Cranky Curlew is George Hirst & Penelope Sheridan.
George is a Canberra School of Art graduate whose first proper job was as an Information Officer for the National Gallery of Australia. In the 1980s he had a number of solo exhibitions, travelled and taught drawing and painting. George's work is represented in a number of private collections and in the National Gallery of Australia.
Meeting Penelope in 1988, when he was finishing work coordinating the art installation for the (then) New Parliament House, the couple moved to Townsville in 1989 then Magnetic Island in 1991.
At Townsville's, Perc Tucker Regional Gallery he managed the collection, curated and installed local and nationally touring exhibitions over seven years. As word processors arrived to end the paper scrunching days of typewriters, George found he could write with ease. He produced Gallery interpretive material and edited a sell-out catalogue book of cartoons for the nationally touring exhibition he curated: Black 'n' White 'n' Green. In 1997 he and Penelope went on to start Magnetic Times newspaper.
Over 16 years until 2013, George wrote the stories and took the photos for this fascinating island community through its paper then its news website (now offline). But as digital technology improved and the price of an OK video camera and editing software dropped, he and Penelope began to produce short, low-budget dramas, docos, satires and stop-frame animations.
Penelope landed a highly coveted traineeship in 1985 with Warrnambool’s Backpack Community Theatre Company. For four years she immersed herself in learning every facet of a theatre worker’s trade, co-devising, writing, acting, directing and honing her craft in front of masses of very up-front critics, namely, almost every primary and high school student west of Geelong.
Meeting George in 1988 the couple instigated their own climate change by moving to steamy Townsville where Penelope studied theatre at James Cook University under Jean Pierre Voos. In 1990 she was drafted out of uni to go pro with New Moon Theatre Co where she starred in plays as diverse as Dario Fo's Can't pay? Won't pay! and Ray Lawler's Summer of the seventeenth doll. When New Moon closed in 1991 she jumped in with the sharks as a PA with underwater film legends Coral Sea Imagery.
With George she began Magnetic Times and took on several roles including layout design and business manager. From 2010, the couple began making short films and, as if Magnetic Island wasn’t big enough, they headed to New York in 2011 where Penelope undertook an intensive film-editing course at the renowned Edit Centre. There she picked up an editing credit on Leah Meyerhoff's award winning, first narrative feature film, I believe in Unicorns, and on the documentary Best kept secret directed by Samantha Buck. As a film editor, Penelope’s eye for detail and passion for the wide gamut of visual, written and performance-based creativity was finally rolled into one.
In 2013 Cranky Curlew entered their first Tropfest with Xandra: Gender Warrior, the story of a young trans woman coming out to her family and the world in north Queensland. Xandra made Tropfest’s shortlist and later gained laurels when invited to be screened at the prestigious Melbourne Queer Film Festival.
As Cranky Curlew much of the couple's work has focused on environmental issues with global warming front and centre. In 2014 Cranky Curlew created an art event to coincide with a world-wide day of action on climate change. They produced the, now viral, Heads in Sand event which inspired activists in Bondi to create an even bigger Heads in Sand to coincide with the G20 meetings. Following suit, many locations around the world produced their own Heads in Sand events.
In 2014 Cranky Curlew was commissioned by the North Queensland Conservation Council to make a short film to show how bank mortgagees could switch from fossil fuel-investing banks likely to lend to the controversial Adani mine's construction. With a sharp script they managed to recruit the world's foremost expert on coral, Dr J.E.N. (Charlie) Veron to work with a 5 weeks old kitten named Fluffy. The result was Kittens for the Reef. While Cranky Curlew isn't claiming bragging rights, no Australian bank has offered to fund the mine since.
In 2016 Cranky Curlew produced their first feature-length documentary, Townsville in Time as part of Townsville's T-150 commemorations. Townsville in Time reflects upon Townsville’s present, past and future but informatively acknowledges the more troubling frontier conflict story which emerges. A story personified in James Morrill - a ship-wrecked sailor who lived with local Aboriginal tribes for 17 years from 1846. Townsville in Time is presently being entered in festivals before wider public release.
As Cranky Curlew George and Pen have also produced a number of installations and film-art events, performances and happily work between media. They are presently working on a biographical documentary of a very colourful and amusing Magnetic Island woman’s courageous battle with mental illness and cancer.