Phyllis Piddington was the elder of two daughters of William James, an established Melbourne optician, and Lilian Ethel Aird. Members of the Congregational Church, Phyllis' parents sent her to a small church school, and they perhaps would not have anticipated that the principal would be a small "l" liberal, and that there would be a history teacher on the staff who was a communist. Developing a teenage crush on the history teacher, Phyllis found history to be her favourite subject, and the attitudes of the two teachers were to influence Phyllis' attitudes towards the underprivileged in society.
Phyllis graduated as one of the first female students of Melbourne University to be awarded an MA degree. She gained a DipEd and taught in Melbourne, and later at the Friends School, Hobart, where she met Lyndon Spencer (Bill) Piddington. They were married in 1938. They moved to England when her husband was accepted to study child psychology at London University, and she found a teaching post in Manchester. During the war years they lived at Aberystwyth, Wales. Her unpublished letters record her life during this time.
In 1946 they returned to Australia for Bill Piddington to take up a position with the Education Department of SA. She enrolled her children in music and movement, painting and drama classes, and herself enrolled in night-school speech and drama classes, studying with Musgrave Horner. She lectured in Speech and drama at the Wattle Park Teachers' College for 15 years, influencing generations of teachers with her belief that drama could develop language skills, creativity and self-confidence. She encouraged children to act out legends from other cultures as well as their own, and in 1972 published a series of booklets to encourage children to develop their own dramatic dialogue.
After her retirement in 1969 she wrote Southern Rainbow, which was also adapted as a TV cartoon series in Japan.