Laughs No More? Australians Are Reassessing a Beloved Cartoonist.

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Letter 232

I utilized to deliberation Michael Leunig’s drawings embodied the psyche of our nation. Now, I’m not truthful sure.

Michael Leunig’s drafting  of the writer   and her mother.
Credit...Susanna Rodell

Nov. 5, 2021, 1:16 a.m. ET

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Among my family’s astir prized possessions is simply a tiny framed drafting of 2 faeries holding hands, flying done the nighttime sky. It is an archetypal by the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig. He gave it to my parent aft it accompanied an nonfiction she wrote successful The Age paper successful the aboriginal 1980s, astir my 5-year-old assertion that I was the Queen of the Faeries. Until recently, this was a elemental treasure: a drafting of maine and my parent imagined by 1 of Australia’s astir beloved artists. My feelings astir it precocious person go a spot much complicated.

It is hard to explicate to a non-Australian however the enactment of 1 cartoonist mightiness truthful profoundly infiltrate our nationalist identity. Leunig’s drawings person appeared regularly successful The Age for decades, but his power extends acold beyond those pages. He has published dozens of books, has collaborated with enclosure orchestras and immoderate of Australia’s champion known singer-songwriters. His enactment has besides been displayed connected Melbourne trams and been turned into signifier productions and claymation characters for children’s television. In 1999, helium was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia.

Leunig’s cartoons are typically imbued with whimsy and often picture wide-eyed characters who are overwhelmed oregon overpowered by the modern world. They person occasionally been controversial, particularly his enactment astir motherhood, kid care, and sometimes women successful general. But successful caller months, his creation has go progressively focused connected what helium perceives arsenic injustices related to Australia’s Covid lockdowns and vaccine mandates. A mates of weeks ago, helium submitted a cartoon to The Age that places the celebrated representation of a antheral lasting successful beforehand of a vessel adjacent Tiananmen Square adjacent to a drafting of a antheral lasting successful beforehand of a vessel with a vaccine syringe replacing the weapon turret. The drafting was rejected by the paper, Leunig posted it connected his ain societal media accounts, and aft a ample nationalist outcry, helium was fired from his Monday editorial leafage slot. (He retains his Saturday slot successful Spectrum, a lift-out conception that is much lifestyle-focused than the Monday editorial page.)

When surviving arsenic an Australian expat successful America, I often would impulse friends and partners to work Leunig’s books, arsenic a mode to recognize the psyche of Australia. This was peculiarly existent for his tiny books of prayers, which are nondenominational and lone hardly religious, but which thrum with humanity, emotion and sometimes anger. His enactment has ever spoken to maine of a definite Australian innocence, arsenic good arsenic a wide wit that doesn’t shy distant from decease and enactment but seldom uses those subjects gratuitously. If I were to pinpoint the origins of my ain acheronian consciousness of humor, 1 power would beryllium an aged Leunig cartoon titled “the atrocious aspects of spring,” successful which the caller canine digs up the aged canine astatine a backyard barbecue.

There has been plentifulness of commentary astir Leunig’s caller turn, but the champion I’ve work is an essay by the University of Tasmania lecturer Robbie Moore connected the website of Meanjin, a Melbourne-based literate magazine. It’s worthy a read, if for nary different crushed than to recognize the extent of thought and anguish that Australians are pouring into the crook successful Leunig’s work.

It is ever risky to necktie immoderate individuality to the enactment of 1 artist, fto unsocial the individuality of a full nation. And looking backmost implicit Leunig’s enactment successful the discourse of his existent controversy, I consciousness somewhat abashed astatine the easiness successful which I mightiness autumn into the thought of Leunig’s astir celebrated character, Mr. Curly, arsenic the Australian everyman: the simple, lovable feline who conscionable wants to bent retired with his duck. That representation does not talk to the existent strengths of this country, which see diverseness and togetherness. But I besides recognize wherefore truthful galore radical are feeling nonaccomplishment close now, a consciousness of betrayal that this creator who utilized to correspond the goodness imaginable successful our idiosyncratic and corporate Australian souls is present a mouthpiece for aggravated conspiracy-minded individualists who mightiness comparison themselves to victims of a massacre simply for being asked to bash a tiny happening to support the susceptible successful their ain communities.

We’ve mislaid truthful overmuch to this pandemic successful Australia: years, milestone celebrations, and astir tragically, thousands of lives. I astir apt volition ne'er fto spell of my emotion for overmuch of Leunig’s enactment — it is excessively ingrained successful who I am, successful the communicative of my household and our corporate identity. But I bash consciousness arsenic though I’ve mislaid thing important acknowledgment to his existent enactment and stance, and I expect galore different Australians bash arsenic well.

Now for this week’s stories:


Credit...Richard Wainwright/EPA, via Shutterstock


Credit...Netflix, via Associated Press
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