Originally published: Sydney Morning Herald
Written by: Stephanie Gardiner
Date: December 18, 2011
For two years David Poulton refused to speak in public, forced into silence by schoolyard bullies who relentlessly taunted him about his stammer.
It wasn’t until his third grade teacher slipped a teddy bear puppet onto his hand that he found his voice again, and discovered he could control the stammer by speaking in character.
Nearly six decades later after a long and successful career as a touring puppeteer, Mr Poulton now creates the iconic Christmas window displays for David Jones in the city.
"I still get that thrill when I think back to where I was and what I do today and how I make my living talking, and I think 'My God, I never dreamed I could do that'," Mr Poulton said.
The current display, complete with shepherds washing their socks by night and a moving 12 Days of Christmas themed art gallery, is the sixth created by Mr Poulton and his team of Noosa-based artists and designers.
Bringing the mini theatres to life involves many months, a complex system of strings and old-fashioned mechanics, a nine-tonne pantech truck to bring the puppets from Queensland and painstaking maneuvering through the corridors of the department store.
Mr Poulton started his career in his early 20s touring Australia’s outback and overseas putting on shows with his wife Sally, teaching children to read and express themselves through what he calls ‘‘the power of the puppet’’.
During a tour in Taiwan in 2000 an earthquake trapped him in his Taipei hotel room, where he came up with ideas for the Christmas displays.
"All around me, buildings collapsed and our building lost its stairwell and its lifts and I was stuck on the 11th floor for 10 hours.
"Like a bolt of lightning, I thought 'I’ve got to change my life, this touring stuff is too dangerous' so I thought I could do David Jones’s windows.
"So I sat for the six hours while the earthquake was on, doing designs of windows and I came back and started this business."
Mr Poulton, who was in Sydney on Wednesday to talk about ideas for next year’s displays, said he gets his inspiration from dreams and formulates ideas in the lift on the way to meet David Jones executives.
It is the reaction from crowds that gather to gawk on Market Street that keeps him excited about his work.
"You just mingle and listen to people and listen to the laughter, it’s lovely.
"If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would still do them.
"You become a part of someone’s memory and that’s a pretty good honour."
Across the road from David Jones, the Hermes windows exude serious cool, with striking snow creatures frolicking in white feathers.
The windows are covered in white polka dots to represent snowflakes and a montage of dramatic storm clouds filmed by Australian cinematographer Murray Fredericks plays on a screen on Market Street.
"We wanted to really conjure up the feeling of cool, because obviously our summers are really hot, so we thought the white windows would evoke a sensation of coolness," said Hermes communications manager Eric Matthews, who collaborated with artist Chen Lu on the display.
"It is such a beautiful experience to have Christmas in our climate.
"But it was really hard to get away from the notion that actually, in most people’s minds, people think of Christmas as snowy."
Despite the usually sizzling Australian Christmas, Mr Matthews believes many of us still dream of a white Christmas.
"I think it’s the notion of where Santa comes from.
"All the mysteries and all the mythology surrounding him, it’s always from the North Pole."
Around the corner, the fashion corridor of Castlereagh Street has turned into a Christmas wonderland, with wreaths, glitter and snowflakes adorning the windows of high end boutiques and jewellery stores.
Tiffany and Co has a two-metre tall wreath around their door, with a simple but enchanting carousel decoration centred around that famous robin egg blue box.
As for the fate of the puppets in the window of David Jones when Christmas is over?
Children will be happy to know they do not get thrown out or destroyed; Mr Poulton said hekeeps them safely in his warehouse in Noosa.
"Puppets are incredibly powerful and people believe them."