At the 30th Annual Award night ceremony of the Australian Cartoonists' Association, held at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney last Saturday Night, there was a special segment that filled me with some personal pride. Way back in the early days of my Membership (in about 1988, I think it was, when the ACA was known as the Australian Black and White Artists' Club), I attended my very first Annual General Meeting. I made a couple of suggestions at that meeting, not only because I believed in them, but also because I thought the Club should the follow them up, as representative and custodians of Australia's past cartoon heritage.
At the time, former Member May Gibbs' house "Nutcote" was in the process of being resumed by the North Sydney Council. I had become a member of the May Gibbs Foundation, which sought to preserve this building and the surrounding grounds, with the aim of "establishing a May Gibbs Museum and Gallery, detailing her life and works for the benefit of all Australians". I felt that the ABWAC should support this cause. (I made a detailed case for this in the Third Issue of John Dixon's Air Hawk Magazine, that Gary Chaloner and I co-published in the Summer of 1988-1989.) I am happy that the campaign was successful (click here for a link), although the Club at the time chose NOT to become involved.
Perhaps it was because I was a new Member, or for whatever reason, my second suggestion in 1988 was also quashed! Due to the history of the Club, I felt that a Hall of Fame to honour past practitioners of the cartooning medium, should be put in place. Time moves on, and here we are, with the Australian Cartoonists' Association now celebrating (in various names over the years) its 90th Anniversary and its 30th Award Night! Somewhere between my suggestion in 1988 and my decision to re-join the Association more recently, I am really chuffed to see that the Association has put in place a... Hall of Fame! I may not have been instrumental in seeing it come into being (my Membership lapsed in the early 1990s due to other external personal issues, rather than any dissatisfaction with the Club), and I many not have been there for the vote, but I still secretly see it as 'my' 1988 suggestion!*
* Hopefully the Minutes of that AGM recorded that as fact!
Past Winners have included: Jimmy Bancks (creator of Ginger Meggs), Stanley Cross (The Potts, Wally and the Major), Smiths Weekly cartoonist George Finey, and political cartoonists Will Dyson, Percy Learson and Pat Oliphant. This year, three others were inducted...and they were: political cartoonist and animator Bruce Petty, someone we have covered in recent months -- the late Monty Wedd, and Bluey and Curley cartoonist, the late Alex Gurney.
Due to my past involvement with Monty's family over the past couple of years in the production of Ned Kelly, the Australian Cartoonists Association's Secretary Peter Broelman asked if I would be willing to give a speech. I actually declined, feeling that Roger Fletcher might be a more appropriate choice, given his life-long passion for Monty's work. It was lovely to see the genuine surprise and emotion when Dorothy Wedd was made aware of this award the Association bestowed upon her late husband. And wonderful to see the crowd stand and applaud following her short acceptance speech....
But behind the scenes, there is another story I thought I should share in relation to this year's inductees. When Peter asked me if I would speak, he also let me know the names of the other recipients of this particular award, and mentioned that the Association had been unable to locate the next of kin for Alex Gurney.... Since our move to our new home, my books and comic-related books remain somehow without order. Still, I was able to locate these beauties...
The first was a retrospective look at Alex and his Bluey and Curley strips. For those who were not at the Stanley Awards, and missed Lindsay Foyle's wonderful off-the-cuff summation of Alex's life, here's a quick précis that I obtained from this book (and some extra information from "Panel by Panel")...
Alexander George Gurney was born in England in 1902 and his mother moved to Hobart, Australia when he was three months old (which surely makes him an Aussie). He was keen on cartooning, even from primary school age. After he completed his schooling, he studied art, both by correspondence and at the Hobart Technical School, and while he was also working as an apprentice at the local electrical generating authority. A number of his drawings were accepted in a variety of papers before he made the move to the mainland in 1926.
Alex then worked for Melbourne's "Morning Post", where he met and then married his wife. When the newspaper folded shortly after in 1927, the Gurney's moved to Sydney to work for "Beckett's Budget". I was here he created his first comic strip, Stiffy and Mo. This was followed in 1928-9 by Daggs, or sometimes known as Daggsy, a full-page weekly cartoon for the "Sunday Times". But the Depression made life difficult. "It was hard to find work, and ... even harder to get paid", his son reported in the book. Still, in 1932 he was offered a contract as a political cartoonist, and thus began an unbroken twenty-three years run of work for the Herald and Weekly Times. The first twelve months were spent in Adelaide before he was asked to move to Melbourne. And it was here that he first began drawing Ben Bowyang in 1933.
Learning that the newspaper's leading cartoonist, Sammy Wells, was returning from England at the beginning of the war, Alex Gurney set about creating Bluey and Curley. John Ryan contends the first issue ran in November 1939, although the 1986 John Gurney/Keith Dunstan book states it was on February 1st 1940. Bluey and Curley, appeared in fifty-three publications: all around Australia, and in Canada, New Zealand and New Guinea.
"Gurney's outstanding sense of humour was backed up by detailed panels containing a great variety of angles and well-balanced figures. Acknowledged as one of Australia's finest cartoonists, his particular strength was his ability to capture the flavour of the Australian character, as seen through the eyes of Australians. A very nationalistic strip, Bluey and Curley covered all facets of Australian humour." -- John Ryan, Panel by Panel.
Alex Gurney's made many trips to the armed forces, including overseas and was an accredited war correspondent although never an official war artist. He passed away suddenly in 1955. His characters Bluey and Curley continued (by Norm Rice and Les Dixon) until they were discontinued in 1975.
Seeking to help Peter Broelman in locating the next of kin of Alex Gurney, I was unable to find much useful information from the Gurney/Dunstan book (although as a historical piece it is highly recommended, if you can get hold of a copy). However, as luck would have it, at a date I can no longer recall (but I think about 2000), the Global Arts Link in Ipswich (Queensland) ran an art exhibition ("Bluey and Curley, Portraits from an Era 1939 - 1955") that not only displayed iconic Australian artwork by artists like Nolan and Dobell, but it also included the originals by Gurney. Which is the reason I went to see it in the first place! Luckily I had also picked up a copy of the brochure, seeking to have a memento of the occasion...
So, this has been a (rather long-winded) discourse about some of the background investigating that I did behind the scenes of the Australian Cartoonists' Association's Award Night last Saturday. Maybe my next posting will talk about some of the other recent investigating I have done about some other Australian cartoon....
Comicoz is Nat Karmichael's publishing imprint. Nat is committed to preserving a permanent collection of Australian comic and comic strips. He feels that there is a need to recognise comics' contribution to and depiction of Australian culture.
Since 2011, Nat has self-published over twelve comic-related books and was Publisher-Editor of
Oi Oi Oi! -- the last series of nationally-distributed comic books of original stories to appear on Australian newsstands. He is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Association and edited the Association's journal Inkspot for 14 issues from late 2015. For numerous years he was the Lead Judge in the Ledger of Honour Awards for the Comic Arts Awards of Australia (formerly the Ledgers). These days Nat dreams of retiring from his occupation as a Clinical Nurse in the Psychiatric Emergency Centre in Queensland's largest public hospital, so that he can spend more time with his long-suffering wife and their six children and fourteen grandchildren. And perhaps publish some more comic-related books.
Comicoz acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay respects to elders, past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.
Australian Publications since 1976:
1 x Poster
19 x comics (one a co-production with Cyclone Comics in 1988/9, one a co-production with Cowtown Comics in 2022)
2 x Paperback books
10 x Hardcover books