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Murray, Edith Constance (1897–1988)

by Richard Bradshaw

This article was published:

Edith Constance Murray (1897-1988), puppeteer and schoolteacher, was born on 26 February 1897 at North Sydney, elder child of Harry Le Tissier Blackwell, tobacconist, and his wife Flora Emily, née Fletcher. Edith’s father was born at Guernsey, Channel Islands, and her mother in Victoria. She was educated at Fort Street Girls’ High School and the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1920; Dip.Ed., 1920; Cert.Soc.Stud., 1937). On 1 July 1922 at Christ Church, Springwood, she married with Anglican rites Rowland Charles Murray, an accountant; they later separated.

After working (1920-21) as a lecturer at Teachers’ College, Sydney, Murray taught (1927-35) at Belmore North Public School. Her fascination with puppetry developed when she used glove puppets as a teaching aid with state wards at Bidura, Child Welfare Depot, Glebe, where she was employed (1937-38, 1940-44) as a governess.

Murray helped to establish the Puppetry Guild of New South Wales in 1948 and was its secretary for many years. The guild met in centres organised by the Children’s Library and Crafts Movement (later Creative Leisure Movement), founded in Sydney in 1934 by Mary Matheson and her sister, Elsie Rivett. Murray introduced puppetry to the movement’s centres and served (1966-82) as a trustee.

On 28 May 1949 the movement opened the Clovelly Puppet Theatre, which Murray directed until 1982. Shows featuring glove puppets and marionettes were given by children and adults on Saturday afternoons in the cooler months. The professional puppeteers who gained experience there included Norman Hetherington (‘Mr Squiggle’), John Lewis (Jeral Puppets) and Richard Bradshaw. Murray also supervised puppet theatres in centres at Erskineville and Bradfield Park Migrant Hostel. She featured in two short documentaries made by Australian Instructional Films at the Clovelly Puppet Theatre in 1951 and 1954 and in 1957 toured a marionette show for the New South Wales division of the Arts Council of Australia. Interested in the use of puppetry with disadvantaged and disabled children, in 1952-63 she was a visiting lecturer in puppetry at the Occupational Therapy Training Centre, Paddington. In the 1940s she had served on the committee of the Folk Lore Association of New South Wales.

Murray attended a Union Internationale de la Marionnette festival in Wales in 1963 and others in Czechoslovakia and Russia the following year. At Glasgow, Scotland, she taught handicapped children and operated puppets in professional pantomimes. Returning to Australia in 1965, she started an Australian centre of UNIMA in 1970 and was its first secretary.

In 1976 the PUK Puppet Theatre of Tokyo sponsored a visit by Murray to Japan. Awarded the BEM in 1979, next year she was made a member of honour of UNIMA. She was an accomplished puppet-maker with a creative flair; her skills ranged from sewing, through modelling to wood-carving. Intelligent and energetic, generous but frugal, in 1954 she had a small house built at Springwood, where she lived until 1982. Predeceased (1950) by her younger son and survived by her older one, she died on 30 January 1988 at Waterfall and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Hetherington, Puppets of Australia (1975)
  • M. Vella and H. Rickards, Theatre of the Impossible (1989)
  • P. J. Wilson and G. Milne, The Space Between (2004)
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 20 June 1965, p 28
  • R. Bradshaw, ‘Edith C. Murray’, Australian Puppeteer, no 35, Mar 2008, p 4
  • A1361, item 34/1/12 part 1289 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Edith Murray (film, 1982, National Film and Sound Archive)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Richard Bradshaw, 'Murray, Edith Constance (1897–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murray-edith-constance-15065/text26264, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 7 December 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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