The Godfather: Peter Corris on cartoons
How many newspaper headlines can you remember? For obvious reasons I remember ‘FRED DIES’ emblazoned on a Sydney tabloid when Professor Fred Hollows died, and no one can forget the nefarious London Sun’s headline ‘GOTCHA’, celebrating the sinking of an Argentinian ship at the time of the Falklands War. But most headlines fade from memory. Not so newspaper cartoons. When recollected, they immediately conjure up the context, the circumstances.
My all-time favourite cartoon was by Jax (whoever he or she was) in the London Evening Standard. It showed a prison yard with four convicts in the arrow -striped uniform standing in front of a hole blown in the wall. The warden, flanked by armed guards, addresses the prisoners.
‘All right,’ he says. ‘Now who’s the brains behind this?’
Three of the prisoners are real knuckle-draggers, the fourth is diminutive, wizened Bertrand Russell, who was briefly imprisoned for anti-nuclear activities.
A lifelong admirer of Russell, I carried the clipping in my wallet for years, before it fell apart. I should’ve kept a copy. I can’t remember whether I saw the cartoon in London at the time or whether it was reproduced in Australian paper. Perhaps it could be retrieved.
Two Bruce Petty cartoons have stuck in my mind. One shows a crowded beach scene under a broiling sun, umbrellas everywhere, zinc cream and clinging sand, and a family group packing up to leave. There are too many kids and too few adults. All is sunburn and chaos and a harassed father moans, ‘Has anyone seen the stopper to Ralphine’s left floatie?’
Another is of a scene at an AFL match (this was a long time ago, so it my have been a VFL match). The crowd is ugly and roaring and one bloated rampant spectator is glugging from a can labelled ‘Pie and Sauce in Beer’.
A Bill Leak favourite of mine has Gough Whitlam after the Dismissal (or the Coup as we lefties prefer to call it) in an audience with the Queen at Buck House. Gough looks flustered; Her Maj is saying in an aside to an attendant, ‘Of course I’m sympathetic, but what on earth does he mean by the rough end of the pineapple?’
The original of a Patrick Cook cartoon from the National Times has been on our wall for many years. It shows a closed door carrying a sign reading VIETNAM REFUGEE CONFERENCE. A Vietnamese squats outside in the national conical hat. Three voices come from behind the door. The first: ‘We’ll each take one Viet for every one we’ve killed.’ The next voice: ‘Mais non, je proteste.’ The third voice: ‘Wait on, buddy.’
One of Moir’s Sydney Morning Herald cartoons depicting a one-eyed, one-lensed John Howard hit the mark. An auditorium advertising John Howard – the Musical has Howard as the only one in the audience, not another soul in sight.
I bet Paul Keating enjoyed it as much as I did. Revenge in whatever way it comes is sweet.