traditional custodians of this land,
of elders past and present,
on which this event takes place.
Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.
May we acknowledge the traditional owners
whose cultures and customs have nurtured,
and continue to nurture, this land,
since men and women
awoke from the great dream.
We honour the presence of these ancestors
who reside in the imagination of this land
and whose irrepressible spirituality
flows through all creation.
Members of the Coffs Harbour City Council, the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour, The Bunker Cartoon Gallery Board, Dorothy Wedd, and the Extended Wedd Family, Cartoonists and Artists, Ladies and Gentlemen…
It is my great honour and privilege to speak to you today at the Launch of this book, Ned Kelly, Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd.
With no disrespect intended, I do not plan to talk about Ned Kelly tonight. His story has been told hundreds of times over, in film and song, and in movies and books. Even this one, unique as it may be. He has become part of the Australian mythos that time does not seem to diminish. He will be discussed long after we are gone, so tonight does not seem appropriate to be the place to talk of him.
Perhaps if I were speaking to a room full of bushrangers tonight, I may choose differently. But I am not. The room tonight is filled with artists and cartoonists. You can smell the difference in the air….
What is a collective of cartoonists and artists? There is a school of fish, a gaggle of geese, a team of footballers; but a group of cartoonists and artists…?
To all artists and cartoonists here tonight, I want to say to you that anything can happen at events like this. It was at an evening very much like this one over twenty-five years ago, with a … collective of artists and cartoonists within one room, that this book had its genesis.
It was in 1988 that I attended my very first Award Night of the Black and White Artists’ Club in Sydney. The evening had the makings of a celebration, and I suppose that is what it was. Cartoonists and artists, by the very nature of their craft are isolative creatures; they work alone in individual solitude honing into some muse that us mere mortals cannot ever hope to understand. Here was the one night of the year that they could forget about seeking inspiration or making deadlines, and where they could just simply enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow travellers.
Some artists that night were known to me, most were not; some were gregarious, uproariously sharing tales from the year past with their colleagues. Some were on the dance floor, some were drinking reasonably heavily. To deliberately muddle the words of Bob Dylan, there were many who weren’t planning on remembering today tomorrow.
Everyone wore badges, making the task of identifying everyone easier. Sitting quietly with his wife at a table, I approached Monty Wedd, knowing plenty about the man’s work but little about the man himself. In this book’s Introduction, adventure strip artist Roger Fletcher talks of his first ‘star-struck’ meeting of Monty Wedd – and how Monty ‘immediately put [him] at ease’! And that is exactly my recollection of meeting Monty!
There were two threads of our conversation that evening that remain with me to this day. The first was my questioning Monty why he had chosen not to reprint his Sunday Ned Kelly strips: this was his weekly adventure strip that stuck in my mind during my early teenage years. Each week, in the local Sunday Sun newspaper, the whole historical saga of Ned Kelly was played out in the medium that at the time I held – and even now I hold – dearest to me: comic strips and comic books.
I was only in my early thirties that evening when I met Monty, and that meeting and our talking spurred on my teenage yearnings to fulfil an urge to publish Australian comics. I didn’t believe then and I don’t believe for one moment now that he was patronising me when he suggested that “maybe one day we could work on the project”.
The second thread of our conversation revolved around Sydney artist-cartoonist Syd Miller. I was enthralled by Syd Miller’s works. At that time, I had never met anyone who knew who Syd Miller was.
Syd Miller was a contemporary of Norman Lindsay, was the co-creator of ‘Chesty Bond’, drew the adventure strip Rod Craig, and was the one of the first cartoonists to work on animation for a new medium called television (and other things that I need not go into here).
I cannot now recall the complete conversation about Syd with Monty, because he completely stunned me. Of course he knew who Syd Miller was! Monty had even recorded a conversation with Syd before Syd had passed away and…. would I like a copy of the recording? Would I like a copy of a recording of Monty Wedd talking to Syd Miller? What else could I blather, but a feeble “yes, please”?!
Three years later… 1991.
Sorry for not being able to get this tape on Syd Miller to you earlier. I hope after such a long delay it is of some use.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in this room of artists and cartoonists, there is a giant elephant in this room. His name is Monty Wedd. In 1979 the Australian comic historian, the late John Ryan wrote Panel by Panel – an Illustrated History of Australian Comics and ranked Monty Wedd as one of “our top comic book illustrators”.
The few minutes I am allotted here tonight will not allow me the time to recap his creative life and works in any detail. Monty was one of the most sought after comic book talents in what is now known as the Golden Age of Australian Comics from the mid-1940s. His best known creation from that era was Captain Justice.
The late 1950s saw the advent of television and the beginning of the end for the local industry. Yet Monty was able to produce works that were enormously popular: another series of Captain Justice and The Scorpion, which – even by today’s standards – had astonishing sales of over 100,000 copies each issue. That this success came despite the fact both comic books had to counter the censorship of the authorities of the day, makes this achievement even more remarkable.
With comics in decline, Monty was able to adapt to the changes in the field. He drew, among other things, Stamp News and full page adventure comics for the Australian Children’s Newspaper both for many years. In the mid-1960s Monty invented Dollar Bill, and introduced an educational comic strip that helped educate the Australian public in the introduction of decimal currency.
After Monty branched into the world of animation from the late 1960s, his passion for educating Australians took hold: he returned to sharing his knowledge of an older Australia in comic strip form. From Ned Kelly, to Bold Ben Hall, and to his bicentenary masterpiece, The Making of a Nation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this book before you today is not just an illustrated history of Ned Kelly. This book is a compilation of this man Monty Wedd’s work over a period of three years. I am saddened he cannot be here tonight to share our acknowledgement of his marvellous talent, his storytelling skills.
Before I hand you over to Monty’s son Justin, to tell you a little more about his Dad, I want every artist and cartoonist to reflect… that anything can happen at events like this… just as it did over twenty-five years ago.
Monty kept his promise to deliver his tape to me on Syd Miller. And tonight, as we officially launch Ned Kelly, Narrated and Illustrated by Monty Wedd I somehow feel I have kept my promise to him by working on and completing this project.
Sorry for not being able to get this book on Ned Kelly to you earlier. I hope after such a long delay it is of some use.
I’m Nat Karmichael.
© 2014, Nat Karmichael.
 Jonathan Hill, NSW aboriginal Poet from “Acknowledgement of Country”, Koori Mail, Issue 469, p 23