Image: George Cruikshank, (1792-1878), Passing events, or, Th comet of 1853 [picture], nla.obj-135582794
Recording date:


Using examples of cartoons displayed in the upcoming Inked exhibition, Exhibition Curator Dr Guy Hansen provides a short history of Australian cartooning over the last 200 years, sifting through examples of satirical prints from the 1780's, cartoons from the colonial period and the fleeting commentaries of the digital age.

Dr Guy Hansen will reference works from a range of cartooning superstars including Stan Cross, Livingston Hopkins, Judy Horacek, Michael Leunig, David Low, Phil May, Alan Moir, Bruce Petty, Geoff Pryor, Ron Tandberg and Cathy Wilcox.

Image: George Cruikshank, (1792-1878), Passing events, or, The tail of the comet of 1853 [picture], nla.obj-135582794

Guy Hansen Curator Talk 3 May 2019


*Speakers: Kathryn Favelle (K), Guy Hansen (G)

*Audience: (A)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 3/4/19


K:        My name’s Kathryn Favelle and I’m delighted to be welcoming you all here to the National Library of Australia today for Inked: A Short History of Australian Cartooning. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the first Australians on whose traditional lands we meet and I pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people past and present and future for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call home.

I imagine that many of you are here because you’ve already explored our new exhibition, Inked: Australian Cartoons and you’re dying to hear a little bit more about what’s hanging on our walls and what’s in our collections. You may not know that the cartoons on the walls are just a tiny handful of the 14,000 that are in our collection and if you have a lazy Sunday afternoon nearly all of those have been digitised so you can spend time at your computer browsing through 200 years or more of Australian cartooning.

I’m delighted to be introducing to you my colleague and the Director of the Library’s Exhibitions team, Dr Guy Hansen. Now Guy’s going to be giving us the overview today, he’s the curator of Inked but I should warn you that he has viewed if not every single one of those 14,000 then nearly every one of those 14,000 cartoons. That takes quite a lot of dedication and I don’t know how you choose 100, 200, 300 cartoons out of a number of that size. Please join me in welcoming Guy Hansen and hopefully he’ll tell us.


G:        Thank you very much, Kathryn. Yes, it is quite a task and I will, I promise try to answer the question. So okay – so it’s great to be here to talk to you about a topic which is one of my favourite topics which is cartooning. When I say cartooning I just want to make clear that I’m talking about editorial cartoons, pocket cartoons, editorial illustrations, all these things which have been a key part of our newspapers over the last 150 years. I’m going to say I’m not talking about comic books and strip cartoons which are also a very important part of Australian popular culture and I do have an interest in those but they’re just not part of today’s talk or part of this exhibition.

So I think some of you out there know that cartoons have been a research interest of mine for over 20 years. Back in 1992 when old Parliament House was open to the public again I was given the job in a fairly short period of time – I think I had a couple of months – to pull an exhibition together about Australian politics and when my manager said well what can you do in that amount of time? I said well maybe cartoons is the way to do it and I worked then at the National Museum of Australia which also has a very good cartoon collection and I pulled together an exhibition which was called The Art of Politics which was one of the opening exhibitions at old Parliament House when that building was opened again.

I followed that up with another show called Bringing the House Down which was again at old Parliament House and again very successful and after that I started to repeat myself, I’m afraid. I started work on an exhibition which was called Behind the Lines and that soon became an annual exhibition and that of course continues today. I think we’ve had something like 20 or so of those exhibitions. It’s now done by the staff at the Museum of Australian Democracy and I'm very happy to see that a little baby that I brought into existence has grown up and walked by itself and I always look forward to going to see the annual show over at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

So in some ways I thought I had moved on from cartooning when I came over to the Library but it was a great pleasure a couple of years ago when the Library asked me to explore whether it would be possible to do an exhibition about Australian cartooning using the Library’s collection. I thought yes, that’s a great idea and that was the genesis of the exhibition which you can see upstairs. But more about that later. First of all I’d like to reflect on how much things have changed in the way that we consume media.

Like many people here today I grew up reading newspapers. For me a prerequisite for a successful morning was a good cup of tea and a newspaper. In my case it was The Sydney Morning Herald that was a key part of my morning ritual. These were the days when The Herald was a broadsheet and it was quite an awkward thing, took up a lot of room at the breakfast table and it was also impossible to read if you had to go to work in Sydney on a train, crowded train or on a bus and I believe the trains and buses have got even more crowded in Sydney so it’s most probably a good thing that they’ve gone away from the broadsheet.

Also back then my memory is there was more in the paper that you could get through in a day so it was a real pleasure to have the newspaper. When I think about what I enjoyed most about newspapers, it was the political cartoons that I loved and of course being a Herald reader back in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was Alan Moir’s editorial cartoon that I’d often seek out. This little jolt of satire was the perfect way for me to start the day and get a perspective of what was going on in the world. Today it would be David Pope in The Canberra Times that I look at to see, to try and understand the crazy thing which is this world.

I hope you can forgive me for this brief moment of newsprint nostalgia. As we know the days of newspapers as the dominant form of news media are over. Now in the 21st century we have numerous platforms and media to choose from to get our daily jolt – our daily news. It’s no longer safe to assume that your fellow citizens have seen the same news as you. The proverbial water cooler conversation has become much more difficult.

It’s in this context of the changing way we consume news that I think it’s very important to look back at the history of newspapers and cartooning to get a sense of how things have changed and perhaps to reflect on what we’ve lost. This brings me to the task I have today, a brief history of Australian cartooning which I will complete in approximately 40 minutes.

To tell this story I'm going to use a wonderful resource, the cartoon collections of the National Library of Australia. As Kathryn said we have over 14,000 cartoons from hundreds of different artists. They cover the period from before the arrival of the first fleet right up to the present. The collections include examples of early satirical hand-coloured prints, satirical drawings done by early settlers, cartoons prepared for the colonial publications such as Punch and The Bulletin as well as numerous examples of artwork from major newspapers and magazines in the 20th century.

In addition the Library also holds the print runs of many major newspapers and journals and anthologies in which many of these works first appeared. Amongst our wonderful collections they are two which I just want to give a special mention to. First is the Stan Cross archive and perhaps preeminent amongst that archive is this very famous cartoon, For God’s sake stop laughing. This is serious. This cartoon of course you can interpret it in a number of ways and if you’re taking the high-minded or more scholarly way you might say that this is a cartoon about depression Australia, working class Australians laughing in the face of adversity.

I did meet an old cartoonist who knew Stan Cross and he told me what it was really about was that the guy below was looking up and them being two working class men the audience all knew that he wouldn’t be wearing underwear and that’s what was funny about the cartoon.

I like to think both work and you can look at it whatever way you like but this cartoon in today’s parlance went viral in the 1930s, the paper it appeared in, Smith’s Weekly, printed many editions of it and it really was for much of the 20th century described as the funniest cartoon in Australia and it was very – many people had it in their own collections. We’re very lucky to actually have the original and with the original we also have thousands of other Stan Cross cartoons and also many of his comic strips and other drawings that he did so it’s a wonderful archive.

It being a Canberra audience I thought we should also mention the Geoff Pryor collection. Geoff has very generously chosen the National Library of Australia as the home of his archive and we have thousands of Pryor cartoons and he very helpfully has gone through and catalogued them. As a curator that’s extremely useful ‘cause I know what date they were published and what he thought he was doing at the time which makes it much easier to understand the cartoons.

So let me come to that question which Kathryn asked, how do you choose out these cartoons? First of all I would like to say that cartoons are – the collections of the Library are a little bit like a fossil record in the sense that we have thousands of cartoons but they’re only a small subset of the millions of cartoons which are produced by artists. I sometimes think of cartoons in our collection like fossils in a geological record, it’s a very partial record of all the life which existed before and you can go through and find the fossils and start to work out how cartooning developed.

So what I had to do with my colleague, Roslyn Clark here, we had to go through all of the cartoons in the stacks of the Library looking at them one by one and trying to make a judgement so I kind of like to think that this is two cartooning palaeontologists at work digging up the fossils.

Fossil traces are notoriously incomplete and as I said the remains of most animals and plants are not preserved in the geological record and the same is true of our collection. There’s many artists who are not there, some of their best cartoonists didn’t come to our collections so that’s sometimes frustrating but there were still enough there for us as we searched through to find some real gems and that’s how we went from our 14,000 down to the 135.

I – before I go on a little bit I should say that the criteria which we used when looking through the cartoons was did the cartoon depict a significant event or personality? Did it represent a good example of the cartoonists who we were looking at and was it visually attractive and perhaps most importantly was it funny or moving? ‘Cause we did want to produce an interesting, amusing show for our visitors.

Okay so let me walk you through some of the things that Roslyn and I found on our long – it took us about six months in the stacks to go through all the cartoons and some of the things that we found and eventually selected for the exhibition. One of the great pleasures of working with this collection as opposed to some of the other collections I’ve worked with in the past is there’s some very early examples of Georgian satire. So I was able to go back and have a look at the work of an artist like Gillray and this of course of the period that satirical prints are produced and hand-coloured and were very popular in London.

So this particular work is from 1795 and it’s a caricature of Joseph Banks. Another example here is one you might have seen in history textbooks but it’s another one of these early satirical prints which shows that in the 1790s Australia was starting to occupy the popular imagination in England and the cartoonists were starting to use Botany Bay as a metaphor in their cartoons just like today an artist might use a recent-released movie or some other metaphor to do that.

Now it’s interesting of course they always call – use Botany Bay even though the settlement was actually at Port Jackson but you can see these early cartoons and I’ve chosen a few of those to put into the exhibition. Just to explain this kind of phenomenon of Georgian satire there’s – I’ve just shown you this illustration which is of a print shop in London and the way people would look forward to the next hand-coloured etching which would go up and could be purchased or just viewed. So it was like this was an early way of visual media being consumed in Georgian society.

Of course that set of ideas and that preference for visual satire came to Australia with the first fleet. So if we think these settlers arrive in Australia and of course they don’t have the printing presses, they don’t have the capacity to produce those same sorts of prints but they do still have the desire for visual satire so it’s not surprising that the first settlers started producing their own illustrations.

Now for a long time this is thought to be one of the earliest cartoons that has survived in Australia and it’s of the famous – it’s called the arrest of Governor Bligh and it’s that moment where the New South Wales Corps overthrew Governor Bligh. An officer in the New South Wales Corps commissioned this illustration which obviously humiliates Bligh, makes him look like a coward. Bligh denies that this happened but it’s a wonderful example of the sort of satire which was produced at that time. It was always – you did humiliate your political opponents. This is the story of a thing that Gillray would do and I think this is an early version of it.

This cartoon is actually held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney but we have a copy in the Library here which was produced by the New South Wales Government Printing Office in the 1890s so the copy you’ll see in the exhibition is over 100 years old. For a long time I think people thought this was the earliest cartoon but in our research on this exhibition I was very pleased to find that the Library holds an earlier cartoon which is from 1804 and this illustration is about the convict uprising at Castle Hill.

Now I would argue that this image has many of the same conventions as a piece of Georgian satire. You can see the little talk balloons, it tells a story, it ridicules people so I think this is really the earliest cartoon which is in existence. This cartoon really bears close examination so let me take you through it.

A lot happens in this cartoon, it compacts a lot of events which happened over a series of days into one image so here you can see a Catholic priest who was with the New South Wales regiment who went along and tried to persuade the Irish convicts to lay down their arms. So lay down your arms, my deluded countrymen. So that was a moment that happened in the battle. Here you can see Cunningham, the leader of the convicts. He was parlaying with the English commander and you can see he’s got the Jacobite slogan, death or liberty. You can see the Major there saying you scoundrel, I’ll liberate you. I think that’s a joke.

Over here we also have we’re all ruined, saying another one of the leaders and you can see, croppy, boy, croppy, lay down. ‘Cause croppy being a term for an Irish rebel so there’s a lot going on in this cartoon. Later on going through time so this cartoon moves through time, you can see the leader being hit on the head with a sword by Quartermaster Laycock, he’s calling him thou rebel dog and he’s saying oh Jesus. You also can look at the cartoon and see that the English troops are organised and regimented and the Irish rebels are disorganised and running away so you can see there’s a lot going on in this cartoon. Of course the end of the story which happened some days after the rebellion, the rebel leaders are hung in chains at Parramatta.

So the illustrator has pulled this altogether into one image and I think it actually works just like a cartoon and I think this dates from 1804. We did some detailed work on this to make sure it is from that period and I’m happy to say I think it is now the earliest cartoon still around in Australia and we have it in the Library’s collection.

So just reassembling all those pieces, that’s the larger watercolour. Now of course this was not produced as a print for sale, it was a one-off watercolour most probably commissioned by one of the officers so that he could display it and then people could gather and discuss events soon after they occurred. Unfortunately some of that story’s elusive and I have to speculate but I’m pretty confident that my interpretation’s right.

So moving through time I’m going to really skate across Australian cartooning history just to pull out a few major points and please forgive me if I leave out your favourite cartoonist but I just want to sort of get this sense of how cartooning developed in Australia.

So this tradition of satirical prints did come to Australia and you had artists like S T Gill who during the gold rushes travelled the goldfields and would produce humorous illustrations of the miners and then they would be sold. So that tradition of satirical prints did continue in Australia. But if we really want to start to look at how the modern cartoon came into existence I think we need to look at Punch.

Now Punch started in London in the 1840s and soon spread throughout the empire so that there were Punches in various places like Melbourne, in Sydney, in Adelaide and other cities all over the British empire. Punch used new woodblock printing technology to produce the same kind of images which were in the satirical prints but instead they were produced as supplements inside the periodical and this really started to replace the satirical prints and became more popular. Of course these were more black and white images at this point.

It’s also – Punch is the journal which gives us the word cartoon ‘cause it was early on in Punch’s existence that the word cartoon which had previously meant sort of preparatory murals, preparatory drawings for a major mural, very kind of earnest things came to be used for these illustrations. It was directly ironic that Punch drawings were kind of pretending to be as serious as these big major murals. So that word cartoon which I think’s original Italian word came over to what we understand it today. So I think in Punch you begin to see the precursor of the modern cartoon.

The next stop on our quick flythrough of Australian cartooning history is The Bulletin and so The Bulletin starts publishing in 1880 and you can see at this point in time it’s not really looking like The Bulletin that we perhaps come to know a bit later. At this point the illustrations used in The Bulletin are more realistic and they’re not necessarily gags or cartoons in the way we’d understand them. But a key thing happened at The Bulletin very early which was the editors at The Bulletin, and I can read out a quote from the first edition which is, the aim of the proprietors is to establish a journal which cannot be beaten. Excellence in the illustrations which embellish its pages and unsurpassed in the vigour, freshness and geniality of its literary contributions.

So one – The Bulletin was established by Archibald in 1880 and he wanted it to look the best, have the best writing and have the best pictures and one of the things he did was recruit overseas. One of the first artists he recruited in 1883 was Livingston Hopkins who came to be known as Hop. Now Hop was able to use the printing technology at The Bulletin and start to move away from just doing realistic drawings to actually doing more humorous drawings and more caricatures.

Now his most famous contribution to The Bulletin was the creation of a little character called the little boy from Manly. Now the little boy in a pinafore down at the front, it’s actually - at this stage he’s referred to as the little boy at Manly. What’s going on in this cartoon – it takes a little while to explain so bear with me – this is the moment of the return of the Sudan contingent to New South Wales. So if we go back to – the Sudan contingent was sent out in response to following the death of General Gordon at Khartoum and you – there’s patriotic fervour across the empire and troops are sent.

The New South Wales contingent got there, didn’t see a lot of action and then came back and The Bulletin was very sceptical of what had happened but it was very much a patriotic exercise which hadn’t achieved much. So you have – in this cartoon you have the Premier of New South Wales, Daly, over here on the side and he’s got on his [mag] 20:43, he’s got some medals and you’ve got the actual New South Wales contingent getting off the ship.

Now what Hop was doing, much in the way of a cartoonist today, was doing a parody of a very famous painting. This painting was called Elizabeth – was by Elizabeth Thompson, it was called the Roll Call and it was about the nobility of British troops in the Crimean war and you can see that this is about noble sacrifice and about harsh conditions and how difficult war is. Then you come back to the New South Wales contingent and if you look across the worst injury you can find is a toothache in the centre there.

Now where does the little boy from Manly fit into this whole story? Well one of the things that happened at the time was there was a letter from a young boy who had stood at Manly Heads and written with great patriotic fervour about watching the New South Wales contingent go out through the heads on the steamers and that had been published in the papers and everybody was proud of this little boy from Manly. So this moment of this Sudan contingent and this little patriotic boy all came together to create this little character, the little boy who would first of all represent New South Wales but for the next 50 years would actually represent Australia and would be used by many, many cartoonists.

So here is a cartoon from 1906 and you can see the little boy here, and I’ve chosen this one today ‘cause it’s the day after the budget, and the little boy from here is pushing along the deficit and as you can see the deficit is getting bigger and bigger. I think you could do this cartoon today except there might not be room for the deficit. So that’s Livingston Hopkins.

The other cartoonist who The Bulletin recruited who really I think ensured that The Bulletin became such an important paper was Phil May. Here’s a photograph of Phil May. He was brought out from England where he was a well thought of illustrator but not having a particularly successful career came out to The Bulletin, really shone in Australia and then was able – stayed for quite a short time but was able to go back to England and have a very successful career.

So these two guys, Hop and May, really became famous, important illustrators in Australia and a couple of examples of May, May’s beautiful line work, a lovely caricature of Sir Henry Parkes here. You can see that the kind of printing technology that they had at the time, May had at the time, May had really mastered it and could produce the most beautiful images. One of his most famous images is this one, The Mongolian Octopus which is a sort of amazing piece of propaganda which of course underlies the notion that the editors of The Bulletin had which was that Australia should be a white Australia, very anti-Chinese. You can see May has brought all his skills as a draughtsman to illustrate the propaganda of The Bulletin. That’s a good point because I think at this stage the artists were pretty much doing what the editors told them to. Later on cartoonists developed their own voice but in this period they were pretty much hired guns working for the editors.

Another famous cartoonist was Lindsay. Now Norman Lindsay of course is known for many things, his writings, his other art but he was an artist at The Bulletin for a long time and did some amazing work so I’ve got some examples of his work from the First World War period. I’ve got this cartoon here which actually you can again see the little boy from Manly appears and the little boy’s looking a little bit confused ‘cause he’s just got the news that the First World War has broken out. This actually was Lindsay’s cartoon which was produced at the beginning of the war for The Bulletin. We’ve got here one of the propaganda posters which Norman Lindsay worked on so Norman Lindsay was a bit of a hired gun as well and I’ve got a little bit of a – some great oral history which the Library has from an interview with Norman Lindsay. I’ll just play it now.

“It’s a form of picture writing. You’v got to symbolise a situation or an idea in form. It’s a very powerful form when we’re dealing with actual events because it’s an impact straight away. The onlooker sees the idea in action, you see. Well it’s a form of symbolism, you must draw and make these compositions and they give you all sorts of devilish compositions. You’ve got to draw two sides of a war, for instance, all sorts of things. Editors, here’s the idea to express, they say. Well go ahead and get it. Well you’ve got to find it out and it’s a marvellous exercise in composition.”

So – and here’s a Lindsay cartoon from the end of the war and of course here you can see death and the devil replete.

Okay so another cartoonist who worked on The Bulletin is this character here called David Low. He was not on The Bulletin for that long and I apologise to those who’ve heard this joke before but like many famous Australians he was actually a New Zealander. He’d moved from New Zealand from Christchurch over to Australia, he worked on The Bulletin and had a fantastic career at The Bulletin, did some wonderful caricatures and illustrations and he was particularly famous for his illustration of his work that he did on Billy Hughes. He thought Billy Hughes was a bombastic terrible Prime Minister and he consistently attacked Hughes and Hughes hated him and I don’t think David Low thought much of Hughes.

Low actually really rose to fame with this book which is called The Billy Book which was extremely popular, it sold over 60,000 copies which was a lot back then and it was considered so good that he came to the attention of editors in England and he was headhunted and then moved over to London to have a very successful career and become one of the most important cartoonists in the English-speaking world. Particularly famous in the ‘30s for his anti-fascist cartoons for The Evening Standard.

So skating on very quickly through Australian history and I hope I get there in time before I run out of time but we’re now up to just after world war one. We have the creation of Smith’s Weekly. Now this was a magazine which was produced specifically for soldiers coming back from the First World War and the editors I think took a lead from The Bulletin and wanted black and white illustration to be a key part of this magazine.

One of the first artists hired by The Bulletin was a guy called Cecil Hart who was a returned serviceman, he’d served at Gallipoli and in other places and here’s a self-portrait by Cecil Hart. Now he produced lots of drawings of Australian soldiers and I think he helped create a visual archetype of what the Australian soldier was, a kind of a larrikin, disrespectful but very pragmatic in getting the job done and he produced many little books and illustrations which appeared in Smith’s and I think really helped create a template of how we see the Australian soldier even ‘til today. Unfortunately as a returned serviceman he had quite a traumatic life and he eventually committed suicide in the 1930s.

Another famous artist at Smith’s was Stan Cross and I’ve already – here’s one of Stan Cross’ cartoons and again the little boy from Manly reappears, this time having the choice between war and radicalism, trade union radicalism and sort of you can see that after world war one Stan Cross is thinking about what direction would Australia go? I mentioned the cartoon before which is the most famous cartoon which was produced by Stan Cross.

So I have to quickly move through time again to get us to the present. So I’m skipping over world war two, there’s a lot going on in world war two, some great illustration and cartooning going on, some of which is in the exhibition but in some ways it’s quite a stable period, the way cartoons are being produced and what cartoonists are doing. So the next period where things begin to be shaken up is in the ‘60s and it’s strangely enough a little magazine which was not that popular but which did help to break the way things were done and that was Oz magazine. The major cartoonist at Oz was Martin Sharp.

Now Martin Sharp would do collage and would do all sorts of weird kind of illustrations and would completely break the rules of how things could be done and it was really noticed by other artists and it really gave them the sense that they could do more than just doing gags and illustrations. So Martin Sharp moved on from cartooning and really became a graphic artist and became one of the most important graphic artists of the 1960s but his influence was very strong on a range of newspapers.

Another character who was very important in the ‘60s is Bruce Petty. I think Petty perhaps more importantly than Sharp was another artist who completely broke all the rules and started to get cartoonists thinking about being social commentators, not just gag illustrators. His draughtsmanship was very different to the earlier period where he would really draw things which some of the cartoonists at the time thought were just scribbles but he completely changed the way cartoonists would do work. This really liberated cartoonists going forward.

Now one of the things which Petty brought to the equation was his desire for cartooning to do more than just sort of put a big nose or big ears on a politician and he developed this idea of using machines as metaphors to get over complex stories. So I’ve got a little sample of oral history from Bruce Petty with him explaining that idea.

“Making cartoons one keeps coming up with the problem of economics and how you treat it and usually you finish up treating economics in a political cartoon as putting a funny nose on the Treasurer or big ears on him and a general insult in the hope that that’s going to get across. Well everyone knows that this isn’t terribly sophisticated economics but to do any more starts to get terribly complicated. I have devised various machines, drawn machines to represent the economy, machines to represent unions and the Tariff Board and so on.”

So – and there we can see a drawing of one of Bruce Petty’s machines which is called The Law Machine which is actually in the exhibition and this was a machine which he put together in the 1990s and it’s held by the National Museum of Australia and they very kindly lent it to the Library for this show. Now I have a lovely little film here which shows you how much work goes into preparing one of these objects for display.

So you can see that sculpture up there. It’s a beautiful thing and it was a lot of fun installing it. I think the staff quite enjoyed putting it up.

Now while - I should be careful, though, to say not all cartoonists were going down this path of becoming serious social commentators, there was still a very strong tradition in the Australian cartooning – more in the tabloid papers which was more about what I’d call the price of beer and cigarettes and petrol and of course one famous cartoonist is Wegg from The Herald in Melbourne. This is the bread and butter of many cartoons all throughout the 20th century and it would be about beer going up, it would be about cigarettes going up and things like that. Wegg of course is also famous for doing his VFL posters come Grand Final so there is a kind of a commentator tradition and then there’s a more traditional tabloid tradition in Australian cartooning.

But my next stop on my race through the story of Australian cartooning is this paper called The Nation Review which again like Oz was not hugely popular but was very influential. The Nation Review was amazing for putting together a stable of really quite amazing artists and one of the main ones who was there was Leunig so when you see early Leunig it often is from The Nation Review. So here’s Michael Leunig.

So of course Michael Leunig is - in terms of this idea of cartoonists becoming social commenters Leunig is the cartoonist in late 20th century Australia who actually transcends being a cartoonist and almost becomes like a philosopher poet and sort of – his cartoons just appear and you often don’t know what they mean but everybody says it’s amazing. So – and I think what Leunig does which is so special is he moves on from just politics and the cut and thrust of daily life to sort of exploring the emotional landscape of Australia and I think that’s why he is such a powerful cartoonist and so loved. His drawings are really beautiful and I think the Library’s very lucky to have some examples in the collection.

I’ll just mention that Bryan Brown, the actor, great lover of Leunig, actually commissioned 50 short films from an animation company which would actually bring Leunig cartoons to life and you can see some of those in the exhibition.

So in my travel through time I’ve now got towards the end of the 20th century, I’ve briefly touched on Oz and Nation Review and The Australian. Bruce Petty was at The Australian, I think I forgot to mention that. We now come to perhaps a paper which deserves some attention which is The Age and The Age was another paper which put together – amazing stable of artists who really made cartooning very important. One of the most important of those was Ron Tandberg who mastered the type of cartoon which is called the pocket cartoon which would for a long time on The Age appear on the front page.

So one of the most important things on The Age was what had Tandberg said today and there would be just a small little pocket, very simple cartoon which would be completely devastating and must read material. The Age really considered Tandberg one of their most important cartoonists. Now I’ve got another lovely little clip from Tandberg where he explains this cartoon.

“Well the way I draw is I minimalise things and cut them down to just the essential things in the actual drawing or in the words. Malcolm Fraser example, when I draw Malcolm Fraser, the way I learnt to draw him was one day I’d just drawn him out of – I’d been drawing him for a long time fairly badly and then one day I drew him very quickly and someone wandered past and I think it was Sally White who was a journalist at The Age and she wandered past, said oh you’ve got him. There it was, the tilt of the head. Almost coming out of just a sort of a spontaneous response, after having analysed him for so long I’d just instinctively done something that was him and it was the tilt of the head which captured this – how people saw him which was one of being arrogant. That’s how he came about. The very funny thing was the cartoon I did on Malcolm Fraser which has sort of lived on a bit was the one of the public image of Malcolm Fraser and then the – exactly the same drawing which is the real Malcolm Fraser.”

So – another cartoonist I got a brief quote from is Peter Nicholson who was also at The Age but then of course later in his career was at The Australian. I love this quote ‘cause he sort of takes on what he sees as the importance of the role of a cartoonist.

“I feel that my work has sort of matured over time but I don’t feel that a cartoonist simply should be a propagandist for a point of view but rather if a variety of ideas grow out from the way, the humorous way in which you depict a situation. If it’s funny and if it’s true then it makes a good cartoon.”

So let me ask you a question, what has been missing in my story so far?

A:        Women.

G:        Thank you, I knew you’d get it and look, this isn’t because I'm – don’t like women, it’s really just to do with the fact that the archive – the fact was there were not a lot of women cartoonists, there were some, there were some women illustrators and cartoonists but there were very few and very few had major jobs. It wasn’t really until the late 1980s and 1990s that women cartoonists started to appear. Now there is a number of them, there’s Jenny Coopes, there's Mary Leunig, there’s a whole bunch of them. In the exhibition I’ve honed in on Judy Horacek. This is because we hold quite a good collection of Judy Horacek and I think she is actually emblematic of shifts in the cartooning industry ‘cause it was at about this period that younger cartoonists were not so much working in art departments but were actually working as freelancers and almost had to build their own career.

Judy Horacek is a great example of that. I think some of you may have come to hear Judy speak about a month ago soon after the exhibition opened and she sort of outlined the challenges of being a freelance cartoonist. So if you’re wondering why there aren’t more women that’s ‘cause there’s not a lot of women in the collection and in terms of the overall representation of women in Australian cartooning ranks for many years there weren’t many. But that has changed a lot and there are of course today – we have people like Cathy Wilcox of course at The Sydney Morning Herald and a number of other major artists.

So in my history of cartooning I think the next thing that happened which changes everything is the arrival of the internet. This means that everything which I think made cartooning work so well for so many years, the very well developed way we understood cartoons in our traditional newspapers came to an end in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet. Combined with this there was also some major changes in the economics of newspapers.

So you might remember characters like Warwick Fairfax who pretty much sent Fairfax bust and various other consolidation of media companies and the end of the afternoon newspapers so papers like The Mirror and The Sun in Sydney disappeared. All these things meant art departments started to shrink very suddenly. The arrival of the internet and development of new advertising streams meant that the traditional classified adverts which made newspapers so – generated the rivers of gold which allowed newspapers to have investigative journalists, have cartoonists and have photographers and all these wonderful things. That money dried up so newspapers began to shrink, artists started to be laid off, there were less art departments and art departments almost disappeared. So real major change occurred in the 1990s which I think has fundamentally changed the way we consume cartoons today.

But I don’t want to finish on such a depressing note so I’m going to quickly go through some more recent cartoons just to show you that cartooning is alive and well. Now here is Joe Hockey. I’ve chosen this cartoon ‘cause this cartoon was produced by Eric Labeckie just after that fantastic budget that Joe Hockey produced in the first year of the Abbott Government.

Now I don’t need to explain these cartoons. You guys have lived through this so I’ll let you just enjoy them as I come to the end of my talk. It’s been a very traumatic few years. This cartoon – I mentioned that the For God’s sake stop laughing, this is serious had gone viral in the 1930s. This cartoon did go viral in 2015 and it is most probably the most seen Australian cartoon in the whole history of Australian cartooning.

I’ll finish with this cartoon here which is David Pope at the end of last – well close to the end of last year where Parliament seemed to be absolutely crazy and David Pope’s depiction of Parliament as a scene in Lord of the Flies seemed very appropriate.

So let me finish by saying thank you for sharing some of my enthusiasm for cartoons. I think they’re very much more than visual gags which provide a momentary diversion. Like the work of filmmakers, writers and journalists cartoonists hold up a mirror to Australia and invite us to reflect on what is going on in our society. They help generate the cultural capital which makes our society work. At their very best they capture the zeitgeist or puncture the spin of politicians. Please enjoy this journey through Australian history with some of the best cartoons from the collections of the Library. Thank you.


G:        So, sorry for that, it was a very rapid run through 200 years of history but happy to take any questions if you have any. We have microphones.

A:        Thanks for the talk, Guy. I just note that some of the – well pretty much all of the recent cartoons that we’ve seen at the end of the talk, the audience was laughing straight away when they saw the image so there’s almost a trend to a rapidly understandable joke in today’s cartooning whereas the earlier ones with the Irish convict rebellion, you really need to look for a long time to read all of the little captions and so forth. When you were looking through the archives for this project did you see many of those older cartoons that were instantly funny or was it more of a laboured process back in the day?

G:        I think what you’re pointing to there is that we all understand those last few cartoons ‘cause we live in the culture and we understand. The thing about cartoons in the past is they’re actually largely completely impenetrable and you – Ros and I would often stand in the stacks and say what is this about? I have no idea and I'm a – Australian historian and I sort of know many of the characters who appear in the story but it’s sometimes quite difficult. It’s a real curatorial challenge to bring to life works of art which are so hard to understand. In the exhibition I’ve gone against one of my own rules which is to have extended labels on every cartoon and that’s because I think you need the information to understand what’s going on.

So I think actually in their day these would have been instantly understandable to the public at the time so the storytelling technique’s definitely changed, the metaphors they use changed but I think this visual humour was always very instantaneous. It doesn’t take long to understand what Norman Lindsay’s saying when he has a German monster leaning over to grab the earth. You get it pretty quickly.

A:        Except for the mention of Leunig do you find that there are other cartoonists who are ahead in the chase in terms of the reportage, that they’re out in front in terms of the message that they’re actually conveying which as you’ve mentioned just now, they anticipate the event rather than waiting for the event to occur and then subsequently make retrospective comment on it?

G:        Yes. Now I think Leunig is the clear leader but I think somebody like Bruce Petty also was able at times to completely go in a different direction to where the newspaper was going and draw cartoons about Australia’s relationship with the rest of the world or with the Vietnam War and various things. So that’s one of the interesting things, is cartoonists shifting from that earlier part of the 20th century to just sort of doing what they were told, to actually becoming commentators in their own right. I think in some ways sometimes people look back and say the golden age of Australian cartooning was the 1890s with The Bulletin. I would argue in some ways the golden age of Australian cartooning was the 1990s with people like Tandberg and Leunig and Petty all at the top of their game. But yeah, no, it’s a good point.

K:        Thank you, Guy, and thank you for your questions. I think one of the things that fascinates me about the exhibition is that Pope cartoon he drew first and the way it went around the world. I was reading recently about Patrick Campbell’s beautiful, moving cartoon that he drew in response to the recent events in Christchurch and it similarly was published online on his Twitter feed and before he knew it it was going around the world representing the way so many of us were feeling about that tragic time. So while cartoons make us laugh they can also speak very deeply to some of our great sadnesses and our deepest feelings as well, it’s an extraordinary art form.

I hope you’ll go and pop upstairs and have another look at your favourites if you’ve already been and discover some of your favourites if you haven’t. Guy has found time to produce a gorgeous companion volume to the exhibition which is available in the bookshop and if you twist his arm he may sign it for you. If you have fallen in love with Andrew Pope’s kangaroo who he has named Drew after a competition you can also buy Drew on a tote bag as well so you can carry a cartoon, a Pope original with you wherever you go.

But thank you for coming today and please join me in thanking Guy Hansen for a really informative presentation.


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