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Another year in Australian politics has been captured in ink by cartoonists. They faithfully recorded the national mood as Australians returned from their Christmas holidays and were greeted with the news that the country was sliding into recession. In February, bushfires swept across Victoria, killing 173 people. Debates raged over education, health and Indigenous issues. While Kevin Rudd struggled with the Global Financial Crisis, Malcolm Turnbull struggled with being opposition leader. For a brief moment all of these issues were pushed off the front page as a second-hand Mazda ute transfixed the nation's media. Towards the end of the year there was a collective sigh of relief as it became clear that Australia had avoided a recession. All of these controversies unfolded while the world waited to see if its political leaders would reach an agreement on how to deal with climate change.

A black and white cartoon depicting Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan in a ute. Mr Rudd is being interviewed by a female reporter, who stands to the left of the cartoon. A TV camera man stands next to her. Mr Rudd is leaning out of the ute window saying 'Us .. ute-type guys? .. don't be a flamin' galah ... crikey ... what'd give you that idea? I mean, fair dinkum .. fair suck of the sav .. fair shake of the sauce bottle! ...'. A dog sits excitedly in the back of Mr Rudd's ute. In the background Malcolm Turnbull sits in his own ute. It has a regular ute rear section and a Rolls Royce front section. Beyond Mr Turnbull's ute is a sign that says 'Finance for yer ute? Contact the ALP'.
Ute-type guys, Dean Alston, West Australian, 22 June 2009.

This then was the fare for cartoonists to digest over the past 12 months. As the government confronted the spreading global economic recession, cartoonists were challenged to find the appropriate visual metaphor to depict the infinitely complex workings of the economy. In one of his classic cartoons, Bruce Petty captures 150 years of world economic development in a single A4 page. In Petty's sprawling cartoon the world's financial system is depicted as a crazed machine fuelled by money. A small confused figure can be seen in the corner of the cartoon staring in wonder as this amazing machine consumes the world.

Cartoonists also recorded how Australia responded to the Black Saturday bushfires. Alan Moir's cartoon 'Olympians' depicts the intensity of the fires and the heroic but futile attempts to contain them. Mark Knight, who witnessed the fires firsthand in Gippsland, captured the camaraderie of exhausted firefighters resting after the battle. Knight's cartoon also alludes to mobile phone footage, which circulated on television and the internet, of a fireman sharing a bottle of water with a koala who had survived the fires. John Spooner's image of the ruins of a house in a burnt-out landscape — with the original house reflected in the water of the property's dam — highlighted the destruction and loss.

A colour cartoon depicting five 'CFA' firefighters resting in and around a red 'CFA' fire engine, drinking bottled water. A koala with a burnt arm, also holding a water bottle, rests on a log beside one of the firefighters.
Firefighters, Mark Knight, Herald Sun, 10 February 2009.

Our political leaders also provided fodder for cartoonists. While Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard continued to be the public face of the government, cartoonists also focused on some of the leading personalities from the front bench. Sturt Krygsman depicted Lindsay Tanner, the Minister for Finance, as an unhappy clown, neatly capturing the government's desire to be simultaneously up-beat and cautious about the prospects for the Australian economy. Pat Campbell drew John Faulkner as the Terminator, reflecting the challenges awaiting the new Minister for Defence. On the other side of politics, cartoonists focused on the trials and tribulations of Malcolm Turnbull. The temptation to depict the former merchant banker in a top hat and tails proved irresistible for many cartoonists.

A colour cartoon depicting John Faulkner as part 'Terminator'. He faces the viewer; the right side of his face is human looking, while the left side of his face is a menacing robot with a glowing red eye. He extends his right arm toward the viewer. It is a lethal looking combination of a machine gun with a laser sight. In the background is an office interior. Two figures can be seen in the right background, cowering from the 'Terminator'. In front of the 'Terminator' is what appears to be the remains of a wall. It appears that the 'Terminator' has blown away part of the wall.
The Faulkinator, Pat Campbell, Canberra Times, 16 June 2009.

The country's relationship with China was also dissected. The benefits of Australia's resources boom, driven by a rapidly growing Chinese economy, were contrasted with fears of the emergence of China as the dominant power in the region. The detention of Australian Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu by Chinese authorities provided a focus for commentary. Ward O'Neill invoked the famous image of the 'Mongolian octopus', originally drawn by Phil May in the Bulletin in 1886, to remind us that fear of China has a long history in Australia.

As the year drew to a close the debate over the government's desire to establish an Emissions Trading Scheme returned to centre stage. Cartoonists worked hard to reveal the motivations of politicians and the consequences of inaction on climate change. Andrew Weldon provided a particularly pessimistic forecast of the outcome of the battle, depicting the policy debate over carbon trading as a wrestling match between politicians driven by short-term goals on one side and the unstoppable forces of nature on the other.

A colour cartoon depicting Chinese president Hu Jintao as a large red octopus. His head sits upon the tentacles. Each tentacle has text upon it and is clutching an object or an Australian politician. The text on the tentacles says 'Photographing John Howard with Helen Liu', 'Making Donations', 'Buying Australian companies', 'Capturing Joel Fitzgibbon', 'Selling US flat screen TVs', 'Checking Kevin's emails', 'Terrifying the Australian Newspaper' and 'Teaching Kevin Rudd Mandarin'.
Hu Jintao, Ward O'Neill, Australian Financial Review, 4 April 2009.

While, ultimately, 2009 proved to be a better year for Australia than many had forecast, it still ended with a sense of foreboding. Fears of a recession were replaced with fears of growing inflation and rising interest rates. The government's need to stimulate the economy was transformed into a desire for fiscal discipline. Global warming remains the major challenge facing governments across the world. Whatever the debate, cartoonists continue to retain their front row seats and provide a wonderful visual archive of Australian history.

Guy Hansen
Exhibition curator


Cartoons are a highly visual medium and, as part of the Museum's ongoing commitment to improving the accessibility of our website, we write detailed 'alt' tags for each of the cartoons in the online version of Behind the Lines 2009. We have created a text-only page that brings together these 'alt' tags on one page. We welcome your feedback on this approach to online exhibitions.

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