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Be careful what you say; the thought police are listening

Jolliffe 2 - Best of
"I didn't get to the corroboree! After copping three spears and a boomerang, I gave up!"

PHIL FITZPATRICK

TUMBY BAY - Political correctness has taken a lot of fun out of life. It has also destroyed a lot of innocence.

These thoughts occurred to me when I recently came across an old book of cartoons by Eric Jolliffe called ‘The Best of Witchetty’s Tribe’.

(A ‘witchetty’ is a fat white grub that lives in bored holes in gum trees. It tastes quite good roasted and not too bad raw).

Jolliffe was well-known for his gently humorous cartoons set somewhere up north and featuring outback characters like Witchetty and Saltbush Bill.

Jolliffe was an Englishman who migrated to Australia in 1911 with his parents and eleven other siblings. He died in 2001, aged ninety four.

In many ways his humour was similar to the late Bob Browne, who drew the Grass Roots cartoons in Papua New Guinea.

As you might recall, one of Bob Browne’s main characters was ‘The Chief’, who looked suspiciously like Michael Somare. We've reproduced one of his cartoons at the end of this article

Jolliffe, like Bob Browne, was deeply involved in the societies that he drew and commented upon. Members of these societies happily chuckled along with everyone else at the cartoons.

Neither cartoonist indulged in racism or discrimination. The foibles of both black and white were fair game to them both.

In fact, both men probably contributed a great deal towards nullifying those prejudices with their cartoons by defusing many of the stereotypical views current at the time.

George Blaikie, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, noted how Jolliffe had almost single-handedly replaced the popular image of Aboriginal men as “bare-footed, flat-faced moron(s) clad in discarded white men’s clothes with one of “athletic hunters with a sharp sense of humour”.

Jolliffe 3 the offensive cartoon
"She got it from the missionary's wife - it's for figure control"

The image of Aboriginal women as a “fly-bitten trollop in sorry shift and wrinkled stockings” had been turned by Jolliffe into “black girls as beautiful as models”.

Despite this achievement Jolliffe eventually ran afoul of political correctness. In 1980 the Anti-discrimination Board wrote to his publisher complaining that one of his cartoons was “extremely offensive to all Aboriginal people and to many non-Aborigines”.

What immediately came to my mind was a cartoon published a few years ago in The Australian newspaper by the late Bill Leak.

Unlike Jolliffe or Browne’s cartoons, Leak’s effort was downright offensive.

It depicted a stereotype of Aboriginal men as all drunken, witless and indiscriminate breeders of dysfunctional children.

In its attempt to defend the cartoon the newspaper tried to make a case about free speech and what later became known as the right to be a bigot.

It struck me as curious that we had somehow come full circle in terms of racism in Australia and were suddenly back in the days of open discrimination.

That political correctness had contributed to this reversal struck me as ironic.

With the best of intentions the attempts to do good had achieved a completely opposite effect.

Not only that but in the process we had frightened ourselves half to death so that we now have to really watch what we say and even think.

Grass Roots - end

Comments

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Martin Auld

'It depicted a stereotype of Aboriginal men as all drunken, witless and indiscriminate breeders of dysfunctional children.'

The cartoon was in response to events in Don Dale. Leak assumed that the indigenous kids involved all had indigenous fathers, and by implication that all indigenous kids across Australia have indigenous fathers.

The truth is that many have absent white dads, some acknowledged many not, with the same alcohol issues as indigenous dads. Everyone in the north knows this.

That was the cartoonist's greatest failure, misunderstanding his subject. His editor should have shown a better duty of care to their cartoonist and rejected it.

An editor once told me that a book of rejected letters to the editor would be just as illuminating as those he published, likewise a collection of rejected cartoons. Journalists and cartoonists have bad days and editors are there to protect them from themselves.

The political correctness argument is a crock encouraged by The Australian to divert attention away from their own embarrassing editorial failure.

Garry Roche

Phil, I agree with your comments about ‘political correctness’. Personally I enjoyed Jolliffe cartoons and also Bob Browne’s Grassroots cartoons. In English newspapers there was a cartoon figure Andy Capp that I enjoyed reading. Andy Capp cartoons were accused of perpetuating stereotypes of “unemployed working class English”. And of course the Irish have been at times the butt of “Irish Jokes”.
Perhaps such cartoons are more acceptable when they make fun of not only one particular section of humanity but all sections. If I remember correctly Grassroots at times made fun of different sections of PNG society.
In more recent times in PNG the comedian Kanage (Alphonse Dirau from Bogia) has proved very popular portraying a bumbling rustic PNG man, but has also come in for criticism for perpetuating stereotypes.

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