Paul Dee from our Australian History and Literature collection has been getting to grips with the pleasures and charms of Michael Leunig’s unique take on life:

‘Yes but what does it mean? I don’t get it, what are you trying to say?’ This is the most common question Michael Leunig gets asked, he writes in the preface to his new book        The essential Leunig: cartoons from a winding path.

Penguin Group Australia, 2012

The answer is I often don’t quite get it either, and don’t exactly know what I am trying to say…Sometimes I fancy I am trying to cultivate an enlivening mystery for myself.’


Four men in four adjoining backyards by Leunig


In a conversation in 1997 with Terry Laidler (p. 16), Leunig speaks of the relationship between pain and jokes and… ‘the great confrontation between innocence and evil. This is Charlie Chaplin and quite often the innocent, bewildered wide-eyed man who suddenly confronts depravity, evil, calamity. Here a tension is set up, what’s going to happen next?’

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, 1940 (Wikimedia Commons)

The relationship between pain and humour is a recognised theme amongst humourists. In Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours, Alan Alda’s character continually espouses, ‘Comedy is tragedy plus time’. Charlie Chaplin, in Charlie Chaplin: interviews (p.131), says, ‘You cannot beat the human equation…the comedy in tragedy has always been second nature to me. Cruelty…is an integral part of comedy.’

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, 1940 (Wikimedia Commons)

Leunig was born in Melbourne in 1945 and began publishing in Australia in 1965. He came to prominence working for the Nation review, then in subsequent work for Fairfax media. In 2006, one of Leunig’s favourite characters, the duck, featured in the opening ceremony of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

The Library holds over four hundred of Leunig’s cartoons, many of which you can view online, as well as other resources including books, calendars, exhibition ephemera, DVDs and music scores. And for those still wondering, What does it all mean? Leunig advises; ‘It is more important to love an image than to understand it.’

Paul Dee


This article has 1 comment

  1. Leunig really does soften the blows from the slings & arrows of life. I’ll be forever grateful for his sharing of his imagination.

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