The adventures of Bluey & Curley in our Australian pubs


Alex Gurney

A POPULAR Australian newspaper comic strip during the war years, ‘Bluey and Curley’ was written by artist, caricaturist, and cartoonist Alex Gurney.

Gurney was renowned for his generous habit of giving the original art work of his caricatures, cartoons, and comic strips to anyone who asked.

The first Bluey and Curley strip appeared soon after the start of World War II. It featured two Australian soldiers, Bluey (who had served in the First AIF), and Curley, a new recruit.

By the end of the war, they had served in every Australian campaign — in North Africa, in the Middle East, in New Guinea, in Northern Australia, and in the Pacific Islands — and, once the war was over, they even went to London and took part in the 1946 Victory Parade.

Bluey and Curley epitomised what was seen as the typical Australian soldier. They liked a drink, a gamble and a chat (in colourful Aussie slang of course), and they always had some scheme afoot.

Their adventures often featured Australian pubs, and I have included a few strips here from the 1940s that appeared in newspapers of the day.

Gurney produced the strip from 1940 until his death in 1955. It was syndicated across Australia and appeared in New Zealand, New Guinea, and Canada (but was considered too Australian for American newspapers).

Following Gurney’s death in 1955 the comic strip was taken over by Norm Rice in early 1956, but he died in a vehicle accident that year.

Bluey and Curley was then taken over by cartoonist Les Dixon who drew the characters for 18 years until he retired in 1975.

– Thanks to Wikipedia


BY John Hetherington

Gurns ey at work

How Alex Gurney seen himself in a cartoon

Most professional humorists are pretty, lugubrious fellows when off duty, but there are exceptions to this rule.

Alex Gurney, black-and-white artist creator of Bluey and Curley, is one of the exceptions.

Gurney not only likes to make other people laugh, hut also likes to laugh himself.

Perhaps he acquired the gift of laughter in the days before Bluey and

Curley made him a national figure and he was suffering more than a fair share of the kicks Pate delivers to artists struggling for recognition.

Anyway, Gurney, 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 which hardly ever fails to please him, can afford to laugh now.

It is Bluey and Curley, his pen-children, who have put him in this happy position. They have already performed for him in 3128 strips, the latest of which appears today in our comic section.

Since Gurney, who was 49 on March 15, should have at least another 20 years as an active black and-white artist, there seems to be no good rea-son why Bluey and Curley should not perform an-other 7000 times or so be-fore they quit the newspaper stage.

It is Improbable that Gurney foresaw the success he was one day to win when he launched himself upon the precarious , career of a commercial artist nearly 40 years ago.

He was a pupil at Hobart’s Macquarie-st State School at the time, and by all accounts not strikingly different from the Gurney of today, though his frame was a thought less fleshy and his head did have some hair on top.

However, the brain inside the head worked on identical lines with the Gurney brain today, bidding him scorn such mundane things as mathematics, history, and spelling, and take his pencil in hand and draw his fellow creatures.

It all started when he sketched one or two class-mates in a casual way.

Everybody else in the class wanted Gurney to sketch him, too. And suddenly Gurney realised that art could be made to pay.

He embarked on a series of caricatures, usually the subject’s head balanced on a dashing figure in cowboy costume, for which each sitter paid a fee in marbles. There was no set fee. It varied according to the number of marbles the sitter owned.

“I made a lot of marbles that way,” Gurney recalls. “But the other kids won them back from me just a little faster than they rolled in. Still, the experience did teach me that art could be made to pay even if a man couldn’t hold on to what he made by it.”

However, serious-minded parents could hardly be expected to consider a gift for sketching a sufficiently stout craft to bear a healthy boy across the sea of life. Gurney’s parents were no exception.

His own heart was set on a black-and-white career, but Mr. and Mrs. James Hursey, his step-father and his mother, decided he must have a more solid means of livelihood.

When he left school at 13 he went un-romantically to work in an ironmonger’s shop.

He held several other equally non-artistic jobs in the next year or two, then joined Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission as an engineer’s junior assistant, with the idea of becoming an electrical engineer. The prospects were good, but the j pay was modest – 7/6 a week.

After he had settled in at the Commission, Gurney enrolled himself at Hobart Technical College for night classes in subjects bearing on his chosen profession.

Perhaps that was the turning point. For it was not long before Gurney’s mind was straying from the classes on which he was engaged to the art classes carried on under the same roof.

He took a sudden decision. He retired more or less gracefully from the studies which would have helped him to qualify as an electrical engineer and moved himself and his yearnings around the corridor into the art department.

The art master was one Lucien Dechaineux. Gurney describes Dechaineux as one of the most versa-tile human beings he has ever known – a man who could teach art, mathematics, engineering or practically any subject.

“I don’t think Dechaineux approved of the change I made,” Gurney says. “Perhaps he figured the world was going to lose a perfectly good electrical engineer – and get a poor artist in exchange.

“Anyway, I think he started out to sicken me of art. He sat me down in front of a cast of an eagle’s head and told me to draw it. He kept me drawing the eagle’s head for weeks and weeks. I did it in crayon, pencil and ink.

“But I survived the treatment. The only lasting effect of it has been that even today I can draw a reasonable kind of eagle’s head practically with my eyes shut.”

As a variant from the eagle’s head, Gurney one evening drew a caricature of Dechaineux himself. Dechaineux, he says, had an eminently caricaturable face, with bristling whiskers. He still thinks the caricature was pretty good.

He took it up to Dechaineux at the end of the lesson and laid it on the master’s desk. Dechaineux studied it for a few moments, then grunted:

“You’ll never make an artist as long as you live.”

Gurney was undismayed. He struggled on, doing his daily stint at the Hydro-Electric Commission, studying nights at Hobart Tech., drawing anybody who would sit for him, including his half-brother, Max Hursey. whose services were to be had at 1/ an hour.

He began to sell drawings here and there. His work appeared in the various journals, and he scored some local success with a series of caricatures illustrating a book on leading Tasmanian personalities.

His share of the profits from the book was only £13, but the bulge of the money in his pocket emboldened him. Peeling ready to conquer the world, he crossed Bass Strait and landed in Melbourne.

The year was 1925, and the “Morning Post” had been publishing for a few weeks. Gurney hammered on the editor’s door until, largely on the strength of a series of caricatures of Federal Parliamentarians, he was given a job at £6 a week.

It was hard knockabout experience, but Gurney learned many tricks of the trade in the year that fol-lowed. Then financial difficulties compelled the “Post” to shorten staff, and Gurney was among the fallen.

AT 24 years he was jobless, with nothing between him and either starvation or a tail-between-legs withdrawal to Tasmania except his artistic skill. He decided to go to Sydney.

He stayed in Sydney about five years, free-lancing, studying at the Black-and-White Club, weathering the depression.

He contrived to do this, although the depression found him with a wife and young child to support. He began to make a name as a political cartoonist when public excitement about J. T. Lang’s handling of NSW affairs was at its height.

Bluey and CurleyThen the breaks started to come his way. He was offered the cartoonist’s post on Adelaide “News.” After a year in Adelaide, he moved to Melbourne, where he founded the Ben Bowyang strip, based on the C. J. Dennis characters.

He had hardly got Ben Bowyang afloat when the post of Melbourne “Herald” cartoonist fell vacant.

Gurney held it until early in the war when Bluey and Curley was (or, if you prefer it. were) born.

Working over the characters Gurney told himself. “These blokes would make a grand comic strip.”

Gradually the conception took shape. Gurney took his idea to the people who could say yes or no. They said yes. And on February 1, 1941. the first Bluey and Curley strip appeared.

Gurney works something very close to a 40-hour week in devising, rough drawing and inking-in his strips. Some of his gags come, ready-made, from actual experience, but he dreams up most of them out of the blue.

He works in a studio at the back of his home in Merton-ave, Elwood, Victoria, which he shares with his wife’s sewing machine and a cupboard filled with toys belonging to his eight-year-old daughter, youngest of his four children – all girls, except the oldest, a 22 year-old son.

He is not easily distracted. He can go on drawing without faltering even if his wife is machining, so long as she doesn’t talk which she never does when he is at work.

Gurney admits he still does not know whether a strip is good or bad until he has tried it on the public. His own idea of a world-beating strip more often than not fails rather flat, while a strip he thinks indifferent brings him a big fan-mail.

One oddity: This author of the most Australian comic strip published was born in Portsmouth, England. But since he left there when he was six months old and has lived in Australia ever since he considers himself 100 percent Australian.

– Perth Sunday Times August 12 1951


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