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'Taken over' - Cartoon Interpretation

Cartoon by John Frith published in the Bulletin, 8 October 1941
(courtesy Frith family)

Click on the cartoon below to see a larger image.

'Taken over' cartoon by John Frith


Before you try the guided interpretation activities, here's some useful contextual information that will help you understand the political situation in Australia leading up to late 1941 when Curtin became prime minister. There's also some background about the cartoonist and the newspaper that carried the cartoon.

  • At the outbreak of war in 1939 Robert Menzies was Prime Minister. He led the United Australia Party (UAP) which was in coalition with Arthur Fadden’s Country Party.
  • The 1940 election results left the Coalition with slightly lowered numbers in the House of Representatives (coalition – 36 seats, Australian Labor Party (ALP ) – 36 seats). The balance of power in the 74 seat House was held by two independents who chose to vote with the coalition.
  • Menzies put pressure on Curtin to form a ‘national government’. Curtin resisted believing that a strong opposition was important in war time but suggested an Advisory War Council with equal government and non-government members, to which Menzies agreed.
  • Menzies leadership of the UAP was called into question in 1941. He resigned and the coalition leadership passed to Arthur Fadden.
  • Fadden’s government was short lived. When the new budget was introduced the Opposition attacked it and when it came to a vote, the 2 independents threw in their lot with Labor, thus removing the coalition from office.
  • On October 7th, 1941 John Curtin became Prime Minister of Australia.

The newspaper: The Bulletin described itself in the 1940s as 'The national Australian newspaper' with the rider 'Australia for the white man'. It was generally pro-private enterprise and anti-union. In the war years it was particularly supportive of the Australian fighting male, including a lot of humour about Aussi soldiers and the Australian way of life in its articles and cartoons.

The cartoonist:
Born London, c1906, died Melbourne, Victoria, 2000
John Frith came to Australia in the midst of the Depression years. He drew cartoons for the Bulletin (c1929–44), becoming principal caricaturist and co-art editor with Ted Scorfield. In 1944, the Sydney Morning Herald decided to feature a daily cartoon and Frith took on the job, working with the paper until 1950. In 1950 Keith Murdoch invited Frith to join the Melbourne Herald where he worked for the next 18 years. He retired in 1969 but continued to draw cartoons and produce other works right up until his death in 2000. His cartoons are powerful, witty and insightful. He was also a skilled caricaturist, a sculptor and a colourful raconteur.
Information from obituary of John Frith by Ned Wallish in the Age, 7 November 2000.

Interpretation Activity 1

Focus on the building
  words on the building - 'Australia & Co.'
  the welcome mat
  • What sort of building is depicted in the cartoon? Answer
  • Why is there a welcome mat outside? Answer
  • To what does ‘Australia & Co’ refer? Answer

Interpretation Activity 2

Focus on the names written immediately
above the doorway

'Prop: R . G. Menzies
 A. Fadden (call me Artie)
J. Curtin'

  • Who is the new proprietor of Australia & Co.? Answer
  • Why are the first two names above the door crossed out? Hint

Interpretation Activity 3

Focus on the figure on the right
  • Who does this figure represent? Answer
  • How is this character depicted? Hint
  • How does the cartoonist show that the new proprietor is really getiing down to business? Hint

Interpretation Activity 4

Focus on the two figures in the doorway
  • Who might these figures represent? Hint
  • What are they doing? Hint

Interpretation Activity 5

Focus on the words 'Under new management'
and 'Business better than usual'
  • Who do you think has put these words on the shop window and why? Hint
  • What do the words and the way the proprietor is drawn tell you about how the cartoonist views the new prime minister? Hint

Interpretation Activity 6

Focus on the caption 'Taken Over'
  • What does the caption mean? Hint
  • What makes this cartoon funny? Hint