I dropped out of final year Law at Melbourne University in 1969 because I was terrified of getting a proper job. I just wanted to sit and read the newspaper all day, so I decided to be a cartoonist. My first break came when a small national paper, the Nation Review, paid me $5 for a scratchy cartoon about a barely recognisable prime minister dressed as a lion tamer. Soon I was earning a living as a freelancer doing cartoons for various papers. I branched out into making animated political cartoons for the ABC with my 16mm Bolex and homemade animation stand. One day I wandered into The Age with an obscure cartoon about Malcolm Fraser as King Leah dividing up his kingdom amongst State premiers. Fortuitously, I was directed to a section editor called Geoff Barker, who liked literature, and liked the cartoon, printed it and said “come back next Friday with another”. Which I did. One day in 1976 the Financial Review offered me a job doing daily cartoons, until a few months later The Age, with Les Carlyon as Editor, unexpectedly recruited me back. I worked at The Age for the next seventeen years. I was really the junior player in a famous stable of cartoonists that included Ron Tandberg, Michael Leunig, John Spooner, Bruce Petty, Les Tanner, and Arthur Horner. The Age, managed by the open-minded and congenial Ranald Macdonald believed that cartoons sell papers.
One of my early cartoons created a big hoohar. Gough and Margaret Whitlam were in China, when a big earthquake struck the town. My cartoon showed them cuddled up in bed, with Margaret asking Gough “Did the earth move for you too dear?” Talkback went ape and many people wrote to the editor, saying they would cancel their subscriptions because the cartoon was in such poor taste. Whitlam announced he liked the cartoon, and later would refer to the whole incident as if it somehow reflected favourably on his potency.
In 1979, I went to live in Italy for a year with my wife and three small children. I wanted to get a broader education, especially about art, and do lots of drawing to improve my eye and my illustrative skills. We rented an small cold ancient stone apartment right under the shadow of the wall of the Castello di Bracciano just north of Rome. This was our base to travel around the county studying Italian art, architecture, scenery, food and wine. I filled countless sketchbooks with drawings of markets, buildings, Italian scenes, leopard-skinned bikini clad women on the beach at Lake Bracciano, and yahoos in the street and cafes. We came back to Australia in 1980, smarter and poorer.
I got my job back at The Age and inspired by Italian art and the famous French cartoonist Honore Daumier, I started doing caricature sculpture to enhance my drawing skills. Next thing I was making caricature puppets, recruited by the innovative and energetic ABC producer Ian Carrol. But the programs that used the puppets axed, so I pitched a different idea – a five minute filler program – to the Light Entertainment section of the ABC. where there was a brilliant producer called Kris Noble. Kris had the masterstroke of intorducing me to Paul Jennings, the master voice imitator, who basically earned a good living doing lunch and dinner speeches where he did voice imitations of politicians and celebrities that were so good that people could hardly eat their food for laughing. Kris gave me a small weekly budget and 600 feet of 16mm reversal stock each week and said “Go away and see if you can produce a five minute program and if it’s good enough we’ll put it to air every Monday after Rumpole of the Bailey, to fill in time because the ABC has no ads”. The program would be made outside the ABC. I started my own mini film studio in my sculpture studio, and produced the first 13 part series five minute programs, completely topical, which rated astonishingly well right across Australian. Kris Noble later left the ABC to play an instrumental role in developing reality TV in Australia and the Light Entertainment department was apparently disbanded in Melbourne. I had great difficulty getting the ABC to pick up the program again. Someone in Sydney stuck it in News and Current Affairs, and decided to run it after Four Corners, late at night. After a year they dropped it and I could not them to talk about a new series. I took Rubbery Figures to Steve Vizard’s Fast Forward on Channel 7 and he took it up, using Rubbery Figures segments scattered through the show.
In 1994 a one-man show of my work was put on in an empty hallway of the National Gallery of Victoria, thanks to the imaginative entrepreneurship of gallery director James Mollison. It was called The Rubbery Years, and was later taken up by the National Museum and toured all around Australia. (For more about this, click on Sculpture in the menu).
In 1994 I joined The Australian, drawing for the letters page. This was a great time for me. In the last couple of years I have decdied to rebadge myself as a business cartoonist , and draw daily for Margin Call, and a large cartoon on the weeks economic and business events in the business pages of the Weekend Australian.
I have developed a slightly fanatical interest in revegetation and garden design on my property at Mornington and I am campaigning to get the Shire to repair and maintain the historic and scenic Beleura cliff path, which is legally “closed” but actually used all the time by hundreds of walkers. To find out more go to: www.beleuracliffpath.com