Life membership of the Australian Cartoonists Association is granted to people who make a significant contribution to Australian cartooning. Russ Radcliffe was recognised in this manner as far back as 2013, after the 10th annual publication of Best Australian Political Cartoons. This year marks the 20th publication. That says a lot not only for Radcliffe as an editor, but also for the quality and scope of Australia’s political cartoonists.
Radcliffe’s brilliant introduction describes 2022 as he saw it. It was the year in which the Federal Coalition performed so badly that even Mark Knight of the Melbourne’s Herald Sun was tempted into an occasional barb: ‘OK Peter, let’s practise that smile one more time…’, as was Warren Brown of the Sydney’s Daily Telegraph: ‘Scotty’s old-time Hawaiian holiday ukulele hits!’. A lacklustre federal election campaign and Russia’s initiation of a terrible war provided ample fodder.
And, as you would expect, Morrison features frequently, but to my surprise COVID does not, perhaps because the way our politicians dealt with COVID has not attracted the criticism it arguably should have.
More than 30 cartoonists are featured in this year’s collection. Many of the cartoons first appeared in newspapers, while some come from newsletters like The Echidna or social media. Radcliffe casts his net wide.
Many pages also sport one or more apt quotations that complement the cartoons. Kate Jenkins’ ‘Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces’ (the Review), which was established to ensure all commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful, gave rise to a number of cartoons and to this quotation by one of its participants:
‘I was sexually harassed multiple times, sexually assaulted, bullied and terrorised. And I was told that if I ever sought help or spoke about what happened to me my professional reputation and personal life would be destroyed.’Anonymous
This example serves as a reminder that while many of these cartoons produce a laugh or a chuckle, they also frequently represent serious insights about matters of significance. Often, they get to the heart of a complex matter or expose a fallacy. They make us think more deeply or analytically about current affairs. They have an impact, in other words, and may even influence a politician or two. And while they tend to reflect the political leanings of the publications that host them, Australian cartoonists enjoy a degree of editorial freedom.
Book covers are important and the Australian Book Designers Association does good work in encouraging the art of book design. Publishers, of course, have an interest in using book covers to lure purchasers. In spite of that there seems to be a dearth of brilliant book covers, but Best Australian Cartoons 2022 is a notable exception with a cartoon by Cathy Wilcox on the front and one by Matt Golding on the back.
In many respects 2022 was a particularly bad year, but for the most part, ‘bad’ is what cartoonists thrive on. So it is hardly surprising that this year’s collection by ‘Australia’s funniest and most perceptive cartoonists’ is an essential purchase for anyone cursed with an interest in politics and blessed with a sense of humour.
Best Australian Political Cartoons, Russ Radcliffe
Pages: 192 pp
Publication date: 1 November 2022