'It's up to him' - Cartoon Interpretation
Cartoon by Samuel Wells published in the Melbourne
Herald, 23 January 1945
Click on the cartoon below to see a larger image.
Before you try the guided interpretation activities, here's some useful
contextual information that will help you understand the situation in
Australia in early 1945, both on the home front and with regard to the
war effort. There's also some background about the cartoonist and the
publisher of the newspaper that carried the cartoon.
- In 1942 John Curtin set up the Department of Post
War Reconstruction (PWR) with the aim of: avoiding the economic dislocation
associated with the end of the previous war; helping to create international
financial structures that would prevent the devastating economic chaos
of events like the Great Depression; and ensuring full employment.
- An important objective of the PWR was the improvement
of welfare provisions for needy Australians such as the unemployed,
disabled and widowed.
- In the 1943 election the Curtin Labor government won
a huge majority. Curtin said his government would not use its power
to force the socialisation of industry during the war. The government
felt, however, that it needed greater powers for the period of post
- In 1942, the government failed persuade the states to
voluntarily transfer the specified powers it wanted for the duration
of the war and five years afterwards.
- The Fourteen Powers referendum in 1944 also failed to
give the Commonwealth the powers it sought over banking, employment,
trade and commerce.
- Curtin was overseas in the lead up to the referendum
and also had a heart attack in late 1944 resulting in his hospitalisation
for 2 months. When he returned to work in January 1945 cabinet had put
up a proposal to legislate for Commonwealth control of aviation.
- Curtin was criticised for supporting the aviation proposal
which many conservative members of parliament and the media saw as quasi
socialism. The media believed that public opinion had sanctioned the
controls necessary to run the economy in wartime but thought that the
government should get right out of industry in peacetime.
The war effort
- As a result of the success of the Allied landing
at Normandy, the Germans were now being steadily pushed back towards
- By early 1945 the front in the Pacific war had moved
well north of Australia, the Americans had re-occupied the Philippines
and were steadily pushing the Japanese back to their homeland.
The Cartoonist: Samuel Garnet Wells,
born Victoria 1885, died Victoria 1964
Wells joined the staff of Melbourne Punch
after World War One and later he worked for the Melbourne
Herald drawing sporting cartoons. In about 1923 he put out a
book of cartoons based on his work at the Herald
called Wells Cartoons. In the
early 1930s he was involved in the drawing of the Ben Bowyang comic. Wells
left the Herald in 1933 to work in England
on the Daily Dispatch in Manchester but returned
to the Herald in 1939 to take on the job of
principal political cartoonist, a position he held until 1950. Wells then
took a job drawing sporting cartoons for The Age.
He died in 1964. He also had cartoons published in the Newcastle Herald.
Information courtesy Lindsay Foyle, Australian
The Publisher: The Melbourne
Herald was a conservative newspaper owned by Keith Murdoch. Murdoch
helped get the United Australia Party (UAP) under way and supported Joseph
Lyons' election to the leadership of the party and the country in 1931.
The Lyons Government recommended Murdoch’s knighthood in 1933. Murdoch
was close enough to Lyons to offer him advice on the makeup of his cabinet
in 1934 but fell out with him later over radio licensing. When Robert
Menzies took over the leadership of the UAP in 1939, Murdoch gave him
his support. Menzies appointed Sir Keith Murdoch to oversee wartime censorship.
Curtin was very critical of Murdoch in this post accusing him of trying
to make himself editor-in-chief of every newspaper in Australia through
his suggestion for changes to the National Security Regulations.
Interpretation Activity 1
What information can you glean just from this introductory context?
- For example, do you think the Melbourne Herald
supported the Curtin Government?
- Was the Curtin Government having an easy
time running the war effort and were they receiving unqualified support
from the Australian people on matters affecting the home front?
Interpretation Activity 2
||train (including ‘Australia’)
- What does the train represent?
- What does the divided track represent?
- Describe the position of the tunnel. What
could this mean? Hint
- Describe the location of the tracks in relation
to the large rock on the left. Answer
Interpretation Activity 3
||the man in the signal box
- What is the purpose of a signal box?
- What does the signal box represent? How does the
- Who is in the signal box? Answer
- Describe what is he doing? Answer
- What do you think he is thinking about?
- How does the contextual information help
you to work out what the Prime Minister is thinking about? Hint
Interpretation Activity 4
||tunnel signage 'nationalisation'
||sign post 'political disunity'
||sign post 'united war effort'
- How does your knowledge of beliefs of the
Australian Labor Party help you to understand the cartoonist purpose
in writing ‘nationalisation’ on the tunnel at the end of
the left hand track? Hint
- Why is the track leading to the tunnel labelled
‘political disunity’ and the track to the right labelled
'United War Effort'? Hint
Interpretation Activity 5
||caption 'It's up to him'
- What is the cartoonist's attitude towards
nationalisation (or socialisation of industry)? Answer
- How is nationalisation different from the
provision of social policies such as widows’ pensions? Hint
- What is the cartoonist’s attitude
to the Prime Minister? Hint
- What is the purpose of the cartoon? (Is it
the sort of cartoon that you laugh at?) Hint