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Cartoonist captures Australian idiom

When two larrikin soldiers called "Bluey and Curley" hit the newspaper pages as a comic strip, many readers may not have realised that its creator, Alex Gurney, used as much authentic detail from his war correspondent days to gain a feel for military life.




The comic strip was seen as a vehicle for Australian idiom and slang and interpreted more accurately than other forms of media, the idiosyncrasies of the Australian male. The strip first appeared in the Picture-News in 1939. When the war ended in 1945, Bluey, a veteran of the Great War and Curley, a new recruit, went to Britain for the Victory march and served in the army of occupation in Japan before going back to civilian life and taking on a range of jobs, such as lighthouse-keepers, lion-tamers, private detectives and more.


Bluey and Curley comic strip. Adelaide News, 21 April, 1943

Despite being widely syndicated in newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Alex didn't water down the Australian nature of his characters. This hindered its potential sale to the United States of America, however, in 1948-49 the strip was adapted as a serial on Sydney radio station 2SM.


The comic strip's creator, Alexander George Gurney, was born in England in 1902 to William George, a captain's steward in the Royal Navy and Alice Birdie nee Worbey. William died when Alex was only a year old. In 1908 Alice emigrated to Tasmania where she met Alex's step-father James William Albert Hursey, a police constable and widower with two children.


From school days Alex showed an interest in drawing and cartooning. When he left school he was apprenticed to the Hydro-Electric Department but attended evening art classes at Hobart Technical College. He would send cartoons to the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, the Bulletin, Melbourne Punch and Smith's Weekly.


Alex Gurney. Courtesy Wikipedia


In 1926 he published a book of caricatures of notable citizens, called Tasmanians Today. He married Junee Grover, daughter of Monty Grover, the editor of The Sydney Sun. Through the 1920s Alex created a number of notable cartoon characters for different publications including Stiffy & Mo (two vaudevillians) for Beckett's Budget, The Daggs (later Daggsy) for the Sunday Times and in 1933 he drew Ben Bowyang, based on CJ Dennis's column.


In 1955 he died suddenly from heart problems and was survived by his wife, a son and three daughters. More than 500 journalists, artists and friends attended his funeral service at St Stephen's Church of England in Gardenvale.


Reverend Selwyn Ide, who conducted the service said Alex's work was humorous but at the same time sad.


"You often almost cried after you laughed - it was so compassionate."


Alex's cremated remains were scattered at Springvale cemetery in Melbourne.



References

  • Steve Panozzo, 'Gurney, Alexander George (Alex) (1902–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gurney-alexander-george-alex-10380/text18389, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 August 2023.

  • 'Alexander George Gurney', The Australian Media Hall of Fame, accessed 7th September, 2023, https://halloffame.melbournepressclub.com/article/alex-gurney

  • '500 attend Alex Gurney's funeral', The Argus, Wednesday 7 December, 1955, Page 9

  • 'Alex George Gurney', Findagrave, accessed 7th September, 2023, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/244296804/alexander-george-gurney


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