be a replica of their detailed, ever-changing style. In Handspan’s play, three brightly painted screens, depicting a waterhole in a stylised Australian landscape, could be set up anywhere. Puppet manipulators were visible, actors wore masks and simple costumes and performed in front of and around the screens and amongst the audience.

One of Handspan’s most popular shows, THE BUNYIP OF BERKELEY'S CREEK was performed over 500 times,touring for three years across Australia and the world adapting to performance locations and touring circumstances of all kinds.

Many thanks for your production of “The Bunyip”. Our students were very taken with it …if you’re planning tours next year please let us know.

Andrew Bannon Broadmeadows Primary School, 2 June, 1981

Bunyips on the road

The production was originally created for three performers in 1980. Almost immediately, a two-hander version of the play was devised and a second version built to make it possible for the work to be carried in a backpack to the USA, Europe and UK by Ken Evans and Helen Rickards, travelling to the XIII UNIMA 2 Congress & 1980 World Festival in Washington DC - Handspan's first international appearance. Concurrently the play toured in Australia, through the outback for the Northern Territory Arts Council performed by Peter J.Wilson and Andrew Hansen.

You might like to know that 'The Bunyip' was probably the 'hit' of the Youth Festival

Barbara Grijmans, Brown's Mart Community Arts Project, 19 September, 1980

The two-hander version of the show came to an abrupt end when the puppets and props backpack was stolen from the Handspan studio soon after its return from overseas. There it had survived abandonment on British bus lines, motor bike transport through the wet English Lake District and curiosity at an Amsterdam police station. The snatch from Handspan’s home was quite shocking: the only time in Handspan’s long open-door studio incumbency that anything was ever stolen:

Kidnapped from Fitzroy last week: one kangaroo, one platypus and a variety of other valuable equipment …Why anyone would want to take the gear is a mystery and downright cruddy.

The Melbourne Times, 9 December, 1980

Stories of life on the road with Handspan’s BUNYIP… are legion - the pictures in the BUNYIP Gallery tell some of the story.
THE BUNYIP … was performed in school and community venues and sometimes in theatres. It replaced Hansel and Gretel - Out of the Booth as a stimulus performance for community arts engagement. Both in schools, and for family and community audiences the play was often followed by Handspan artist workshops or local residencies in puppet making and performance.

In theatrical settings, the play was the feature work of Handspan’s only self-promoted touring ventures. The work shared the Superfun Show bill with magician, Doug Tremlett, in at Camberwell Library Theatre (1980), and toured summer holiday locations on Mornington Peninsula in Victoria: Bunyip on the Peninsula (1981) and with Kooka Puppet Company, Seaside Double Header (1982).

Just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your show at Camberwell. I felt that you related extremely well to the kids without talking down to them, and you were humorous without the use of slapstick. The program was well-balanced and informative to hold their attention. They got involved too quickly to allow the appearance of the Bunyip to trouble them. The communal singing was a grand idea and the titbits of humour directed over their heads was a delight to the adults.

June Dodge, audience member3

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek Handspan Theatre actor in bunyip costume sitting on a rock entertaining children with puppet kookaburra

Warana Festival, Brisbane, 1980

Bunyip alone (Helen Rickards) roving performance with Kooka. (Child in foreground, Frey Holley-Evans)

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek Handspan Theatre actors in bunyip masks and costumes on a rock looking at their reflections in water

Bunyips reflective (Helen Rickards & Ken Evans)
Warana Festival Photographer unknown, 1980


1 The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek by Jenny Wagner, Illustrated by Ron Brooks Published by Childerset Pty Ltd, Melbourne 1973
2 UNIMA Union Internationale de la Marionette
3 Letter to Handspan after seeing the Superfun Show, Camberwell Library Theatrette 12 – 16 May 1980

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The People & The Performances

Creative team
Book Author & Illustrator Jenny Wagner & Ron Brooks
Performance adaptation John Rogers
Scriptwriter Tony Rickards
Co-devisors Ken Evans & Helen Rickards
Designer Ken Evans
Bunyip 1 Tony Rickards, Andrew Hansen, Ken Evans
Kookaburra Helen Rickards , Peter J.Wilson
Platypus Ken Evans, Peter J.Wilson
Emu Helen Rickards, Peter J.Wilson
Kangaroo Ken Evans, Ian Rolland
Doctor Ken Evans, Peter J.Wilson
Bunyip 2 Helen Rickards, Peter J.Wilson
Also performed by Kim Durant, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Steve Gration,
Production team
Puppet makers Ken Evans (Kangaroo), Helen Rickards (Emu), Peter J.Wilson (Kookaburra)
Mask maker Ken Evans
Costume fabrication Helen Rickards
Set construction & painting Ken Evans
Graphic design Ken Evans
Photographer Jon Conte

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The Performances

21 January – 31 May Melbourne metropolitan community and school performances: libraries, kindergartens, holiday programs, trade union picnics & birthday parties
23 January Carringbush Library, Richmond (Author showcase)
February - May Community Arts Conference. Country Victoria Community Arts Festivals: Edenhope, Warracknabeal, Tongala
19 March Institute of Early Childhood Development, Kew (kindergarten teacher showcase) (VIDEO, filmed by IECD)
12 – 16 May Superfun Show Camberwell Library Theatrette
June 13th UNIMA Congress & World Puppetry Festival, Georgetown University Washington DC USA
July Street performances, Paris & Amsterdam
August London Summer Festival, St Martin’s-in-the Fields
August Heriott Watt Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Festival
July You’re On Festival, Drama Resource Centre, Melbourne
11 - 16 August Northern Territory Arts Council tour: Darwin, Tennant Creek, Katherine
16 – 23 August Darwin Youth Theatre Festival, Brown’s Mart, Darwin, NT
21 - 28 September Warana Children’s Festival Brisbane, QLD
13 – 24 October Jolly Jumbuck tours (Library Council of Victoria) Hamilton & Echuca, VIC
October - December Melbourne metropolitan community and school performances:
2 December We’re On Festival, Drama Resource Centre, Melbourne
6 - 22 January Bunyip on the Peninsula tour: Dromana, Rye, Sorrento, Rosebud, Tootgarook, Blairgowrie, VIC
27 February – 3 March Children’s Festival, Mt Lawley College, Festival of Perth, WA
6 March Public performances All Saints Hall, Crawley, WA
5 – 11 March Perth metropolitan schools tour, WA
31 March – 4 April Jolly Jumbuck tour (Library Council of Victoria)
7 – 29 May Come Out ’81 and South Australian Regional touring
November Back-to-Portland celebrations, VIC
January Seaside Double Header season, Mornington Peninsula, VIC
March Sound Shell Elder Park, Adelaide Festival of Arts Outdoor Program, SA
Adelaide Fringe Festival Education Program – Adelaide metropolitan & regional SA
Primary schools tour, Gippsland, VIC
Total performances 567
Total audience approx. 70,000

Scroll back to Click Tabs: The Production & The People

For Young People: