Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Jigsaw Factory (with updates, 12 August)

The Jigsaw Factory. (Thanks to Sonia Kretschmar for finding some of the photos that appear in this post.)

In 1971, a remarkable shop/design studio/theatre space appeared on Bridge Road, Richmond, near the bridge. I think it was a converted rubber factory, though I may be wrong and I can't find anything on the net. I also can't be certain how many storeys the building had, but I think it was four. When you're a kid, things look bigger. Maybe it was only three. Last time I saw it was when I was thirteen, which is about forty years ago.

It was called The Jigsaw Factory. The bottom floor was the 'shop' part, but it was like no other toyshop you've seen. The place was like a garden of delights, where both kids and adults were encouraged to play. There was a big sunken toy pit designed in the shape of a giant called Og.

Og's playpit.

There was a big ostrich called Oliver. He appeared in many guises, including a display stand. There was definitely a bridge, but I can't remember if it was in the shape of a crocodile or something else. There were wooden cubby-houses, giant snakes and some very hip beanbags.

Oliver the ostrich.

Above the shop were craft rooms where kids could learn pottery or enameling. (I burned my finger at one of the enameling classes and it was most definitely my fault.) There was even a little theatre where kids' shows were performed, and Bruce Woodley from The Seekers would come in to sing on Sunday afternoons. Plays for kids, written by Lorna and Bill Hannan, were staged there. The Jigsaw Factory was a riot of colour, with purples, yellows and greens wherever you looked. James Button, in an article in The Age in November 2002 described it as a 'Disney-free magic kingdom for children'. I can't do any better than that.

But the best thing about The Jigsaw Factory was that you could take parts of it home with you, in the form of toys, games, books and posters, which all looked exactly like the store. The board games came in wonderful big boxes that were bright yellow, blue and green. The aforementioned giant Og had three books about his adventures. You could either read one like a normal book, or let all the pages concertina out so that you had a frieze.

Og the Giant and Oliver the Ostrich enjoy a casual moment together on The Jigsaw Factory shop floor.

There were two other books I recall. One was A Dictionary of Magic, which included a set of beautifully designed 'Jigsaw' Tarot cards, and the other was a remarkable thing called From Zoetrope to Cinemascope. This book, a potted history of moving pictures, could actually be turned into a Zoetrope, by removing the stiff cardboard wheel that was a part of the cover, then slotting into it one of eight cardboard 'reels' that you could pull out from the centre of the book. Some of these reels were brand new mini-animations created by the designers (my dad was very impressed that one demonstrated how an internal combustion engine works), others were pop art versions of the old Eadwaerd Muybridge films from the end of the nineteenth century. There were no nude people walking and boxing, but there was the famous galloping horse. The book was ingenious, but I can't find a single reference to it on-line. As for the magic book, I wonder if today's gatekeepers would allow you to sell children's books containing decks of Tarot cards?

The most expensive of the boardgames was The Gate of the Sun, a stunning thing that had two separate boards, rings and cards featuring Oracles and Magi. That one was six bucks. I still have my copy.

The game Pirates was only two bucks fifty. I also bought that one. It was a good game too, with plenty of piracy for your money. North Face was even cheaper. it was a mountaineering game and it cost two bucks. Animator Frank Hellard devised this board game, played without dice. The games were hard to resist in those beautiful big boxes, with the distinctive Jigsaw logo.

Copies of Spellbound, waiting to be boxed up.  

The cheapest items were the Og goggles. For a dollar, you could get a set of ten cardboard spectacles with multicoloured Jigsaw designs. They were a much cooler party idea than stupid cone hats with elastic. There were badges too, with gently environmental messages such as 'Don't Spend the Earth' and 'I'm 100% Bio-degradable.'

Some of the games were educational, but inventively so. An educator called Dr Dexter Dunphy designed Spellbound and Tableland, games to teach kids about words and numbers. There were over forty different toys, all brand spanking new and never seen before. Sure, the shop stocked other toys as well - good ones by local manufacturers - but the ones you really wanted were the Jigsaw ones. So where did did they all come from?

Stitt and Weatherhead.

They were generally designed and devised by two graphic artists called Bruce Weatherhead and Alexander Stitt. Educators Bill and Lorna Hannan also gave them a hand. The top floor of the Jigsaw Factory building was where the artists did their wonderful work.

Messrs Stitt and Weatherhead at work.

Sadly, Bruce Weatherhead passed away in January, 2011. Mr Stitt is overseas, and I'm hoping that when he returns he'll be able to correct the mistakes I've made in this post, and help me remember more about The Jigsaw Factory. Weatherhead and Stitt joined their considerable forces in 1964, then dissolved the partnership ten years later. The Jigsaw Factory also came to an end. It was around for less than three years. It was too good to last. (Update 12 August: Alex and wife Paddy have since returned and been in contact. They have both compiled a lavish book called Stitt Autobiographics that covers fifty years of Alex's graphic design work. It's about three hundred pages long, published by Hardie Grant, and it's due for release in early September. The Jigsaw Factory features. The Factory was a wonderful but possibly over-optimistic project, even though there were many devoted fans. Alex sadly reports: 'When everyone lost enough money, we stopped.' Until very recently, the games Tableland and Spellbound were still being sold. Alex and Paddy were kind enough to contact me to do an informal launch of the book after the official one, presided over by Mr Philip Adams. But I had to declkine when I was discourteous enough to have a stroked. It too me three sessions of speech therapy just to be able to pronounce 'Al-ex-and-er Stitt.' The unofficial launch at Red Hill went very well, I'm told. And the book is a thing of great beauty. I'm including some page caps at the end of this blog, but for heaven's sake, buy the book. It's big, it's funny, it's shiny, insightful and even a bit educational - just like the old Jigsaw Factory itself.


Bruce Weatherhead restarted the Melbourne Advertising and Design Club in 1983 and had huge success as a graphic designer. He was also a TV presenter in the USA for a short while. You can find out more about him here. Alex Stitt also continued his design career, inventing the famous 'Norm' character for Life: Be In It and Sid the Seagull for the Slip Slap Slop campaign. Based on the John Gardner novel, Grendel Grendel Grendel was an animated film scripted, designed, directed and produced by Stitt in 1981. It was years ahead of its time. So was his graphic novel, Person, Nipples and Fizzy O'Therapy. Journalist/critic/advertising guru Phillip Adams describes Stitt as 'a genius, the most under-recognised bloke in the country'. (Mr Adams will be launching Stitt Autobiographics at RMIT's Storey Hall, where he will no doubt say even more nice things.) 

Stitt started to produce a second animated movie in 1983. This one was called Abra Cadabra. Unfortunately, it was never finished. The film was an Adams/Packer production. According to Russell Bevers, Program Director at The School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, when Kerry Packer sold the Nine Network to Alan Bond, all completed work to date was shipped off to the new owner and never seen again. (Not quite. The film Abra Cadabra reappeared. Paddy Stitt thinks that the Bond organisation must have released it for telecasting in the United States at some stage, and there's a 35mm master in The National Film and Television archive in Canberra. The Australian Centre for The Moving Image in Melbourne also screened it four times in October 2008, as part of a special Kids' Flicks presentation. Until a nice remastered DVD of the movie appears, you can watch a copy of it here, posted by a fan. The picture and audio aren't great, but you get a taste.)

Some of the characters from the movie Abra Cadabra, which featured the voices of Jackie Weaver, John Farnham, Hayes Gordon, Gary Files and Hamish Hughes. Those last two actors provided some of the voices in Colin South's and my series Dogstar. For Dogstar, Gary played wayward genius, Ramon Ridley and got nominated for an AFI for his efforts - but enough about us.

Stitt's other achievements were about a hundred animated ads for The Christian Television Foundation, and a spectacularly cheeky party political animation that was commissioned by the Democratic Labor Party and duly aired, several times. Little did the DLP know that there was an ingenious visual joke in the cartoon that turned the whole thing on its head.

From The Swinburne Newsletter, 1980. Alex Stitt with graduate animation student Stephen French, who also went on to work for the Dogstar juggernaut.

Og the Giant and Oliver the Ostrich, the two Jigsaw Factory mascots, had their own comic strip in The Age newspaper, commencing in 1972 and ending in 1974. The stories for the strip were devised by Bill and Lorna Hannan and illustrated by Alex. They were unique in that each strip was like a frieze. There were no frames, as in most comic strips. I collected every single one. (According to Stitt Autobiographics, the only other person who appears to have done this is composer Bruce Smeaton.) The extraordinary thing about these strips was that, though they were supposed to be for kids and very few adults would have read them, they were deeply satirical. When the strip started, Australia had a Liberal government, and a Prime Minister called William McMahon. The government had been in power for more than twenty years. A charismatic opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, led the Labor Party to victory in December 1972. The whole campaign was paralleled neatly in the Og's daily cartoon strip - and hardly any adults noticed. Writers Bill and Lorna Hannan foretold the outcome of the 1972 federal election. The comic strip's story would have been ruined if Whitlam hadn't come to power. (South Park did the same thing years later, with a special Obama episode. Creators Parker and Stone conceded that if Obama hadn't won, they wouldn't have had an episode.)

Amazingly, Weatherhead and Stitt, and the estimable publisher John Curtain who later joined Penguin Australia, gave me a break when I was twelve. I kept sending them pictures and stories I'd written. I must have been one of the most annoying kids in the world. At the time I was living in Traralgon in the Latrobe Valley, so I was understandably attracted to a place that was so colourful and bright. The Jigsaw Factory people published my stuff in a monthly lift-out for kids that was published in The Age. My modest achievement has been suitably spun to suggest that I 'had my own monthly column in The Age when I was twelve'. I didn't really. I had a column within The Jigsaw Factory lift-out in The Age. Here's the third one, which I ended up using in my first book, Hippopotabus:

One of my columns from 1972.

The Jigsaw Factory people were a generous crowd who took the time to listen to newcomers with ideas.  They also gave a break to graphic artist Grant Gittus, who designed my website. Grant, like me, was published in the same monthly lift-out at twelve. After my first visit to The Jigsaw Factory's engine room, Alex did a picture of me playing a board game with Og the Giant. It's a game I invented, called Hang Fire. The Jigsaw Factory people were nice enough to sit down with me and play the game. The prototype could never have been produced, but they were kind to take the trouble.

I'm writing this because I hope there are others who remember the amazing place on Bridge Road. (Thanks to those who got back to me, including Alex, Paddy and graphic designer Ian James, who now works from Bruce Weatherhead's desk, and corrected me where I got things wrong.) It seems extraordinary that such creativity and talent doesn't appear to have been recorded that well. But graphic artist and animator Peter Viska, who was also a trailblazer with his regular Sunday Observer liftout, told me that Alexander Stitt will be releasing a book later in the year, featuring his work. (Paddy Stitt agreed that there wasn't much information available about Weatherhead and Stitt, The Jigsaw Factory, and a golden age of graphic design in Australia. Stitt Autobiographics addresses this, so we need not rely upon the cloudy memories of bloggers like me.)

I was a brat when I first entered The Jigsaw Factory's workroom on the third floor, desperate to be a part of this wonderful place. Bruce Weatherhead, Alexander Stitt and John Curtain (also sadly passed on) were generous, inspirational and deserve special points for not kicking me into Bridge Road. I write more about Alex here because he was the one who seemed to have the job of contacting me when I was writing stuff for Og's liftout in The Age. Most of the monthly liftout was written by the Hannans again, as well as writer Barry Breen, whose story in the first issue, The Bad Deeds Gang,  is way ahead of its time. Australian children's authors like Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths would later write stories that revelled in childhood naughtiness. Actually, I wrote one or two myself. Bruce and John were every bit as friendly and welcoming as Alex, and their determination to create inventive books, posters, toys and 'funny surprises' for kids (as the TV ads promised) was very real. I'm sorry that The Jigsaw Factory came at personal cost to Alex and Bruce. It doesn't take away from the fact that, for a short while at least, there was a magical place on Bridge Road that really did impress and inspire a lot of kids and adults.

In the book, The Artist Craftsman in Australia, Alex and Bruce interview each other about The Jigsaw Factory and the philosophy that gave birth to it:

Until the book comes out (and you'll be amazed by how much of Alex's work has become a part of Australian culture) you'll find more information here
And here be a sneak preview of the book itself, in particular the Jigsaw material reprinted without permission, sorry Alex and Paddy. I'll take it down if you'd prefer. But I bet there are some grown-up kids out there like me with fond Jigsaw memories that were tickled by these pages:


  And here's the website, with plenty more fine pages, not necessarily jigsaw-related.


Dmetri Kakmi said...

This is fascinating, Doug. I'd never heard of the place until you mentioned it over lunch the other day. For sometime I thought you were talking about that place that was on the corner of Toorak Rd and Chapel St, whatever that was called. But obviously I was wrong. You're right. The people involved sound like an amazingly talented bunch and it's sad to think they've all moved on and their endeavours were not recorded. This piece belongs in a culture magazine.

DougMacLeod said...

I have now read most of Stitt Autobiographics, which covers The Jigsaw Factory, along with fifty years of remarkable work by Alex Stitt. I'm glad Alex and wife Paddy were prompted to write the book. (Alex said that the 2009 bushfires gave him impetus.) The sad thing is that Alex regards The Jigsaw Factory as one of his two professional failures, the other being the Australian pavilion at Expo 88. I went to that pavilion and I recall that it was a bit of a dog's breakfast. But The Jigsaw Factory was such a remarkable achievement, and produced so much quality work, it's sad the Alex views it this way. Mind you, I think everyone was a little battle-scarred by the end. I'm trying to convince Alex and Paddy to put together all the old Og cartoon strips from The Age, to make a graphic novel. I think it would find a publisher - now more than ever.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an amazing and inspiring place to have been a part of or to have visited! I have just dug up in my father in laws garage the game "the gate of the sun." It has every piece, except of course the instructions. I am wondering if anyone would know how I could find them? I have tried online and found this blog which has made me even more interested in figuring out how to play. My email is if anyone knows how I might find the instructions. thanks in advance, Kate

DougMacLeod said...

Dear Anonymous, I'm sending you a copy of the twenty-five fundamental rules. They're worth learning, it's a great game. Try not to lose any of the parts.

Jon Lambert said...

Hi Doug,

I'm in the same situation as Anonymous, except we have the game Priates!. It seems to have all the bits but no instructions, and I'm sure my boys would love to play it. Like anonymous I've searched high and low with no luck. Do you have knowledge of where I can obtain the instructions? Cheers,
Jon Lambert (

jreinsch said...

From Zoetrope to Cinemascope

Anonymous said...

I remember the Jigsaw Factory . I was only 6 or 7 when it was open but it is one of my most vivid memories from this time. mum and dad took us there a few times .. ( I think I need to talk to mum about it ) I had no idea where it was until I read your blog! When I think about Melbourne in the seventies I think about images and colours from The Jigsaw factory. I think this was an especially creative time in Melbournes history and kids were genuinely encouraged to be creative. ( I also remember free art and craft activities in the treasury gardens during Moomba) Thankyou for writing about it.

Michael Syme said...

I still have the Dictionary of Magic and gave tarot readings to my friends many times. Plus my brother owned a pair of Jigsaw Factory stilts that had big green letter Js so you could choose to have your feet on the lower, easier to manoeuvre hook of the J or the higher, more dangerous, top of the J. Found this blog by suddenly thinking of the Jigsaw Factory and googling. Thanks for posting it.

David Lumsden said...

Great post and great memories. Re Jon Lambert's question, rules for Pirates: each player has 6 ships that start white number up (they get turned overto show the pink number after being "scuttled") and they start on the home base with the treasure on the black circle. There are 2 types of water: deep and shallow. You must finish a move in deep water. Ships move like a king in chess, but when scuttled cannot move diagonally. Each player move ships 1,2,3,4,5,6 in order. If you land adjacent to an enemy ship (adjacent follows same rules as movement, i.e. like a king in chess, unless scuttled when diagonals don't work) you can fire on the enemy by rolling the dice again .. a 6 is a hit. A damaged ship is repaired by getting safely bake to its home base. First hit you get turned over to pink number and can no longer move diagonally pr fire diagonally, second hit you are sunk, and the ship is replaced by skull and crossbones wreck marker which acts like land (except you can salvage treasure from it) .. aim is to capture both treasures and get them home. A ship captures the treasure by finishing a move on top of it. A key feature is that in any one move you cannot use the same square more than once - if a ship has no legal move (eg it is blocked by others, or has to end in shallow water) then it is sunk and replaced by the wreck marker. Last time I played with the kids it lasted 90 minutes.

DougMacLeod said...

Thanks. David. I confess I couldn't find my copy Pirates.But I do recall pl;aying the game a lot, because once you learned the basics (which you have so kindly provided, it wasn't that hard and became quite addictive.

Max Monahan said...

As a kid growing up in Richmond, dropping in to The Jigsaw Factory in the 1970s was like visiting a far off magical world. Brilliant. Many fond memories, albeit rather vague now.

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks Douf for that very interesting and informative blog. As a 10year old I loved reading the Og cartoons in The Age and collected them all as well as the wall posters. I have often reflected on them and recently found them to re-read- they are still magical. Thanks for the research on the creators- I will follow up on those publications. I lived in the country and despite wanting to, never got Melbourne to visit the jigsaw factory. One of my best Christmas presents was the game of Pirates which We also still have. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Doug for this informative blog - over the years I often wondered about the jigsaw factory and the creators. As a child I cut out and collected nearly every OG comic strip that was posted in the Age. And also the full size posters - I still have them - they are great to look back on, even now. One of my greatest thrills was when I wrote into the Jigsaw Factory and they posted my entry in the Og section of The Age. And one of the best games, we received as a kid for Christmas was Pirates. We played it a lot - I still have that too. I always wanted to visit the Richmond jigsaw factory, but living in Lara, I didnt get the opportunity.Thanks again for filling us in on what it was like. Cheers, MHP

Barry Breen said...

Thanks Doug - I just came across this blog. The Jigsaw Factory was indeed a place of wonder and I was pleased to be involved with some stories and poems for the Og liftout, in which I always enjoyed the contributions by young Doug MacLeod. I certainly don't agree with Alex Stitt - The Jigsaw Factory was no failure and deserves to be celebrated still.

Anne Macvean said...

Thanks for writing about The Jigsaw Factory and posting the photos, Doug. Indeed, my memories of it are quite magical - my younger sisters and I just loved the place. I think I only went there once or twice, but wished I could have gone there more, as to me it represented a world full of all sorts of fantastic possibilities not available to a young teenager in the dreary 1970's Melbourne suburbs. In fact, it wasn't until I got to Melbourne Uni that I again encountered anything like the fabulous world of the Jigsaw Factory - the map of the Union Building I found there and put up on my wall even seemed to echo the graphics from the Jigsaw Factory. In my early teenage yeas, a good friend was lucky enough to be given 'Gate of the Sun' and I remember spending hours and hours at her place, engrossed in the game with her, though it was so long ago that I can't remember exactly what happened in the game. I wasn't even sure if I had the name right when I came across your blog while searching for some memory triggers for something I'm writing about games (for my German class Hausaufgabe). But the feeling of it being something extraordinarily special still lingers. Our household had a game designed to teach concepts of music notation called 'Jigscore'. The backs of the cards in this game could be used as a jigsaw that made a Beethoven image. We also had 'Tableland' and perhaps some other items. I'd forgotten about the Og adventures in The Age, but was a follower of them back then. It was so very sad when The Jigsaw Factory closed. I linked it in my mind to the closure, around the same time, of an Australian hamburger place that sold very delicious and healthy fast food. These two closures made me believe that making good quality things and a profit at the same time was not possible. For the very many kids who were so touched by what the Jigsaw Factory produced, it certainly was a fabulous success! It's my belief that Australia just wasn't ready for such quality and the Jigsaw Factory was simply way ahead of its time, given the places around now that do make a go of producing quality and selling it, let alone places like ArtPlay that do not have to make a dollar, but are producing fabulous, magical memories for today's kids.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for having a blog about the games of your childhood!!
I have recently purchased The gate of the sun game at a garage sale but I dont have any rules for the game!! If anyone could help my email address is, the North Face board game and rules was also in the box so it was bargin find for $1 :)

Thanks in advance!!!!

DougMacLeod said...

This is easily my most popular post, going by the comments I keep getting, though many of them seem to be related to obtaining the rules for The Gate of The Sun, so that whoever finds an old copy in their attic can sell it on eBay. I sympathise. The game looks beautiful but the rules are complex. It's a big (if beautiful) thing to have lying around, so I can understand your desire to get rid of it, though the absence of rules/instructions makes this impossible. I'm afraid I too have lost the rules, and can't help you to find copies, so please stop contacting me about that. There's no way i can remember that far back with ay degree of accuracy. It's a dull blog, I know, but it's becoming a sort of meditation time to help me get over the last vestiges of the stroke I suffered. It's still disabling me!

Lulubelle said...

It was sooo wonderful to read this post - thank you. I'm really sorry Jigsaw didn't make any money but it was certainly not a 'failure' for the many children that loved their creativeness. I'm from Sydney and there was a Jigsaw shop on the North Shore where my dad worked as a solicitor for a few years, so throughout the 70s he kept bringing home the most fantastic things from the shop - games and posters mainly. Yesterday I gifted my Spellbound board to my nieces and nephew and we played the game but it was very slow as 40 years later I couldn't really remember the rules so we made them up. Which is why I went online today to see if I could find the rules - and instead I found out so much about Jigsaw - thank you. So if anyone has a copy of the Spellbound rules, can you take a photo and forward them to me on please? Many thanks. Also, I'd like to share my absolute favourite poster from my childhood, from Jigsaw, which was stuck on the back of my door for years. I've quoted it throughout my life - I think it's about being positive and accepting yourself. The graphics were three big words in typical fat 70s font - 'NO' in blue, 'ME' in green and 'YES' in yellow. Each word had eyes and a mouth and the two words with E had a nose (the middle line of the E). 'NO' was looking straight ahead, 'ME' and 'YES' were in profile showing off their noses. Wonderful memories...

NO had no nose
Just a hole in his O
In the usual place
Where a nose ought to go
He had nothing to sniff with
And nothing to blow.

He saw other noses
That he'd rather be
And he'd often complain
Why can't I look like ME
What a beautiful honker's
Attached to that E.

Then came a voice
In a dictionary tone
That said 'Listen here NO
All my entries have shown
There's no known 'NO' noses
That NO could have grown'

There's need for a change
In the thought you express
It is hardly the cause
Of your nonoselessness
Do you think you can do it?
And of course NO said YES!

Lulubelle said...

PS. Doug, very sorry to hear about your stroke and its continuing effects. Best wishes for your ongoing recovery.

Anonymous said...

G'day Doug,

What an informatively nostalgic post! Many thanks, as I had the J.F's Pirates games, and the Grendal Book (saw the film) but had no idea of the story behind it all!

Ta very much,

Rob Jan, Zero-G: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Historical Radio, 3RRR FM

Scott McLeod said...

I was only 6 and don't remember much - but that logo, the colours, Ogg and Ollie….. brings back a lot of lovely feelings. The Jigsaw Factory has lived in my heart as a magical place we shared with my Dad. Thank you so much for your blog Doug.

Oh, and I had the Zoetrope book too - an absolute favourite!