JOHN SPOONER is the only cartoonist in Australia to win the Journalist of the Year Award. It was controversial at the time, but he deserved it because he does more research for his cartoons than most Journalists do for their writing.
It shows in his cartoons as his knowledge of Politics and Economics puts most Journos to shame (he has always put the latest debt numbers into his cartoons). Many’s the time I’d ask John what I thought was a simple question, to be answered by a tsunami of facts, figures, economic metaphors and history lessons on the subject.
He is, and always was, an independent voice in the wilderness of 24 hour media and comment. Whether he was an early supporter of the Chamberlains or his ideas on climate change, in a 43 year career with the Age newspaper. As Peter Nicholson recently said “He’s usually proven right!”
John was bullied at Primary School and his modus operandi is “Be aware of bullies, be they human or institutional, violent or otherwise.”
Spooner says “The Age was my bodyguard and inspiration … the bullies of politics, crime and society were the constant targets of that wonderful paper.” Graeme Perkin (the Age’s legendary Editor) said “We are the natural opponents of Government because no-one else represents the public.”
We read that John Grew up “reading a diet of noble struggles against cruelty and injustice (Treasure Island, Jungle Book and 1,001 nights) but needed the roughage of fun (Superman, Batman, Donald Duck and Pluto) for a balanced diet.”
“These are dangerous times,” says John, “and Australia and the Western World have been let down by the right and left of politics and journalism well.” John details and confronts the main issues of the 21st century in his book and like Bruce Petty, tries to come up with solutions and alternatives to our political woes.
His blessed trinity of complaints are unemployment, diminished manufacturing capability and unsustainable foreign debt. With broadsides like “The Foreign Debt” has grown from $196 billion in 1996 to a staggering $1 trillion in 2016 … and … we have persistently indulged the fantasy that services will take the place of manufacturing.”
His writing is easy and conversational, and he asks “How can a nation so indebted be seriously prosperous? … if that debt is consumer driven, how can it be anything but de-stablising!”
One of his cartoons called “My lifestyle” is a send up of Dorothy McKellar’s “My Country” and it says it all.
I love a sunburnt country
A land of sheepish brains
Of rugged online retail
Of banks and credit drains
I love her Chinese Apple
Her flooding foreign debt
Her shrinking sovereign ownership
Why change her style just yet.
And, of course his book is plastered with over 250 of his cartoons which complement what he’s describing with his historian/economist “keep the bastards honest”, style of graphic journalism.
From the blurb “Spooner seeks to clarify the position of the so called ‘climate deniers’, ‘protectionists’ and media ‘pluralists’. He contends that Australia’s $1 trillion foreign debt, it’s ludicrous energy poverty and confusion about free speech are disappointingly linked to a decline in journalistic ideals”.
There has never been anyone like Spooner in Australian cartooning. He is up there with the likes of Gillray, Low and of course the dearly missed Bill Leak. Don’t we all miss the work of Petty, Leak, Nicholson and Spooner that have all left us lately. As the print dinosaurs sink into the tarpits of online news and opinion, who will replace them?
Gideon Haigh’s blistering comments on the Age in the introduction of the book give you a taste of what is to follow.
Buy this book, because Spooner is deeply concerned about Australia’s welfare and future and after you finish reading it, you’ll probably feel as I did, that history will mostly prove him right!
President, The Australian Cartoon Museum