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'Taken over' - Cartoon Interpretation: Teachers' Resource

This is a step by step resource for classroom teachers to use with years 9 or 10 (and higher years) school students, based on the concept of 'scaffolding'' as a method of intepreting cartoons. Teachers should familiarise themselves with the 'scaffolding' process which is fully explained in the freely downloadable JCPML publication Cartoon PD in a Package before using this cartoon activity in the classroom.

The following resource provides guidelines for teachers about which parts of the cartoon to include at each stage of the scaffold. Teachers will need to print multiple copies of the cartoon and then cut parts out to create the scaffolding sheets for making the overhead transparancies.

Note: Student responses to the questions will vary according to their understanding of the symbols and captions in the cartoon. Due acknowledgement should be given to a range of answers where valid explanations, logically explained and justified are given.

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

Click on the cartoon below to view a larger image to print and use with your class.

'Taken over' cartoon by John Frith


  • 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.

Sheet 1: Origin of cartoon

Include cartoon frame
  name of cartoonist

Teaching point: Context of events occurring around 7 October 1941

Ask students to think about what was happening in Australia around October 7th 1941. Some leading questions could be:

  • Who was prime minister when World War Two began?
    (Robert Menzies, leader of the United Australia Party)
  • What impact did the 1940 election have on the makeup of the federal Parliament, particularly the House of Representatives?
    (two Independent Members of Parliament held the balance of power in the House of Representatives)

The source: 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

Sheet 2

Include welcome mat
  door frame
  words on the building - 'Australia & Co.'

Teaching point: Use of metaphor – likening the Australian government to a shop.

  • What sort of building is depicted in the cartoon?
    (a shop front)
  • Why is there a welcome mat outside?
    (shop owners like to make their customers welcome)
  • To what does ‘Australia & Co’ refer?
    (the Australian government)

Sheet 3

Include the names written immediately
above the doorway

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

Teaching point: Context

  • Who is the new proprietor of Australia & Co.?
    (John Curtin)
  • Why are the first two names above the door crossed out?
    (The names which are crossed out are those of the two previous coalition prime ministers, Arthur Fadden and Robert Menzies. Menzies was prime minister at the beginning of the war but stepped down in August 1941 to be replaced by his coalition partner Arthur Fadden. Fadden was replaced by Curtin in October 1941. The names are crossed out because these men are no longer proprietors of Australia and Co.)

Sheet 4

Include the figure on the right

Teaching point: Use of metaphor

  • Who does this figure represent?
    (Prime Minister John Curtin)
  • How is this character depicted?
    (He is depicted as a shopkeeper. Note use of metaphor.)
  • How does the cartoonist show that the new proprietor is really getiing down to business?
    (The cartoonist has drawn the proprietor wearing an apron, in braces and with his shirt sleeves rolled up (use of symbols) – the attire of someone ready to work hard and not afraid to get his hands dirty. Curtin is shown walking briskly and with a confident stride, pot and brush in hand. He is ready to get started on his new job.)

Sheet 5

Include the two figures in the doorway

Teaching point: context

  • Who might these figures represent?
    (They might represent members of the ALP, the new governing party, or they could be the two Independent members of Parliament, Coles and Wilson, who held the balance of power in the House of Representatives from the election of 1940. In October 1941 Coles and Wilson voted against Fadden’s budget thus bringing down the government and making John Curtin prime minister.)
  • What are they doing?
    (They are welcoming the new proprietor of Australia & Co, John Curtin, with the V for Victory symbol. This symbol for victory over the Axis Powers in World War Two was first used by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.)

Sheet 6

Teaching point: words within a cartoon add meaning; establishing the cartoonist's point of view

Focus on the words 'Under new management'
'Business better than usual'
  • Who do you think has put these words on the shop window and why?
    (As the new proprietor Curtin has painted or pasted the words 'Under New Management' and 'Business better than usual' on his shop window. Note he is carrying the brush and pot of paint or paste that he has used to do this. He has done this to alert customers to the change in management and to signal that there will be changes, indeed improvements, to how the 'shop' is run.)
  • What do the words and the way the proprietor is drawn tell you about how the cartoonist views the new prime minister?
    (Rather than writing 'Business as Usual' on the shop window the cartoonist has written 'Business Better Than Usual'. This appears to be a vote of confidence in the new prime minister. He also draws Curtin as a strong and business-like proprietor – a man who looks like he knows what he is doing and who will do a better job than the two previous leaders.)

Sheet 7

Teaching point: Captions add meaning to a cartoon.

Include caption 'Taken over'
  • What does the caption mean?
    (On the simplest level it means Australia has new prime minister. At a more complex level it refers to the fact that by getting the two Independents, Coles and Wilson, to vote against Fadden’s budget, the ALP has effectively made a successful ‘takeover’ bid for government, like in the corporate world. There was no election; it was simply a change of numbers in the House of Representatives that made john Curtin prime minister.)
  • What makes this cartoon funny?
    (Australia has had three different prime ministers in a very short space of time. The humour arises from the speculation about how long the new prime minister will last and whether he will run the country any better than the previous leaders. Presenting Australia as a shop, and the prime ministers as the shop keepers, past and present, is also humorous. The signage 'A. Fadden (call me Artie)' is also an amusing reflection on the very likeable, but short reigning, Prime Minister Fadden.)