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”.
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.