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Wollongong City Council

Joy and Mess - Sparking Young Imaginations

This Creative Dialogues session is for creatives already working with young children and those thinking about broadening their offer to engage with the early years.

Meet the creatives who are capturing young minds and hearts through the arts without dumbing it down.

Across theatre, performance, visual art, and experiential play, our panellists share the joy, impact and messiness of working creatively with children.

Find out how you can connect to and collaborate with educators and parents while extending your own creative practice to include younger audiences. Discover how to avoid the mistakes that grown-ups often make when pitching creative work to children. We'll also look at the adult/child creative partnership and talk about the best approach to shared, playful, process-focused learning through play and imagination sparking.

This episode is hosted by Tom Hogan, and features:

  • Martha Johnson, Manager, Discovery Space Education and Experience, UOW
  • The Listies (aka Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly), a comedy double-act who are serious about being silly
  • Jill Talbot, artist, educator and author working in early years education.

You can also listen to the podcast on iTunesSpotify or Deezer.

More about our panellists

portrait of Martha Johnson

Martha is passionate about making learning experiences fun, engaging and meaningful for children, while also finding creative ways to include adults in learning.

Martha has over a decade of experience educating children and adults in various roles and is committed to working collaboratively across disciplines to share knowledge and provide learning experiences that are based on best practice and research.

Martha also dabbles in performance through circus work and storytelling. She gives new meaning to the phrase ‘any excuse for a dress up’. In that, she doesn’t need one.

Martha has enjoyed being part of the Early Start Discovery Space journey since its inception five years ago and has been a key player in the development of its programs, collaborations and inventive playscape design.

portrait of The Listies


The Listies are Richard Higgins and Matthew Kelly, a comedy double act who are serious about being silly. They formed during the latest Ice Age to perform absurdist comedy to herds of adult megafauna by fire light, they switched to kids comedy in 2010 and never looked back.

To date, they have claimed to have written nine award-winning and critically acclaimed live shows, recorded three albums, and published two books with Penguin - though we have to take their word for it. On Australian television you can see them on ABC TV with their show The Listies Work For Peanuts, and occasionally in the background of outside news broadcasts.

In 2019 they have performed over 120 shows to tens of thousands of people all over Australia. Nearly all of them stayed awake and only some of them vomited. Recently in what may have been administrative error they won the Edinburgh Festival’s ‘Primary Times award for Best Production for Children’. In the past they have received a Sydney Theatre Award, 'The HarperCollins Best Designed Children’s Fiction Book', and the Best Independent show (Golden Gibbo Award) at Melbourne Comedy Festival, what can we say - the bribery seems to have worked.

Check out The Listies' website to learn more.

portrait of Jill Talbot

Jill Talbot holds a Bachelor of Education (Visual Arts & Craft Hons) from the University of Melbourne and has been an exhibiting artist since 1978.

Commissioned by The Print Council of Australia to produce a Member Print edition of etchings, Jill’s work can be found in regional and private collections throughout Australia.

She has developed and facilitated large scale community art projects in the Shoalhaven and has exhibited widely, including as a regular finalist in the Portia Geach Memorial Award and semi-finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize.

Jill has worked within the arts education sector for over 20 years with TAFE Illawarra Outreach, The Bundanon Trust and via public school Enrichment Programs, the Disability Service, and within the early years education sector as an Artist-in-Residence in preschools. Jill designs and delivers on-site programs that focus on developing children’s innate creative abilities while introducing new skills to, and building creative confidence in, educators and early learners.

She role-models creative arts best practice through professional development sessions and has delivered numerous Arts in Early Childhood conference papers throughout Australia and New Zealand. Her book for educators, Joy & Mess was published in 2016.

portrait of Tom Hogan

Tom Hogan works in music composition and radio art, as well as written and performance work.

He has designed over 100 plays, performances, and dance works presented all over Australia. His solo work has been presented in galleries in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Benin, Spain, and Lithuania.

He produced the podcasts Missing Richard Mercer, Polish Club’s Sophomore Slump, and the ongoing Obscure Music History project.

He founded the company Ten Tonne Sparrow, creating five theatre works, including Love Song Dedications (without Richard Mercer) which was nominated for two Green Room Awards, and will tour nationally in 2021. He is currently creating Mount Hopeless: A Burke & Wills Musical with musician Elana Stone to be presented in 2021.