'It's up to him' - Cartoon Interpretation: Teachers'
This is a step by step resource for classroom teachers to use with senior
school students, based on the concept of 'chunking' as a method of intepreting
cartoons. Teachers should familiarise themselves with the 'chunking' process
which is fully explained in the freely downloadable JCPML publication
Cartoon PD in a Package
before using this cartoon activity in the classroom.
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 Samuel Wells published in the Melbourne
Herald, 23 January 1945
Click on the cartoon below for a larger image to use with your class.
Use the 'landscape' option when printing 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.
||Name of cartoonist
||Date of publication
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
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.
- Ask students about the information they can glean
just from the introductory information, especially for questions about
||train (including ‘Australia’)
- What does the train represent?
- What does the divided track represent?
- Describe the position of the tunnel. What
could this mean?
(The tunnel is drawn in the distance. Things come
to mind like 'the light at the end of the tunnel' or 'Is there light
at the end of the tunnel?' Tunnels are dark scary places.)
- Describe the location of the tracks in relation
to the large rock on the left.
(The tracks have to go around this obstacle –
they can’t go over it or under it – it's in the way –
like a difficult decision.)
||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?
(Prime Minister John Curtin)
- Describe what is he doing?
(He appears to be thinking as he has his hand on
his chin. He has a hand on the signal equipment ready to give a signal
to the train.)
- What do you think he is thinking about?
(He has to make an important decision about which
way to send the train [Australia] – he can take two tracks (two
choices) and he is not sure which way to go.)
- How does the contextual information help you to
work out what the Prime Minister is thinking about?
(The contextual information tells you that the federal
government had been trying to widen its powers to deal with the period
of post war reconstruction (the extensive wartime powers will end with
the conclusion of the war). A request to states to refer the necessary
powers to the federal government for five years after the war had been
refused. None of the states wanted to give up any of their powers. The
Fourteen powers referendum of 1944 received a ‘no’ vote
from the people. Now the government was trying a new tack by putting
forward legislation to allow it to take control of aviation in the post
war period. The cartoon is set against the background that the Australian
people had clearly shown they opposed government control (socialisation/nationalisation)
of industry. So Curtin is probably weighing up the relative risks and
benefits of the routes he must choose between.)
||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?
(The Labor Party began as a working man’s party
and is described as left wing. Left wing parties support more government
control of industry, more interference in the economy and more welfare
measures than do most right wing or conservative parties. Nationalisation
of industry is a left wing or socialist policy.)
- Why is the track leading to the tunnel labelled
‘political disunity’ and the track to the right labelled
'United War Effort'?
(The cartoonist is suggesting that to take the left
track is to head towards socialism and therefore nationalisation of
industry. The ALP and the conservative parties have worked well together
to carry out the war effort but if Labor takes the left hand track,
the cartoonist believes it will adversely affect the war effort.)
||caption 'It's up to him'
- What is the cartoonist's attitude towards
nationalisation (or socialisation of industry)?
(The cartoonist is against nationalisation.)
- How is nationalisation different from the
provision of social policies such as widows’ pensions?
(Nationalisation implies that the government is going
to take over and run industry rather than leave it up to private enterprise.
(Government control of industry during wartime was acceptable to most
Australians because of the particular circumstances of the war.) Providing
social services such as widows’ pensions was a way of looking
after the needy in the community. This was acceptable to the community
in both war and peace in a way that government control of industry in
peacetime was not.)
- What is the cartoonist’s attitude
to the Prime Minister?
(The cartoonist portrays Curtin as looking harried
and indecisive. The cartoonist clearly believes that the prime minister
should take Australia down the path of unity and maintaining a strong
war effort, living up to his 1943 promise to not socialise industry.)
- What is the purpose of the cartoon? (Is it the
sort of cartoon that you laugh at?)
(This political cartoon raises people’s awareness
about a topical issue - the possible socialisation of industry, and
more specifically government control over aviation. Drawing the prime
minister as a procrastinating signalman is a humorous way to present
a complex and potentially divisive issue.)
At the completion of this process, you may wish students
to answer written questions on the cartoon which you can tailor to reflect
the teaching points you wish them to cover.