Launch Of Cartoons 2002: Life, Love And Politics & Leunig Animated

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December 5, 2002
2003-04 Pre-Budget Submissions
December 9, 2002

Launch Of Cartoons 2002: Life, Love And Politics & Leunig Animated





Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, it’s not often that

I get to launch something specifically designed for amusement, so it gives

me genuine pleasure to be here today to launch this collection of some of

the best cartoons of 2002.

The way that you judge a good cartoon is the fridge test – you

know your work is worthy when someone, somewhere, has cut it out and put it

up on the fridge door. And you know that the work is a masterpiece if, when

the owners move house, that yellowing cartoon is stuck up again in the new


I really look forward to reading the cartoons each morning with

a mixture of dread and anticipation. It’s a bit like whisky on your weeties.

They really do give a lift to the morning. But the pain afterwards is a bit


There are a few of us, too, that have the exquisite sensation

of being the subjects of cartoons. I well remember the first time that I saw

myself portrayed in a cartoon. At first I couldn’t quite recognise myself.

That was me! It was truly a face only a mother could love. After a while you

start to see yourself like the caricature. Cartoonists can change your impression

of reality.

The unacknowledged legislators of the world

Shelley said that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators

of the world”. Arthur O’Shaughnessy coined a phrase “movers and

shakers” to describe poets.

          We are the music makers,

          And we are the dreamers of dreams,

          Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

          And sitting by desolate streams;

          World-losers and world forsakers,

          On whom the pale moon gleams,

          Yet we are the movers and shakers

          Of the world forever, it seems.

          (Ode, Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Today I am going to extend the category to cartoonists. Cartoonists

are the “movers and shakers” of the world.

When people buy newspapers they might read quite a few articles

or they may read very few, but one thing they will always read is the editorial

cartoon. It is the best read part of any newspaper.

And when I think about the hours and hours that I put into drafting

and redrafting an op-ed piece, and the hours and hours that everyone else

has put into their op-ed pieces, and the hours and hours that the editor has

put into his editorial, and the hours and hours that the letter writers have

put into their creations, and at the end of it all the most likely lasting

impression from any reader is likely to be “Did you see that cartoon

of such and such…?”

Aussies Abroad

And Australian cartoonists are better at it than most. While

we have a large number of very talented cartoonists working in Australia,

something that’s evident here today, Australians have also enjoyed enormous

success overseas.

Pat Oliphant, who came from Adelaide, has been awarded Artist of the Year

twice by the National Cartoonist Society of America, has won a Pulitzer Prize

and was recently exhibited in the Library of Congress.

Paul Rigby, who came from Melbourne and became immensely popular through

the London Sun and then the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

And I want to mention a third in more detail because I think

it’s quite an interesting case that illustrates how some of our national characteristics

can shape larger events. (I should also acknowledge here the research on this

cartoonist by Dr Timothy Benson)

Earlier this year the BBC published a book entitled “Low:

The Twentieth Century’s Greatest Cartoonist“.

The Low in question was David Low. He was actually a New Zealander

by birth, but he spent his formative years in Sydney drawing cartoons for

The Bulletin, so just like Russell Crowe and Sam Neill I’m happy to claim

him as one of us.

This man dubbed as the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Cartoonist

travelled from Sydney to London in 1919. In 1927 Lord Beaverbrook persuaded

him to write for the Evening Standard where he drew most of his most famous


One of Low’s most famous early creations was Colonel Blimp,

the fat upper-class twit, a caricature so famous that it has formed part of

our vocabulary. Winston Churchill once tried to get a film based on Colonel

Blimp banned during the war because, he said, it might have a negative effect

on morale.

Churchill early on had little time for David Low. Low’s politics

were too radical, too democratic, and too hostile. Churchill described him


“A little pre-war Australian radical. When he was growing to years of discretion, the best way of getting a laugh was to gibe at the established order of things, and especially at the British Empire. To jeer at its fatted soul is the delight of the green-eyed young Antipodean radical.”

But during the 1930s the politics of Churchill and Low were to coincide on

the question of Hitler.

Whilst in some quarters in Britain Hitler was attracting admiration, for David

Low, a natural democrat and liberal who distrusted totalitarianism, Hitler was

a regular target of attack and ridicule.

Low’s regular depictions of the Fuhrer caused enormous diplomatic problems

for the British Government, but they were to prove remarkably prophetic. Throughout

the decade he portrayed the German dictator as a ludicrous, vain, pompous fool

with unbridled ambition.

In 1933 the Nazis banned the Evening Standard and all newspapers carrying Low’s

work because of a cartoon he had drawn depicting Germany’s withdrawal from the

League of Nations.

In 1936 during the Berlin Olympic Games Low received his first request to tone

down his depiction of Hitler in the interests of “good relations between

all countries”.

In 1937 the British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax visited Germany and met

with the Propaganda Minister Goebbels, who told him that Hitler was very sensitive

to criticism in the British press, and he singled out Low for attention.

Lord Halifax contacted the manager of the Evening Standard to see if Low could

be toned down. He said:

“You cannot imagine the frenzy that these cartoons cause. As soon as a copy of the Evening Standard arrives, it is pounced on for Low’s cartoon, and if it is of Hitler, as it generally is, telephones buzz, tempers rise, fevers mount, and the whole governmental system of Germany is in uproar. It has hardly subsided before the next one arrives. We in England can’t understand the violence of the reaction.”

His attempt to influence newspaper management was unsuccessful, so the Foreign

Secretary then decided to speak with Low directly. At their meeting, this is

how David Low described Lord Halifax’s explanation.

“Once a week Hitler had my cartoons brought out and laid on his desk in front of him, and he finished always with an explosion. That he was extremely sore; his vanity was badly touched… So the Foreign Secretary asked me to modify my criticism, as I say, in order that a better chance could be had for making friendly relations… The Foreign Secretary explained to me that I was a factor that was going against peace.’ `Do I understand you to say that you would find it easier to promote peace if my cartoons did not irritate the Nazi leaders personally?’ `Yes,’ he replied. `…I said, “Well, I’m sorry.” Of course he was the Foreign Secretary what else could I say? So I said, “Very well, I don’t want to be responsible for a world war. But, I said “It’s my duty as a journalist to report matters faithfully and in my own medium I have to speak the truth. And I think this man is awful. But I’ll slow down a bit.” So I did.”

Meanwhile Hitler within a month invaded Austria. Low felt vindicated and went

back to his old ways. Low said:

“…I was good for about three weeks. Then Hitler bounced in and invaded Austria, showing that he had given our Foreign Secretary a run-around, had taken him for a ride. I considered that let me out, so I resumed criticism.”

It was no surprise when after the war it was revealed that Low was high on

the Nazi’s death list.

It wasn’t only Hitler complaining about Low. In 1938 Prime Minister Neville

Chamberlain singled out Low while appealing to newspapers to temper their critical

commentary of Germany. Chamberlain said:

“Such criticism might do a great deal to embitter relations when we on our side are trying to improve them. German Nazis have been particularly annoyed by criticisms in the British press, and especially by cartoons. The bitter cartoons of Low of the Evening Standard have been a frequent source of complaint.”

During the war, Low’s cartoons were never critical of Churchill himself, and

in fact were often used for propaganda by the Government, but Churchill used

to get very irritated at Low’s criticisms of the Government’s war effort. Churchill

complained to Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Evening Standard, who was also

now in the War Cabinet. Beaverbrook said:

“I had two artists on my hands. One at night-time – that was the Prime Minister complaining about Low. The other in the morning – that was Low complaining about Churchill.”

Churchill later became philosophical about political cartoons:

“Just as eels are supposed to get used to skinning, so politicians get used to being caricatured. In fact, by a strange trait in human nature they even get to like it. If we must confess it, they are quite offended and downcast when the cartoons stop. They wonder what has gone wrong, they wonder what they have done amiss. They fear old age and obsolescence are creeping upon them. They murmur: “We are not mauled and maltreated as we used to be.” The great days are ended.”

Aussie egalitarianism tailor-made for cartooning

I think the interesting thing about David Low and his enormous influence

is his lack of deference to supposed superiors. He had a very egalitarian

outlook, he was not afraid of pricking pomposity where he saw it.

Whether it was the upper class English Colonel Blimps or the vanity of Adolf

Hitler – he had that larrikin streak that recognises no-one as superior unless

they’ve earned it. I love the idea of Hitler throwing tantrums as he reads

the newspapers because this Antipodean upstart was puncturing his pretentiousness.

And I think this point can also be made more broadly – the reason why Australian

cartoonists do so well around the world is that they aren’t afraid to take

on the established order of things.

I have never yet met an Australian who wasn’t afraid to point out that the

Emperor has no clothes. Our temper is democratic, our bias rudely Australian

as Joseph Furphy wrote. Our national characteristic of egalitarianism is tailor-made

for political cartooning.

And on that note of celebration of our fearless cartoonists, I’d like to

congratulate the National Museum of Australia for staging the Exhibitions,

and I urge everyone to take a look at the works and have a good laugh.