Introduction

Alex Gurney was a great cartoonist and during his lifetime was known for his hard working attitude and generosity. A few quotes from various Gurney biographies provide a sense of his character:

Gurney is a generously built man, rarely seen wearing anything but a sports coat and slacks, whose brown eyes look out through horn rimmed glasses on a world that which hardly ever fails to please him, can afford to laugh now. - John Hetherington1

Alex Gurney's tremendous following and popularity was no accident, nor was it based on the public's whims. He took immense pains over both his jokes and his drawings. A single comic-strip of three frames with joke often took him six hours to draw to his satisfaction. His thoroughness was amazing when compared to the high standard of humour and to the obligation of drawing six of these strips every week for over fourteen years. Gurney was not content with short-cuts in draughtsmanship. While pencilling-in his drawings, even if only half a figure was shown in the frame, he would draw the other portion outside the frame to give the figure its correct balance, movement and bodily expression. - Vane Lindesay (Latrobe Journal - SLV)

Throughout his lifetime he was renowned for his generous habit of giving the originals of his caricatures, cartoons, and comic strips to anyone who asked. - Wikipedia2

Early work - Tasmania - Victoria and Sydney

Born in Portsmouth (or Devon) England on the 15th of March 1902. The family travelled to Australia when he was just six months old. (Gurney's mother was originally from Melbourne). Gurney's cartooning started early in life, and according to an interview with John Hetherington, Gurney first sold his portraits to his classmates at the Hobart Macquarie Street State School, sketching and being paid in marbles.

He left school at 13 and worked briefly in an ironmongers shop, and then for the Tasmanian Hydro-electricity commission as an engineer’s junior assistant. With the aim of being an electrical engineer he enrolled in night classes at the Hobart Technical College, before taking the plunge and shifting to art classes.

While working through the day and studying at night, he illustrated a book on leading Tasmanians called 'Tasmanians Today' and used the money he earned to move to Melbourne around 1926.3

Gurney's early luck in the industry was not high, as he worked on a number of papers that folded or were taken over, including the Melbourne Morning Post.

EL Wilson by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Jun-1928 p18
EL Wilson by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Jun-1928 p18


In 1927, he moved to Sydney where created the character strip the Daggs for the Sunday Times, as well as another called 'Stiffy and Mo' featuring a cartoon version of popular comedian 'Mo' Rene.

Promoting the Daggs strip - Sunday Times 27-Oct-1929 p3
Promoting the Daggs strip - Sunday Times 27-Oct-1929 p3


1932 - 1933 Adelaide and 'Fred'

In 1932 Gurney's fortunes changed and rather than taking a job due to a paper closure, he moved to take a more senior position at the Adelaide News. Part of Gurney's role at the Adelaide News was to provide a weekly strip related to football.

Fred

A new Gurney character, 'Fred', appeared in the Adelaide news each week, providing a humorous review of the match Gurney visited. The strip storylines provide an insight into the character of each game but also provide a summary of the match without reading the match report. Each strip would have required considerable planning and Gurney's sense of fun and humour are evident.

News - Adelaide 30-Jul-1932 p10 Meet Fred -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 30-Jul-1932 p10 Meet Fred - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 28-Jul-1932 p4 Fred -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 28-Jul-1932 p4 Fred - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 8-Aug-1932 p2 SA v Vic -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 8-Aug-1932 p2 SA v Vic - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 3-Oct-1932 p2 - 1932 Grand Final -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 3-Oct-1932 p2 - 1932 Grand Final - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 27-Mar-1933 p2 Training -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 27-Mar-1933 p2 Training - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 10-Apr-1933 p2 Sturt Practice -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 10-Apr-1933 p2 Sturt Practice - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 15-May-1933 p2 - Torrens v West -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 15-May-1933 p2 - Torrens v West - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 22-May-1933 p5 - Glenelg-Norwood -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 22-May-1933 p5 - Glenelg-Norwood - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 14-Aug-1933 p5 - Interstate Football -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 14-Aug-1933 p5 - Interstate Football - by Alex Gurney

News - Adelaide 22-Aug-1932 p2 Port-Torrens -  by Alex Gurney
News - Adelaide 22-Aug-1932 p2 Port-Torrens - by Alex Gurney



Group Portraits

Apart from the weekly strip, Gurney produced panels including groups of players and officials from various teams (This was a common technique by cartoonists at the time). In Gurney 's case, the collections are usually an assembly of individual illustrations rather than all of the figures interacting together.

Glenelg -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 27-May-1933 p3
Glenelg - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 27-May-1933 p3
North Adelaide -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 28-Apr-1933 p3
North Adelaide - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 28-Apr-1933 p3


West Adelaide -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-May-1933 p3
West Adelaide - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-May-1933 p3

SA Team -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Jul-1933 p4
SA Team - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Jul-1933 p4



Portraits

Since he started trading portraits for marbles as school, Gurney had maintained a knack of capturing people with their portraits. There is a subtle use of props and movement to capture the mood and character of his subjects.

JF Bennett -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Aug-1932 p3
JF Bennett - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Aug-1932 p3
CT Gunn - Port Adelaide -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 2-Aug-1932 p2
CT Gunn - Port Adelaide - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 2-Aug-1932 p2
T.S.OHalloran - Chairman SAFL -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 7-Mar-1933 p5
T.S.OHalloran - Chairman SAFL - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 7-Mar-1933 p5
Frank Marlow - Secretary SAFL -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 22-Mar-1933 p5
Frank Marlow - Secretary SAFL - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 22-Mar-1933 p5
S.Patten -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 18-Aug-1932 p3
S.Patten - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 18-Aug-1932 p3
HS and EA Rugless - Glenelg -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 31-May-1933 p2
HS and EA Rugless - Glenelg - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 31-May-1933 p2
Reg Hickey - Victorian Captain -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 5-Aug-1932 p4
Reg Hickey - Victorian Captain - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 5-Aug-1932 p4
Bill Noal - Sturt -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Apr-1933 p3
Bill Noal - Sturt - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 13-Apr-1933 p3


Miscellaneous

Football Expressions -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 5-May-1933 p3
Football Expressions - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 5-May-1933 p3


Football Expressions -  by Alex Gurney - Barrier Miner 25-May-1935 p8
Football Expressions - by Alex Gurney - Barrier Miner 25-May-1935 p8


The 'Trials of a Football Trainer' was widely syndicated. The multi panel approach is unusual for Gurney. This particular strip appeared in many newspapers around the country.
Trials of the Football Trainer -  by Alex Gurney - Daily News Perth 17-Jun-1933 p5
Trials of the Football Trainer - by Alex Gurney - Daily News Perth 17-Jun-1933 p5


South Melbourne F.C. won the 1933 premiership and gained the nickname the Swans because of all of the W.A. players moving there. A great illustration of regarding on of the biggest football issues of the period, player salaries. (Note that this panel appeared in 1937 while Gurney was working in Melbourne).
Player Auction -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-Aug-1937 p10
Player Auction - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-Aug-1937 p10


A wonderful single panel strip demonstrating Gurney's skill in capturing a moment.
Tram on the Journey Home -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 2-Jun-1933 p3
Tram on the Journey Home - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 2-Jun-1933 p3


Unification of Codes -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-Jul-1933 p2
Unification of Codes - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 19-Jul-1933 p2
Football Season -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 21-Mar-1933 p4
Football Season - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 21-Mar-1933 p4



1933 - 1938 Melbourne and 'Ben Bowyang'

In late 1933, Gurney transferred to the Melbourne Herald, and from October a new creation, 'Ben Bowyang', based on C. J. Dennis's 'Gunn's Gully' column appeared. The Ben Bowyang strip focused on the humour of country life and rarely had a sporting bent. 'Ben Bowyang' was widely syndicated around the country and was continued well after Alex stopped drawing it. Peter Russell Clark was one who continued drawing the strip into the 1970's.

The Alex Gurney strip below features Ben as the local team football captain.

Ben Bowyang -  by Alex Gurney - Courier-Mail Brisbane 24-Apr-1934 p9
Ben Bowyang - by Alex Gurney - Courier-Mail Brisbane 24-Apr-1934 p9


Ben Bowyang was not Gurney's only contribution to the Herald, he continued his football cartoons, with 'Fred' moving from Adelaide to Melbourne. On top of this, Gurney supplied editorial cartoons as well as miscellaneous contributions. His reputation for hard work was well exemplified by his time at the Herald.

When Gurney moved to Melbourne in September, one of his earliest cartoons featured his view on a new mascot for South Melbourne ... a Swan ... a mascot later taken up by the club itself. Having recently arrived from interstate, Gurney's connection of the interstate issue was probably significant.

The Sydney Swans Heritage List in recording the importance of the Swans Emblem notes that:

In 1933 the eminent journalist Hec de Lacy referred to the Club in The Sporting Globe somewhat facetiously as the Swans due to the number of West Australian players the Club had recruited - the Black Swan being the emblem of Western Australia.

Cartoonist Alex Gurney drew a cartoon that drew further attention to de Lacy's words and hence the 'Swans' came into Australian Football folklore.


http://www.sydneyswans.com.au/club/history/heritage-list

Fred Suggests a Mascot for South -  by Alex Gurney - Herald 15-Sep-1933 p12
Fred Suggests a Mascot for South - by Alex Gurney - Herald 15-Sep-1933 p12


Gurney's use of the Swan probably had a large impact as he continued to use the Swan in his cartoons which then appeared before Melbourne football follower’s week on week.

Archie Crofts - In the Blood p114 -  by Alex Gurney 1934
Archie Crofts - In the Blood p114 - by Alex Gurney 1934


Alex Gurney's daughter Margaret holds an engraved pen, a gift from the South Melbourne Football Club ... significantly with a swan on the end on the pen.

To Alex Gurney from SFMC - Photo by Margaret Gurney
To Alex Gurney from SFMC - Photo by Margaret Gurney
As a token of Esteem - Photo by Margaret Gurney
As a token of Esteem - Photo by Margaret Gurney
Swan Emblem on end of - Photo by Margaret Gurney
Swan Emblem on end of - Photo by Margaret Gurney


While in Melbourne, Gurney continued his football cartoons and was soon illustrating a new mascot for Essendon...a Bomber. The Bomber character appeared in Gurney cartoons at least as early as June 1938, significantly earlier than WW2 when the club took on the 'Bomber' as their official mascot, shifting to be known as the 'Bomber's' from the less visually interesting 'Same Old's".

Herald Mon Jun 20 1938 by Alex Gurney
Herald Mon Jun 20 1938 by Alex Gurney


Gurney at the Big Game -  by Alex Gurney - Herald 12 Aug 1939 p13
Gurney at the Big Game - by Alex Gurney - Herald 12 Aug 1939 p13


Footballs for Four and Mothballs for Eight -  by Alex Gurney - Herald 25-Aug-1939
Footballs for Four and Mothballs for Eight - by Alex Gurney - Herald 25-Aug-1939


Gurney's also regularly used a cockatoo as a mascot for the Carlton club.

1939 and the Creation of 'Bluey and Curley'


Gurney's most famous comic strip 'Bluey and Curley', was created at the start of the Second World War. Bluey and Curley were hugely popular with Australians and were featured in newspapers for many years. Gurney drew the strip until his death in 1955.

Gurney's iconic 'Bluey and Curley' strips were keenly collected by Australians and often cut out and sent inside letters to serving soldiers. Those who had read Gurney's football cartoons or laughed at his Ben Bowyang contributions would have easily recognised the same friendly humour.

Gurney - early 1940's - Source:slv latrobejournal fig-latrobe-82-060a - photographer unknown
Gurney - early 1940's - Source:slv latrobejournal fig-latrobe-82-060a - photographer unknown


After Gurneys death, the strip was drawn by Norman Rice from 1955–56 and then Les Dixon from 1957 -1975. Bluey and Curley, like Ben Bowyang, were authentic, funny, with a very Australian presentation and language.

The three strips below provide some rare examples of Bluey and Curley football references. (Apologies for the quality)

Bluey and Curley -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 28-Apr-1948 p3 (copyright Margaret Gurney)
Bluey and Curley - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 28-Apr-1948 p3 (copyright Margaret Gurney)


Bluey and Curley - Real Sissy -  by Alex Gurney -News - Adelaide 7-Aug-1950 p16 (copyright Margaret Gurney)
Bluey and Curley - Real Sissy - by Alex Gurney -News - Adelaide 7-Aug-1950 p16 (copyright Margaret Gurney)


Bluey and Curley - Trained Gear -  by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 8-Jun-1953 (copyright Margaret Gurney)
Bluey and Curley - Trained Gear - by Alex Gurney - News - Adelaide 8-Jun-1953 (copyright Margaret Gurney)



Death

Gurneys self portrait from 1951 shows him happy and at work. The article attached to that particular 1951 illustration suggested that Gurney potentially had another twenty years of cartoons yet to draw. His unexpected death by heart attack in December 1955 was for all a sad event, and even made the front page of the Melbourne Herald's rival, the Age.

Alex Gurney (self Portrait) - News - Adelaide 30-Jul-1951 p11
Alex Gurney (self Portrait) - News - Adelaide 30-Jul-1951 p11
TheAge - 6-Dec-1955 p1
TheAge - 6-Dec-1955 p1



Australian Cartoonist Associations Hall of Fame

While writing this article, Alex Gurney was welcomed into the 'Australian Cartoonists Hall of Fame'. A well deserved recognition for one of Australia's best artists. Margaret Gurney's website has more on this award (http://www.gurneyart.com.au/alex-gurney/).


Further reading

"YOU'LL NEVER MAKE AN ARTIST" THE MASTER TOLD GURNEY. (1951, July 30). News (Adelaide), p. 10. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130330363

Alex Gurney: creator of Bluey and Curley by Vane Lindesay
http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/latrobejournal/issue/latrobe-82/t1-g-t6.html

Gurney, Alexander George (Alex) (1902–1955) by Steve Panozzo
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gurney-alexander-george-alex-10380

The State Library of Victoria holds digital versions of 'Ben Bowyang' and 'Bluey and Curley' which can easily be found by a search of their catalogue.


My thanks to Margaret Gurney for her contributions and permission to use the 'Bluey and Curley' strips.

All cartoons by Alex Gurney are in copyright until 2030. I have been unable to identify the current copyright owner of other Gurney’s work and I would be more than happy to request permission if the current owner can be established.



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End Notes


1. John Hetherington - "YOU'LL NEVER MAKE AN ARTIST," THE MASTER TOLD GURNEY. (1951, July 30). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130330363
3. "TASMANIANS TO-DAY". (1926, June 16). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 9. Retrieved November 28, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29447855