It is probably rare to read the words ‘giggle’ and ‘museum’ in the same sentence, but not if you visit the Behind the Lines cartoon exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra.
This Museum, housed in Old Parliament House, hosts an annual best of political cartoons exhibition. The theme this year is ‘The Greatest Hits Tour’ with a not-so-subtle nod towards our Federal election held early last year.
No one and nothing is safe from the acid wit flowing out of the cartoonist’s pen and I am so pleased about that…
Enjoy the cartoons below and feel free to giggle!
Once upon a time we used to have an old fashioned thing called a newspaper delivered to our door. Hours of entertainment and enlightenment were found between those copious pages, including one or two amusing cartoons bringing our politicians and other leaders, down a peg or two.
Thankfully, some bright spark had the idea to collate the best and brightest of last year’s humour in the one spot. I had always wanted to visit this exhibition and at last, the stars aligned.
Due to Covid19, not every part of the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD) was open to the public and that was perfectly fine with me as all I wanted to do was see the cartoons. No deep-seated passion for democracy burning brightly in this heart. Give me endless humour anytime!
The exhibition itself lined three long corridors featuring everything from Federal politics, environmental issues and international relations.
I soon found myself giggling, snorting and laughing out loud. I marvelled at how powerful some of the images were and wondered at their ability to communicate so much in a few well-placed strokes of a pen or a brush. This contrasts with a long, wordy article in tiny font size which some people may not have the patience to peruse.
I wonder if an image reaches a whole new audience, and therefore increases influence, by appealing to people who prefer to consume images rather than words? It certainly revealed to me a power to educate and entertain through pictures.
As my photos of the exhibition turned out a little grainy, below I have borrowed my favourites from the exhibition website. There are plenty more to choose from. Check it out.
Chris ‘ROY’ Taylor references the anticipation generated by rumours that the 2019 federal election was imminent. The hard hats and high visibility gear are a humorous reference to the habit of candidates for donning working gear at election time.
We have a long tradition of selling cakes and sausages outside the polling booths across Australia on election day. In recent years, the ‘democracy sausage’ on white bread with tomato sauce has become a much anticipated part of the voting experience. Here Matt Golding plays with this experience to go to the heart of voter decision-making on election day.
The federal election was Saturday 18 May 2019, the same date as the Eurovision Song Contest. On stage, Australia’s entry Kate Miller-Heidke sung from the top of a five-metre sway poll. This was unprecedented use of circus equipment for Eurovision and attracted the media’s attention. Mark Knight plays with the sway pole concept applying it to the federal election’s main contenders.
Offering historical perspective on their sometimes difficult relationships with their colleagues, Mark Knight has three former Labor prime ministers entering the 2019 ALP election launch: Kevin Rudd (2007–10, 2013), Julia Gillard (2010–13) and Paul Keating (1991–96).
I love that we have the freedom of speech in Australia to poke fun at our politicians. It is a privilege and a right that I hope we never lose and it is really important that we support exhibitions like these to communicate how important these freedoms are to us.
Pat Campbell reflects on the pain and horror felt around the world following the terrorist attacks by an Australian man in Christchurch, New Zealand. Likewise, Campbell’s image of the New Zealand silver fern with people at various stages of prayer also went global. In Campbell’s cartoon many found a message of compassion, resilience and our shared humanity in the face of hatred.
Protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong over proposed legislation that would allow extradition to China from Hong Kong for the first time. The demonstrations continued over the following months with occupation of the international airport, rallies in the streets, flash mobbing, attacks on protesters, and increasing violence between police and protesters. Mainland China’s response to the unrest was closely watched.
Finding a solution that satisfies all stakeholders was the challenge former prime minister Theresa May accepted following the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union. Playing on the print by Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, Jon Kudelka has her pictured with a series of impossible choices that don’t lead to the outcome. Her plan to leave the European Union was voted down three times by the parliament. She resigned in May 2019.
2019 marked 50 years since the band The Beatles released their album Abbey Road with the now iconic cover. Mark Knight enjoys playing with this cultural icon by placing four of the world’s leaders on the same road crossing. From the left, it is UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, American President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
I was interested to see an Asian man transfixed by a range of cartoons relating to China. What a shame that other countries do not enjoy the same freedoms that we do and we should not take it for granted. The raids on our journalists and ABC TV by the Australian Federal Police last year sparked much valuable conversation about the level of freedom of speech we think we have vs what we actually have.
In fact I was surprised to read in another exhibition at the MOAD – Truth, Power & a Free Press – that Australia is only ranked 21 out of 180 countries in the World on a measure of press freedom. We have some work to do. (By the way, Norway is consistently ranked #1.)
In July 2019, the ABC investigative program Four Corners returned to the river system to check in on the Murray-Darling Basin. Their story about how government grants were being used by irrigators sparked a fresh round of public conversation about how best to manage the limited water in the basin. Matt Golding shows one angle of that discussion while also placing a time limit on the river system.
The ongoing issue of global, national and individual action on climate change appeared consistently in news stories and commentary throughout the year. In the lead-up to the federal election, the policies of the major, and some minor, parties came under scrutiny. Fiona Katauskas captures the sentiment of some voters that the government were struggling to acknowledge the issue, a first step in policy development.
In recent years, the Great Barrier Reef has experienced significant coral bleaching episodes. The algae that gives coral its vibrant colours dies when the water becomes too warm for it. This leaves a white skeleton. Jon Kudelka imagines an inventive solution to a white reef, tapping into an issue of concern for the local Member of Parliament Warren Entsch, who has vowed to reduce plastics in the ocean.
Organisers estimate that 4 million children and supporters in 100 countries went on climate strike on 20 September 2019. Greta Thunberg, the young activist who started the first climate strike in 2018, was invited to speak to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. She made an impassioned plea for climate action on behalf of the world’s children.
Perhaps cartoons are a way to get issues such as the environment on everyone’s radar. As long as we don’t just laugh and walk away. We need to laugh and think too. Even better to laugh, think and then take some sort of action, no matter how small.
We walked away from the MOAD feeling like we had seen something pretty special. If the stars align again, I would be happy to make an annual pilgrimage to this exhibition or I could just get organised and buy the newspaper more often.
When have you visited a place that really made you think AND laugh?
What: At MOAD it is possible to do a deep dive into the history of Old Parliament House as well as visit other scheduled exhibitions. Check their website or contact them before you arrive to double check what is open. Entry is free.
Where: 18 King George Terrace, Parkes (a suburb of Canberra).
When: Open from 10am-5pm, every day and the last session starts at 330pm. We visited during Covid19 and it’s now a requirement to book your tickets to the different areas in advance. Book in here.
Why: To observe the skill and wit of people far cleverer than moi.
How: Car parking is available on site or park your car over the block at the Portrait Gallery and visit it straight after MOAD.
Who: Anyone who needs a little food for thought or a good laugh.
Related Posts: For some food for thought of another kind, have a read about The Last Post Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. It is a must-do activity.
Related Blogs: For more Australian humour in cartoon form, check out prolific cartoonist Leunig. His work can be both comic and profound.
Read About It: If you can’t get to MOAD in Canberra, you can still enjoy a laugh. Grab a copy of Russ Radcliffe’s Best of Australian Political Cartoons 2019 for many of the highlights from the exhibition. Available from Book Depository for AUD$28.57.
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