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Forty Years of Cartooning at the Canberra Times
In conversation with Geoff Pryor and David Pope
Talks / Lecture
In conversation with Geoff Pryor and David Pope
14 June 2019
Between them, Geoff Pryor and David Pope have over 50 years of cartooning experience. In this conversation, they will discuss their experiences in editorial cartooning at The Canberra Times. Facilitated by Inked: Australian Cartoons curator Dr Guy Hansen, Pryor and Pope will also turn their keen satirical eyes to politics and the changes they have seen in Australia’s newspaper industry.
Geoff Pryor was the editorial cartoonist for The Canberra Times from 1978 to 2008. During his 30-year career, Pryor often drew seven cartoons each week for the newspaper. Pryor was also cartoonist for The Saturday Paper until his ‘second retirement’ in December 2018.
David Pope replaced Pryor at The Canberra Times in 2008, a position he still holds. Before this, he worked as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator for many years.
Cartoons_ 14th June _ Mp3
*Speakers: Guy Hansen (G), Geoff Pryor (P), David Pope (D)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 14th June 2019
G: Welcome, everybody. It’s wonderful to see so many cartooning fans here today at the National Library of Australia. My name is Guy Hansen, I’m Director of Exhibitions here at the Library which is a pretty good job. One of the great things that I get to do in this job is do exhibitions like the one which is currently on, Inked upstairs which is a survey of Australian – of 200 years of Australian cartooning. It was a lot of fun doing that show.
Before I go any further I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for the land we’re now on and I’d also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors who are here today.
So as I said the show upstairs, Inked, is the pretext for today’s event, 40 years of cartooning at The Canberra Times and we’re lucky ‘cause we’ve got two of Australia’s best political cartoonists here today who have agreed to be grilled about how they do their cartooning so we’ll see if we can get some answers today.
Okay so first of all I think as is chronologically correct I should start with Geoff. I hope I’m going to start with Geoff? I’m going to seek help from my – oh there we go, it’s working. So no talk is complete without a technical problem. Now we’re very lucky here at the Library because Geoff of course worked at The Canberra Times from 1978 up until 2008 and as a cartoonist he had a huge archive of cartoons, many of which were stuck underneath his desk. We’re very lucky because he donated many of those cartoons to the National Library of Australia and then of course was incredibly generous by going on and helping us catalogue those cartoons.
So we’ve got one of the best formed collections of cartoons in Australia and also one of the best catalogued collections of cartoons and that’s down to Geoff. So Geoff, I thought it might be good – you came to the – ah I needed to do is turn it on. So this is going back into the ‘70s, not long after you started at The Canberra times and I thought this was a very interesting cartoon because it’s showing how cartoonists often have to deal with very sad topics and of course that’s hard to make a joke out of that.
P: Yes, very much so. It’s – in fact it’s probably a better use of white than I normally did. I drew it on board called [Quoshade] 3:04 and – which was a chemically treated artboard but in this particular instance I didn’t use the chemical tones at all because it just didn’t need it.
G: And you’re catching up with of course the kind of crises in both Cambodia or Kampuchea and Timor which are kind of almost beyond words, aren’t they, to say something about them.
P: Well you don’t try and be funny, you just try and sort of capture the essence of it.
G: So caricatures are of course a very important part of cartoonists’ toolkit and I’ve just pulled out a couple of caricatures from the collection. Very hard ‘cause there’s 5,000 works in your collection so it’s hard to choose which ones but your Placido Keating I think is a classic.
P: Well that’s a sort of comment that you trust the reader is familiar enough with your work because I haven’t shown his face at all but it’s all context because I think that appeared as a pocket. They’re the little cartoons that appear contextually as used to appear in The Age in Melbourne a lot and so you’re just relying on context and readers’ familiarity to get the point of it.
G: Of course I think one thing which is quite amazing about your career is you weren’t just the editorial cartoonist, you often did the pockets and the caricatures and many illustrations for The Canberra Times which meant you weren’t at home much, I suspect, you would have been very busy seven days a week producing cartoons.
P: I was very overworked at first, I had people all day long putting jobs on the corner of my drawing desk, illustrations and things because editors are always competing with one another within the paper to try and dress their pages up and an illustration would look good. I think the Deputy Editor at the time, he was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was about 10:00 at night and he put another assignment on my desk and then - I then flew off the handle and told him did he think I was a machine and did I have a slot in the top of my head that he could feed two bobs into? Thereafter the Editor said all requests for work had to go through him and he would filter them so that eased it off quite a bit.
G: I’m very glad that happened ‘cause it most probably meant you had a much longer career at The Canberra Times. But here's another caricature which I love of Mark Latham, a figure who still has a presence in Australian politics.
P: Always will have, knowing Latham. Yes, I had a great deal of fun drawing that because I know that people all ‘round Canberra were buying copies of his diaries, not to read it but just to see if they were mentioned in the index and he at that stage was uninhibited, he was saying whatever he felt he - was pertinent to him and so of course being nitric acid I’ve got him wearing rubber gloves and a rubber apron as he writes this diary. The caricature, it was a matter of I suppose capturing the shape of his head which was very blockish and -
G: He does look like a former rugby league player.
P: An arm-breaker.
D: This for me, seeing this here now from this angle just reminds me of the sort of filmic staging you bring to your work like that you will set the camera in a scene. You know it might be above, it might be sort of in this case – it’s like you’re a director and you’ve created this – and I get really struck by it just looking at it now. It’s something that really stands out about your work, it’s really like a film director staging a scene.
P: Well yours is informed the same sort of way, you like drama in your drawings. I always did and I was always looking for ways of directing the eye. In fact one of the starving – the East Timor Kampuchea one, the eye normally on a page starts in the left-hand top corner and then moves across and so that stretch of white page would lead the reader hopefully to that point in the drawing. Yes, David’s right, that informed most of the work I did. I always had a sort of a cinema graphic feel about it, there has be sort of a construction and figures had to be in various places. They weren’t there by random, they were all there by design.
G: So this is a storyboard for Mark Latham, the movie. I don’t know if I’ll go see that movie. History is – when I look at your work, and I’ve followed it for a very long time, I find that you really are very engaged with Australian history and you often bring up historical references and historical metaphors so this cartoon from 2001 which talks about the white Australia policy.
P: Yes, the visual metaphor is the guts of it all, how you – the vehicle you choose to present your idea and it’s all part of the thinking process. David, your brilliance, you do this beautifully but it’s history, I’ve always been interested in it so I always look back and of course this is self-explanatory. The white Australia policy, the ghost, the black ghost of it, the white policy has left its tomb and is on the march again.
G: Of course one of the things I particularly like about this is it’s 2001 which is the centenary of federation and of course the first act of the Australian Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act which is all about white Australia so it’s just the right time to remind us of our foundation.
D: I was going to say I notice you’ve got the date on there. When I started working at the paper I didn’t put dates on my cartoons and then people started nagging me because you had them on and when they ripped them out of the paper they didn’t have to write the day of the paper on, they could just – so I had to [fold] 9:28.
G: As a collector of cartoons I think it is extremely valuable so please keep doing it.
P: Yes well they say that sometimes journalism is the first writing of history. Well often the cartoon is a preview to that, the first version of the first version because it’s so immediate and of course the date is the absolutely necessary point of reference.
G: Another part of Australian history which I think often comes out of your cartoons is Australia’s history of involvement in the first world war and the second world war and of the ANZAC story or myth and that features in many of your cartoons but I particularly liked this cartoon, the last digger or the last ANZAC.
P: Well you see it’s the 18th of April – May, sorry so it’s just after ANZAC Day so ANZAC Day is still very much featuring in readers’ minds and the whole mythology of ANZAC. I mean the burden that the old digger is carrying on his back now is about half of what politicians and others are trying to make it in our minds, the whole mythology is frankly out of hand.
G: So for a large part of your career you’ve been – the 1980s and coming into the 1990s, and I’m sure David will have a comment on this as well, is engaging with the period – the phrase which was used at this time was economic rationalism, neoliberalism, structural reform in the Australian economy and I think some of the most interesting commentators on that in Australia were the cartoonists and what happened. I think this is a wonderful cartoon from 1997 about some of the consequences of all the events which were happening at that time.
P: Well I was trying to get the idea of sort of a vast open sea. Looks more like a range of mountains but - in the drawing of it but I hope I got the idea across but always remember the old joke of how many Chicago economists does it take to change a light globe? The answer is none because they’re all waiting for the invisible hand and so that was very much neoliberal arguments about economics and were very much to the fore and very much in my mind at the time too.
G: You, David, engaged in a critique of neoliberalism throughout a lot of your career as well.
D: Yeah, it wasn’t called neoliberalism then. As you said it was called economic rationalism, that was the term at the time and -
D: Yes, that’s right and it’s interesting, we’ve got the state funeral for Bob Hawke right now I think or – at the moment and that’s when I came into politics, eligible to vote for the first time at the 1983 election and unemployment was a big issue amongst my peers, amongst people my age.
G: I’m the same age as you David, I remember it well. It was in the western suburbs of Sydney, we were unemployed, yes.
D: Yeah and that was a visceral issue then.
G: So one thing about both of you guys is you’re both Canberrans, a southsider and a northsider and of course I think that’s really come through in your cartoons over the years and I think this is a fantastic cartoon to do with the bushfires, Geoff.
P: Yes, this is a personal one for me because I was in Canberra at the time. In fact the afternoon of the fire, everything turned black. Sitting on my front veranda or the front garden it sounded like it was drizzling with rain, just the ash pitter-pattering down and I – in fact I think it was only a couple of days ago on Big Ideas I heard Bruce Pascoe and others talking about the fires in Canberra and Jane Smythe and her husband, Rick, Jane talking about her experience and they almost lost it. They lost their house but they were very lucky to get out of it and it was a very moving tale she told about their close escape and how they lost everything. I went down to the Narrabundah College that night when Triple 6 was calling for donations, bedding and so forth and we had a foam mattress that was still in its plastic that we hadn’t yet unwrapped and so I took it down there and I saw people marching in with all this stuff, I just couldn’t believe it. It was probably one of the most moving things I’ve seen. I think the line was that yeah well city without a soul. Well it proved itself to be anything but so yes, I’ll say that that particular drawing is one that does stand out.
G: So for both of you what do you think is unique about Canberra and about a Canberra audience which allows you to perhaps do something different than cartoonists in other cities?
P: Well just briefly for me growing up in a place, I was educated here, grown up and lots of my friends and colleagues who I grew up with, they all went on to jobs in the bureaucracy, some of them quite senior. So I always knew that I had a readership out there beyond the general circulation of the paper which wasn’t going to let me off lightly if they thought that I was being a bit light on. But that was my feeling about being here. I had chances to go elsewhere but Canberra was important.
G: How do you feel about Canberra?
D: Oh well I think that that’s the thing, half the readership are working in the federal bureaucracy and are engaging with these issues in a very direct way, a lot of the politics and issues of the day in a way that they might not be in other places and so you do get the feedback from people. If you draw on a topic that they know something about then I think you’ve said before, invariably everyone knows more about it than you do. On any topic you draw about there’s a big chunk of the audience that are knee deep in it so – I was thinking this today, I’m thinking I might draw a cartoon of Bolton.
I might put Bolton and Trump in a cartoon for tomorrow and I’m thinking gee, a lot of places I just couldn’t do that, people wouldn’t know who it was. I mean – and you always wrestle with that because the readership is diverse. Even in a town like this it’s a diverse readership and not everyone’s going to get every cartoon and you’ve got to I think – I try and put different things into the cartoons to try and reach people in different ways. But it is the case that I can put Bolton into a cartoon and people are going to know who he is.
P: John Howard used to say that he could never work Canberra out, it lived like Killara and voted like Cessnock. My thought about that was that Canberra if nothing else is a policy-savvy city, the people understand the ins and outs of policy debates so they’re not going to take kindly to bullshit and that sort of thing.
G: It’s interesting, of course Cessnock voted a different way at the last election so I think that relationship’s gone.
G: So David Pope of course who followed on from Geoff at The Canberra Times. David, before we engage in your time at The Canberra Times I thought we should doff our cap to your prehistory, your pre-Pope times when you were better known as Hinze.
D: Yes, I had a pseudonym. I wasn’t – I didn’t set out to become a cartoonist, I drew little – I always drew and I drew little cartoons for various activist movements I was involved in, the peace movement and environment movement and eventually the Labor studies briefing where I studied in Adelaide for a period and I drew cartoons for their journal and they started circulating them and people asked to reprint them and it became an activity after that, became a bit of a job. So I had the pseudonym from way back and wasn’t a planned thing and at a certain point, I think it was when I started working for The Canberra Times, I thought this is just going to be a pain. So I just started signing under my own name after that.
G: So is there any truth to the rumour that like [Betto] 18:40 you were actually in a punk band early in your career?
D: Yes and that’s where the pseudonym was.
G: So Hinze was the character in the band.
D: Yeah, that’s right. So I worked as a freelancer. Once I decided I was going to do cartooning a bit more seriously I worked as a freelancer for a long time. Geoff offered me very kindly work as a casual illustrator for a period there. I think he rang me up and I said no when he asked if I’d like some work there because I was a cartoonist, not an illustrator and they’re two very different things and I wasn’t confident about being able to do that but my partner said that you’re being an idiot, go and have a crack. I went and enrolled in some night classes in water colour with Noel Ford.
Does anyone here know – yes, Noel Ford, terrific tutor at the School of Art doing water colour courses and I did a couple of semesters with him and got my confidence up. I basically treated all those casual jobs, it was piece rates, you’d go in and those little forms that appear on your desk, draw a picture for this article. I just treated each one as a drawing exercise and practised the techniques that I’d been learning and I did that until Rural Press got rid of all their casual artists with a stroke of the pen in one economic rationalist exercise so –
G: You also filled in for Jenny Coopes a bit at The –
D: Yeah and eventually I got a job – well she took a redundancy from the paper and I started working there after her and then Geoff retired and I took on the gig there. I think again Geoff put my name forward to replace him and invited me along to a meeting with the editor at the time. It was a lunch meeting and we were just talking away and Geoff was looking a bit concerned, I seemed to think because I wasn’t treating it like it was a job interview and this guy didn’t know who I was and it wasn’t – so it wasn’t going particularly well in that - I hadn’t picked this up and fortunately I had in my bag a copy of Behind The Lines catalogue which Guy set up that exhibition – doesn’t curate it anymore but it was very generous to freelancers like myself and included one or two things in at the time. Fortunately I had - that copy had been – I picked it up from the post office on my way to this meeting and I gave him that and he goes oh you’re that – it sort of made sense then so yeah.
G: Oh that’s good.
P: I don’t remember it being that difficult.
D: Oh well that’s my memory of it, I was a bit blasé.
G: Geoff, that reminds me that Pickering was the cartoonist at The Canberra Times before you and he put forward your name. Is that right?
P: Yes, he’d moved to Sydney and I think then he may have been in the process of trying to set up an advertising business and he rang me up. In fact it’s one of the few times I spoke to Larry and he was trying to sound me out about moving to Sydney. I wasn’t interested, I was determined to stay in Canberra and nothing was going to move me. But at the time he gave me a very sage bit of advice, he said when you draw a cartoon always put your caption in a bubble, and we’ll see from some of the older cartoons that the caption line was often separate from the drawing and underneath. He said yes, if you build it into the composition in a bubble then people find it very hard to change it if they think of a better caption, it’s there, it’s part of the drawing, it’s there to stay.
I took that to heart and I’ll just make this quick but I only spoke to Larry once again and it was when [NOAD] 22:43, old Parliament House, was going to have an exhibition of cartoons and they sounded me out. I thought well just of my work, no, that wouldn’t be right because Larry Pickering had also been involved so I said why don’t we get Larry as well? They said yeah, that’s a great idea and I said well look, I’ll see if I can get hold of Larry and ask him and that was the devil of a job, I couldn’t find him anywhere. Black and White Artists isn’t know, he just dropped out of sight. I got onto the – brainwave, I got onto John Singleton’s personal assistant in his office in Sydney and I said I’m trying to contact Larry Pickering ‘cause I knew that they were close through their racing, horseracing interests and she didn’t want to cooperate but then I told her what it was about so she gave me a mobile number.
I rang it up and it rang and this voice said yeah? I said is that Larry Pickering? Who wants to know? I said who it was, he said oh goodday, how are you? I haven’t spoken to you in years and then I laid out the proposition, did he want to participate in the exhibition? He said oh yeah, that’s alright, yeah, go ahead. I said do you have any originals? He said no, I don’t have any of those. Anyway it worked out, we used file bromides and things, it worked out quite well but Larry hadn’t kept anything, wasn’t interested, that was a part of his life that had finished.
G: So to try and give an insight into the mind of a cartoonist I thought, David, it might be good to step people through how we came up with the logo for our exhibition and you were the unlucky cartoonist who I asked to do the logo and we had to work our way through a number of ideas. These are some of the roughs, early roughs of the logo.
D: Yeah, these are just roughs I would have sent you and so the first one’s based on a Phil May cartoon about – was it the Mongolian octopus? It’s a racist cartoon you’ll see in the exhibition, very powerful image and I wanted to – so when you’re working through ideas you just work through ideas and they aren’t necessarily going to work for the purpose that you require but you just have to let your brain work away. I knew that image wasn’t going to work on a cover but I was just struck by – for me the sort of terrible aspects of Australian cartooning, the racism, this boys’ club that it’s been for a million years and the portrayal of different groups in sort of subservience to different media barons at different times. So I just was playing – that’s what that first image was trying to capture, I knew it wasn’t going to be one that you would use or –
G: But it got us talking.
D: Yeah, got us talking. The next one was again trying to – I guess these ideas are reflecting my love hate relationship with Australian cartooning so I was trying – in the next image this is trying to bring different elements, coat of arms idea – I’ve used the coat of arms in a few cartoons I’ve drawn and I was trying to bring all the elements, the [pecking] 26:05 machine, the leaning duck, the sort of tradition of Australian military cartoons through the wars. Then I think it was the fact that you were toying with the idea of Inked that we ended up settling on this tattooing image which captures a sort of – well it’s sort of subversive elements in the cartoon because it’s appropriating quite a strong image of Rosie, the Riveter but there’s this sort of masculinist thing about the history of Australian cartoons. Then portraying different cartoons in the arms, it was a chance to actually show the varying elements of Australian cartooning.
G: Well it was an absolute treat to work with you and I think the evolution of the idea, we ended up with a great design. Just to explain why we called it Inked ‘cause there’s a – in the more traditional or 20th century, inking in was a key part of the process of doing a cartoon. So you might prepare a sketch which a – editor might say yes to or which you just get your ideas and then once you were happy or your paper was happy you’d actually ink in and that’s why it’s called Inked. I quite deliberately called it Inked ‘cause I know tattooing is quite popular and there are most probably some confused young people who are going to the exhibition expecting to see tattoos but I’m introducing them to the history of Australian cartooning so it’s all to their best.
D: In terms of the process I think what it shows is that in any creative process there’s a time where you’re just trying to get into a creative associative mode where – and you're not trying to edit yourself, you’re not trying to censor yourself, you’re just trying to make associations and put down ideas. Then you’ve got to get into the editor mode which says what works, what doesn’t for the purposes and it can be very difficult to shift in those modes and too often you’re in editor mode right from the start and then you’re not playing with ideas and then it becomes didactic. That can be a real problem with my cartoons, is they can be very teachy or wordy and that’s –
G: You’re trying to show, don’t tell.
D: Yeah and you’ve got to show. So that’s the struggle I find in that process.
P: I was just going to say with that other one, the draughtsmanship, that also informs you a bit about the preparation that goes in and the draughtsmanship which leads to the final formulation, conceptualisation of the idea and that one, David’s draughtsmanship is brilliant.
G: Here you can see the finished product where you’ve gone through all those rough ideas and we even discussed the expression on the kangaroo’s face and exactly what the tattoos would be. So a lot of work went into that to produce the artwork which of course then is given to the designer or work with the designer to produce the final treatment so it just sort of shows the power of the visual communication which I think’s very strong.
D: It’s probably a bit cleaner than I’d like because I think in the process one of your designers was talking about putting on a giant banner and I was thinking oh it’s going to have to be blown up a million sizes. So I was drawing it in what’s called Vecta where you draw on a computer and rather than an image that’s made up of little pixels you’re drawing the image as a series of mathematical relationships so that the image appears the same no matter what size you - anyway that creates a sort of smoother look to it which I look at it, I go I want to dirty it up a bit.
G: I’ll let the designer know.
G: So let’s have a look at a –
D: Now this is something I learnt from Judy, is you read through the cartoon with an audience so – and now, cried Kevin, King of all the Wild Things, let the carefully calibrated deliberations of the nonbinding predetermined programmatic specifics commence. Isn’t it nice to be reminded of Rudd’s language?
G: It is a spectacular cartoon and I think it’s a good example of something that you do a lot which is your pop culture references or your – you draw on movies, you draw on children’s books, you draw on sport, all sorts of things to inform your cartoons. Of course you’re not unique in that but I think this is a really good example of everybody as a child read that, everybody’s children is reading it today and it really helps take you into the idea and try and work out what Rudd was trying to say.
D: As Geoff has said the search – one of the search every day is for the metaphor, isn’t it?
D: It’s trying to find the metaphor. A metaphor is an incomplete way of understanding something but hopefully it provides another way into understanding something and that’s always the – and so trying to cast that net as wide as possible in terms of potential metaphors.
G: It’s perhaps interesting to think about the differences, Geoff, to how you used to work and I remember visiting you in your office 20, 25 years ago with you actually working at an easel and there was ink and smudges everywhere and David, today you’re working on a tablet or –
D: Yeah, it’s very –
G: It’s changed quite a lot.
D: Yeah, it looks very different. I mean just seeing all those boards that – when I started working at the paper we drew everything on this thick cardboard -
P: Yeah, Bainbridge –
D: Bainbridge board and you’d pencil it in, you’d ink it in and you’d use watercolour and get a hairdryer to dry between layers and then you’d have this stack of boards which – 5,000 boards is a bit of space.
G: They’re in our map cabinets in the stacks –
D: Now I draw everything on a computer and it’s all ones and zeroes and it’s very antiseptic.
G: Now David, I know you’ve talked about this cartoon.
P: There we go.
G: Many times. I often say when I’m taking tours of the exhibition that in the 20th century it’s For gorsake, stop laughing! This is serious is the viral cartoon of Australian cartooning in the 20th century but the 21st century, I think this cartoon is perhaps one of the most famous Australian cartoons.
D: Yeah, it’s – I mean everyone knows the story. The Charlie Hebdo massacre, massacre at the offices there and we were all watching it sort of unfold quite live, really, on social media late at night and I drew this image very quickly to – to circulate amongst the other people I saw watching on Twitter, the other cartoonists, we’re all trying to get information. By 2:00 in the morning we seemed that we’d have as much useful information as we could know about who’d been murdered and what the state of play was. It was just a Tweet of solidarity and an image to go with that Tweet that I quickly drew. Then the next morning I couldn’t actually open my Twitter feed to see what – read people’s responses and it took a few days before that was possible.
G: It strikes me when I look over your history of cartooning that your activist background and your strong engagement with political ideas that sometimes you’re optimistic about the potential for change in society and sometimes you're pessimistic so I have two cartoons. I have this one after the referendum and this one about the Australian Parliament so I’d just sort of – how do you feel about cartooning expressing your political ideas and what it reflects about Australian society? Just a short question.
D: Yeah well sometimes I’m very pessimistic. Sometimes I – increasingly as I get older the struggle is to try and find a way – to find nuance, to find the greys and not the black and whites. I think cartoons – look, the real strength of cartoons – the reason people like cartoons I think is that they actually preach to our prejudices. That’s what we like in a cartoon, ‘cause it reinforces what we already think and I’m not sure how good cartoons are at actually changing anybody’s mind about anything. I still think that – I still think trying to connect with other people who feel like you and help sum up how we feel is not a bad thing, is not a useless thing. Cartoons are best when they are informed by some passion and a belief. If they’re just little anodyne gags then they’re a pleasant entertainment but political cartooning should be trying to express a point and part of the challenge then is to express a political point that isn’t – just doesn’t come partisan.
I’m hoping people will – can dismiss my cartoons because they don’t agree with the political line in them or the political conclusion I’ve come to about an issue. But I hope they’re not just seen as being cheerleading for one side or the other, that – I want to be engaged with the issues. We have some huge issues. I’m just struck today, this week like trying to pick out things to draw and there is this conga line of possibilities of just terrible things that - you feel like we should be doing something about X, Y, Z, whether it’s this looming conflict in the Middle East with Bolton muscling up to Iran or whether it’s the decision on Adani and this carbon bomb that they want to release through the Galilee Basin or the fact that there are still people on Manus and Nauru who have been caught in limbo. Whatever your position might be on turnbacks, and I think the government’s sort of won on a large – has won the debate in a large field there on refugee policy but we have these people stuck in limbo on this island, no fault of their own and it’s just appalling to see that they’ll just be left there for longer.
G: Still lots to draw about.
D: Lots to draw about, yeah, no shortage of topics.
G: Geoff, how did you feel about your position in politics and what you were saying when you were drawing?
P: From time to time I worried about balance, that I was seeming to be too one-eyed but when I went back to the Library to do the work on the catalogues for the cartoons I realised that no, I was quite even-handed but it took time. My philosophy is always that the government of the day are the actors and everybody else, the opposition, the readers, the cartoonists, journalists are reactors, they react to what the government is initiating through its constitutional powers. It’s a very narrow sort of way of looking at it but the government of the day is fair game in anything they do. Of course whenever the opposition somehow comes to the fore and makes a colossal stuff-up on anything then the reactors just fall upon them in glee because it gives everybody a change of diet from the government day after day. I remember once doing an election campaign talking to my editor, Ian Matthews, about this and he said no, don’t worry about it, you just say what you want to say. Don’t worry about how it appears to the reader, it’s your business and that was good advice.
G: I thought we might – we might just run through some of the cartoons actually in the exhibition and you guys can think back on some of the people who you have followed after. So of course this goes back to Hop back to 1866 from The Bulletin and we’re lucky to have the original of this artwork in our collection. So I just thought you might get some quick responses from you guys from some of the cartoons on show.
P: One comment is that they were nearly always beautifully drawn, there’s nothing wrong with the draughtsmanship and the inking and the rendition. Sometimes – I mean context, it’s almost impossible to know without some historical background.
D: I think you do a good job of curating this and writing – providing – writing the context for people because cartoon – political cartoons are ephemeral things, they hang on the news of the day and without that it can –
D: But the thing I’m struck by, a lot of the work is just how – like I said I’m drawing on a tablet now and some of the pieces, it really is -
G: So this piece is about A3 in the original.
D: Yeah and some of them are like a metre high and I just love seeing up close. It’s like from a different age how some of these works were produ – like a whole different technology even though it’s just drawing, it’s just drawing.
G: Of course you’ve got the lovely little boy from Manly here and you’ve also got the very antisemitic moon in the right-hand corner so there’s a lot going on in this Hop cartoon. You guys both referred to this cartoon -
P: Phil May.
G: Which is Phil May and the Mongolian octopus.
P: That image is so strong that I once used it for a cartoon for The Canberra Times, due attribution of course ‘cause you don’t pinch the idea which is a no-no but I used it quite appropriately, I thought but it’s a very strong - expressing prejudices that – alright for the day but – yeah. You’ve got to look at it and appreciate it in its historical context.
D: I mean I’m not going to go whether it’s alright in its day. I mean it certainly reflects its period and it’s good to see the exhibition not shying away from that and showing –
G: I think perhaps one of the differences is that Phil May would have been doing what the editors of The Bulletin wanted him to do. He wasn’t acting as an independent commentator, he was actually providing them with the visual ammunition for the arguments the editors were making.
P: Well you mentioned in the previous image, the antisemitic depiction in the corner, I’ve got a – original Low at home on my wall which was collected by my grandfather who was a cartoonist. It’s just plainly antisemitic and it just wouldn’t pass muster, you just wouldn’t get it past an editor today. Then Low, the irony is that he went off to the UK, cartooned there and really chronicled the rise of fascism in Europe -
G: There’s a Low there. This is one from the -
P: Yeah and he was knighted for his work. Best accolade of all, he had a price put on his head by the Nazis if they ever invaded Britain so it just shows you can’t judge somebody on something they’ve done in the past as people tried to do with Bean, the historian.
G: I think what you’re picking up there too is good, is that May was a hired gun whereas Low, particularly by the end of his career, had become a completely independent – no-one could tell Low what to draw. In world war 1 he’s very famous for taking on Billy Hughes and I love this caricature of Billy Hughes.
D: [unclear] 41:49 Hughes and I mean from a cartoonist’s perspective just looking at his caricatures and this is pre – I’m the YouTube generation. If I want a reference to draw someone I can just tap away on my computer and pull up an image.
P: Yes, thousands, which one to use.
D: When I started at the paper you had to rely on photographs or go down to Old Parliament House and sit there and – I remember one of the first budgets I went to, you dragging me down to the front so we’d draw Costello, I think it was because this was a chance to be up close and actually see how they moved and – and Low’s in a period where I mean even less – even more restricted and yet his caricatures are superb.
P: He’s starting to feel at home, I think. The cartoon I’ve got is from The Sydney Bulletin and it really is a job in cartoon, it’s earning a quid, buying beer and food on the table.
G: Well my joke about Low is that like many famous Australians he’s actually a New Zealander and of course he only spent a relatively short time in Australia but we very gratefully took ownership before he went off and became –
D: He’s the Pavlova of Australian cartoons.
G: That’s right, the Phar Lap.
P: Bit like Alan Moyer.
G: Like Alan Moyer. Now I couldn’t do – we couldn’t do a talk about Australian cartooning without pausing for a moment to reflect on Stan Cross’ For gorsake, stop laughing! This is serious.
D: I mean this cartoon was so famous at the time – it’s hard to appreciate now. In fact there were a lot of people so worried about what happened to these two guys that he ended up drawing a sequel. Which I don’t know – have you got that in the –
G: Yeah, we do have it in the collection and it’s a happy ending.
P: It’d need to be.
G: Neither of them die, they’re clambering back up onto the top of the building so if you’re wondering what happened that’s what happened.
P: It’s either grimly funny or funnily grim. Nothing in between but yes, I just love the competence of the drawing. He has got the full sort of physical activity of a disaster in the making and it’s not just them both dropping, it’s the sledgehammer going first. That’s not going to do much to anybody underneath but it is really – it’s just a beautiful drawing.
G: I think Cross in a way is like a halfway point between somebody like May and Low and you guys who are independent commentators in that Cross could say what he liked but he often did exactly what the editors of Smith’s Weekly wanted him to do. In this case he was just illustrating a gag which had been given to him so he didn’t come up with the idea, he just said oh yeah, I’ll do you a picture for that.
G: So just a few others. This is one of my favourite more in the tabloid tradition of Mercier. I don’t know if any of you guys had a strong appreciation of Mercier.
P: I grew up on Mercier, I think he was in The Sun Herald. Does anybody remember Emile Mercier?
P: Did he have his drawing frame sitting on little springs at the bottom?
P: He was crazy, he was very fait, very much an individual but I could never forget -
G: I love the father thinker having deep thoughts in his study while the rest of the family goes crazy. It’s a delightful depiction of suburban Australia. That kitchen is very recognisable, it’s a great drawing.
P: And somebody doing a tax rebate. It looks as though he’s deep in the travails of writing fiction, doesn’t it?
G: Yeah so I think he’s more in that tradition of documenting the social life rather than necessarily making very particularly hard-edged political commentary.
P: Political comment, yeah.
G: Now I suspect both of you were strongly influenced by this artist, Bruce Petty.
D: Yeah well I grew – yeah, he’d be one of the artists I grew up with although in Canberra it was more through occasional copies of The Age and some of his books that were published, anthologies from time to time. Just – as a cartoonist it’s just – it just sort of flows out of his brain through his hand like water. He – there’s no stopping or sitting back with – I remember drawing some cartoons in for a paper in Adelaide and he was also drawing some and they would arrive in an envelope, just this pieces – they were sort of sticky-taped together and bits were cut out and there was whiteout like they were just these most amazing little artefacts where he just whipped them out and then once they’re photographed for the paper -
G: No Bainbridge artboard, he was A4 bond and a felt tip pen.
P: And for Canberrans he was whipping them out of the newspaper office in Mort Street where Murdoch set The Australian up. In fact The Canberra Times always had a boast and it was never made too loudly that we were the only newspaper to ever run Murdoch out of town.
D: Well they’re back.
P: What’s that?
D: They’re back.
G: I’ll just very quickly – ‘cause I want to leave a little bit of time for questions but Tandberg of course, the classic pocket cartoonist.
D: Oh absolutely.
P: It worked brilliantly because he drew contextually to a story and didn’t worry about using too much white, simple lines and it just sort of – it focused the eye right into the page.
G: It’s unfair to ask you just to say a few words about Leunig but -
P: We’re your sort of social conscience, I think that was a – expression you used the other night on Late Night Live, that he – not political so much as a social commentator.
D: He brought philosophy into Australian cartooning in a way and again having grown up with his anthologies, that was such a refreshing thing like it was something very subversive about what he did with cartooning at that time, that he wasn’t just drawing these dry politicians but he was trying to express something about the psyche of us and the nation and the people around him. Yeah, it was quite important.
G: Cathy Willcox.
P: One of the few women.
G: Yes, that’s one of the things I grappled with in the exhibition, is there’s not a huge number of women cartoonists.
P: I don’t know why. Just as political in their outlook.
D: Yeah, Cathy’s just – she can work in sort of small stuff -
G: Pocket cartoons.
D: Yeah, she absolutely cut her teeth with pocket cartoons and is -
P: And translates to the larger editorial format.
G: I thought this was appropriate today.
P: Ward O’Neill.
G: This is Ward O’Neill of Bob Hawke.
P: It’s funny, you can just recognise it by looking at it.
D: That’s sort of from the era – and we’re sort of losing that, of op ed illustrators where people would draw cartoons and – to accompany an opinion piece in the paper and people like Ward and John Spooner had quite a lot of freedom in terms of how they were approaching that and who they’d work with to draw those image. So it’s not just an illustration, like it also – these op ed illustrations were also expressing something of the -
G: O’Neill and Alan Ramsey were in a conversation for years.
G: At The Sydney Morning Herald. So look, just to finish I’ve got this quote, sadly it seems like newspapers, the traditional cartoons will disappear. For readers it will be the loss of an old close friend who they’ve laughed at and cried with. A friend they may have cut out clippings, stuck to the fridge door along with other treasured trophies. Arguably a greater honour than a Facebook share.
Now this is Rocco Fazzari, he used to work at The Canberra Times and -
P: As did David Rowe.
G: - a bit grim about the future of cartooning. How do you guys feel about that?
P: Pretty much the same. I just had an article today sent to me by a good friend about The New York Times giving up on publishing editorial cartoons. Now New York Times, I mean heaven forbid. It seems to be that the outrage industry has got them and this is something that’s worldwide according to the author of this. I don’t see any reason to agree but I just – there’s a little quote here that I think is relevant. He says “cartoons are particularly conducive to offence-taking. Their strength is also their weakness. Cartoonists’ power of visual association” - that is, making metaphorical links between different ideas and that’s what we’ve been talking about – “can be hijacked by readers who can claim to see connections never intended by the artist”.
Now that’s always been something that cartooning has to deal with, unforeseen intentions, people who attack you on a ground that you’ve never thought of. In fact if you go to the absurd degree I once had to deal with a woman who obviously had a mental problem. She accused me of putting her and her husband who’d separated from her – she’d had a sad life – in my cartoons so that – having to deal with that, she kept ringing me up and in the end it stopped but that’s the – seeing connections that don’t exist. It’s a risk you take but it’s always there.
D: I think it’s probably more fraught now in part because the work can be circulated internationally so much more easily now and can be removed from the context in which it was drawn and I think – so for example with Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, a lot of which do nothing for me and I’d have problems with a whole lot of their work but some of their work which is definitely meant to be satirical crosses the language barrier and the sort of satirical intent doesn’t cross, just this very brutish image does which can then be read in different ways.
G: It’s different in the left bank of Paris to a village in Pakistan.
D: Yeah and so that’s an issue and I think there’s different elements to this, of outrage thing too, though, because we’re in an era of social media where people do have the chance to speak back to newspapers and to people who produce work for newspapers and that’s legitimate. Some of these racist cartoons that we’ve seen people can now – they don’t have to put up with an editor who commissions a racist cartoon and puts it out, they can say what they think and that can be difficult. It can be difficult to hear and it’s how to manage that conversation that is quite tricky. So there’s no easy answer about how to navigate that, I don’t see it just being an outrage industry that’s killing cartoons. I mean people killing cartoons and New York Times editors -
P: Well it’s a campaign on the newspaper more than the cartoonist, I think, they’re looking to silence voices.
D: New York Times is a bit interesting. My understanding is they haven’t always – domestically they’ve never really had a lot of cartoons in their paper, that they’ve gotten rid of two cartoonists who were doing a great job in the international editions and people are really pushing back at the moment on that.
G: We’ve got about 10 minutes for questions so I’ll throw it open to the floor. If you could stick your hand up – there was one down here. Ooh hands are going up all over the place. So could you please use a microphone? I think the one up the back first. We’ll get a microphone to you.
A: Are there any topics that you’d consider to be taboo in cartooning? I know that Bill Leak was vilified towards the end of his life and career for some of his cartoons. Are there any thing that you would regard as taboo?
P: Question often asked and hard to answer.
D: Yeah. Taboo. For me the challenge is how do I express what – what do I want to say about something? How do I express it and not ooh, I can’t possibly say that so I don’t feel constrained in that way, of going oh I can’t talk about that topic.
P: Well it’s – a risk you can run is to be accused of being a racist or racially offensive by stereotyping your images. Now I’m drawing an Asian say in the cartoon or used to, I’m retired now, he would look like an Asian, he wouldn’t look like an androgynous sort of human being. He had to be identified physically and that lends itself to being – stereotyping in a racist way. That’s a crude example but this is always a risk but it’s something that never worried me so I just had to do it.
D: I guess you take care in approaching certain topics. For example if I want to draw about Israel and its policies in Gaza and in the occupied territories I’m careful with the imagery I’ll use. I don’t want the charge of antisemitism to get in the way of the political comment about what the Israeli Government’s doing and I’ve seen other cartoonists get in strife. I mean the reason The New York Times – one of the reasons it stopped its cartoons recently, because of an image they put in that was published which they apologised for of Trump as this blind person being led by a seeing-eye dog which was drawn as Netanyahu and it was deemed antisemitic. I think there was a star of David on the collar and I think that was probably an attempt by the cartoonist to indicate this was Israel but it’s too easy for that to be viewed as indicating Judaism. So it’s that sort of imagery where people can get tripped up so there are – I guess there are areas like that where you have to be focused on getting that comment across as a political comment and what images you use so that you can defend it.
P: But that can be as much as what people are going to accuse you of and we know that the Israel lobby is extremely strong –
D: Oh well that’s what’s being used to shut down comment on that topic.
G: So I think we had one over here and then one at the front.
A: In the context of your final few remarks do you harbour a lurking fear that the cartoons may become entangled in the government’s vendetta against people’s right to know or challenge?
D: Do you want to elaborate? Like they will become – what’s your fear?
A: In relation to the crackdowns on journalism at the moment are cartoonists liable to come under the same form of threat in terms of inverted commas revealing facts that might otherwise not be known or lifting a rock that the politicians don’t particularly wanted lifted?
D: Oh I’d be much more worried about my journalist colleagues because we ultimately are bouncing off the work that our colleagues do to bring stories to light. Cartoons only work because the reader comes to them with some knowledge that they read in the rest of the paper, reading our journalistic colleagues’ work about an issue and then we can make some political point from that. So no, I’m not worried at that level, I’m much more worried about what our journalists can put in the paper and at that level then what we can talk about and people will understand what we’re trying to draw about.
G: We have time for just one more question.
A: I love the illusion to a cloud when you’re drawing Scott Morrison. Now that he’s Prime Minister for real is that going to persist?
D: Yeah, that’s a good question and I’ve been thinking about that. I drew him as a clown after a number of incidents like dragging foreign policy into the Wentworth byelection and making a snap decision to – this thought bubble about moving the embassy. There was a couple of incidents there which I just thought – that vote in the Senate about it’s okay to be white, this sort of – this neo-Nazi white supremist meme, just insane like – so it was a couple of things like that where the – I just noticed one day – actually I’ve done three of these cartoons and there’s this clown image so it persisted and then I thought after the election oh does it persist? I’m not sure, we’ll see what happens.
But I don’t think the government comes into this term with enhanced authority. I know they won the election that the polls were telling us they weren’t going to win but I feel like the opposition didn’t make the case for winning the election and it’s no great love for the government which had no agenda beyond the tax cuts that it announced in the budget. So at that level I don’t feel like there’s some enhanced authority and I don’t think the divisions in the party have gone away. They seem quite clear that the Queenslanders that feel galvanised by the result around energy and you’ve got the Zali Steggalls of the world who’ve come into the Parliament because there’s a whole part of the Liberal Party who want a different way. So those divisions are still there so it’ll be interesting to see how the circus is maintained.
P: Just briefly too that sometimes you create iconic images to encapsulate the personality and qualities of a political leader. For my own part I did it with Keating for a while as the Sun King because that’s the way he presented himself to me and to the reader but the challenge is, is to know when to dispense with it, when you think it’s done its dash and that takes a bit of thought too.
G: Well I’m sure there are many questions but unfortunately we’ve got to draw things to a close so thank you for coming. If you’d like – if you haven’t seen the exhibition yet it’s on the ground floor in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery. If you want to take the exhibition home with you you can buy the book which is in the store and of course I’m happy to say that for today it’s 20% off so if you do want to get a bargain you can pick one up in the shop and just mention you’ve been to this event when you go, they’ll give you a special deal. If your thirst for knowledge about cartooning has not yet been satisfied you can come and see – I’m going to do a talk about the best of The Bulletin so sort of 19th century Australian cartooning. I’m doing that at lunchtime on the 12th of July and details are on the web. With that please let us thank David and Geoff.
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