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Michael Leunig

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Michael Leunig
Leunig in May 2012
Born (1945-06-02) 2 June 1945 (age 79)
Alma materSwinburne Film and Television School
Occupation(s)Cartoonist, poet, artist
Spouse(s)Pamela Munro (unknown)
Helga Salwe (1992–2016)

Michael Leunig (born 2 June 1945), typically referred to as Leunig (his signature on his cartoons), is an Australian cartoonist. His works include The Curly Pyjama Letters, cartoon books The Essential Leunig, The Wayward Leunig, The Stick, Goatperson, Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness and Curly Verse, among others and The Lot, a compilation of his 'Curly World' newspaper columns. Leunig has also written a book of prayers, When I Talk To You.

He was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.

Life and career[edit]

Leunig, a fifth generation Australian,[1] was born in East Melbourne and grew up in Footscray, an inner western suburb, where he went to Footscray North Primary School.[2] He then went to Maribyrnong High School, but as the school had not finished being built, he first had to attend classes held at the nearby Royal Melbourne Showgrounds in Ascot Vale.[3] He failed his final year examinations, twice.[3]

After working as a labourer in an abattoir,[4] Leunig enrolled at the Swinburne Film and Television School, where he was at first interested in making documentaries. He was conscripted in the Vietnam War call-up, but he registered as a conscientious objector; he was rejected on health grounds when it was revealed that he was deaf in one ear.[5]

Leunig began his cartoon career while at Swinburne in 1965[6] when his cartoons appeared in the Monash University student newspaper Lot's Wife.[7] In the early 1970s his work appeared in the radical/satirical magazines Nation Review, The Digger, and London's Oz magazine, as well as mainstream publications including Newsday and Woman's Day.

The main outlet for Leunig's work has been the daily Fairfax Media newspapers, Melbourne's The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.[citation needed] The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also provided airtime to Leunig to discuss his views on a range of political and philosophical issues.[citation needed]


Leunig's drawings are done with a sparse and quivering line, usually in black and white with ink wash; the human characters are always drawn with exaggerated noses. This style served him well in his early years, when he gained a loyal following for his quirky take on social issues. He also made increasingly frequent forays into a personal fantasy world of whimsy, featuring small figures with teapots balanced on their heads, grotesquely curled hair and many ducks.[citation needed]

Leunig has frequently satirised concepts such as Americanisation, greed, consumerism, corporations and warmongering, in a personal proclamation against the War on Terror.[citation needed] Readers and critics took special note of his parodies of political matters, especially those concerning former Australian prime minister John Howard and former American president George W. Bush. These have earned Leunig a description as a "political cartoonist",[8] although only some of his works are political in nature or reference.

His work has also frequently explored spiritual, religious and moral themes.[citation needed]

Controversial works[edit]

Leunig speaks at a demonstration in Melbourne against Israel's military action in the Gaza War, 2009

Leunig's cartoons have occasionally been a source of controversy. In 2008, he wrote that "Artists must never shrink from a confrontation with society or the state."[9]

Between 1995 and 2000, he drew the ire of working mothers by satirising the heavy reliance upon childcare services in Australian culture in several of his works.[citation needed]

Leunig opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq commenting that "if a cartoonist is representing the government line on Iraq, they're nothing better than a propagandist".[8]

In 2006, Fairfax Media censored a cartoon in New South Wales, but not in Victoria, which criticised the then prime minister, John Howard.[10]

Leunig has also stated his opposition to the Israeli government. Three of his 2004–2006 cartoons drew letters of protest nationally and internationally. The three pieces took as their subjects: IDF bomber pilots (13 April 2004); Sheikh Ahmed Yassin's assassination order from Ariel Sharon (11 January 2006); and the renewed Gaza occupation (12 July 2006). A fourth piece was refused publication and has since been more widely criticised for potentially confounding his opposition to the policies of Israel with an antisemitic, generalised subversion of the Jewish experience, by relying upon a reference to the Jewish Holocaust.[citation needed] This cartoon came to international attention after it was entered in an Iranian competition conceived by the newspaper Hamshahri as retaliation for the Muhammad cartoons controversy. Leunig denied he had submitted the cartoon as an entry to the competition and said "I've been set up horribly, maliciously."[11] He demanded that his cartoon be withdrawn; the newspaper did this and also apologised to him.[11] It later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by Richard Cooke, a web contributor to the Australian comedic team The Chaser.[12]

Leunig has partially defined his position with this statement:

I have a Jewish friend, a Holocaust survivor, who says that she never could have lived in Israel because in her view it is a totalitarian state. ... I believe that something fundamental and vital, not just to Israel but to the entire world, has been gravely mishandled by the present Israeli administration and it bothers me deeply. It is my right to express it.[8]

— Michael Leunig, 13 January 2006, The Age

In November 2018, Leunig's long running association with the Melbourne Comedy Festival came to an end after 30 years, after artists expressed concerns about being associated with Leunig's anti-vacination views, and opposition to marriage equality plebiscite. Leunig had designed the logo for the festival every year since 1988. Another Melbourne Cartoonist, Judy Horacek became the festivals branding artist for the following year. The festival did not release a statement regarding Leunig's replacement.[13]

In September 2021, Leunig's cartoon contributions for the editorial page in the Monday edition of The Age newspaper in Melbourne were ended following the paper's rejection for publication of a cartoon he had drawn in response to COVID-19 vaccination requirements in Australia.[14][15] The cartoon compared resistance to vaccine requirements to the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square.[16] He continues to contribute cartoons for the Saturday edition of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Characters and themes[edit]

In the series of cartoons that Leunig has created over the duration of his career, a number of characters have persistently appeared, including:

  • The Duck[17]
  • Mr Curly – a contented character who is at ease in the natural world[18][19]
  • Vasco Pyjama – a restless wanderer who sometimes seeks the counsel of Mr Curly[19]

Leunig has, from a very early stage in his career, often included his own handwritten poetry within his cartoons;[20] subsequently he has also published books of poetry. He has been very open about his themes, in interviews about his work.[21][22][23]

Personal life[edit]

Leunig's first marriage, to Pamela Munro, ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Helga, in 1992 but separated in the 2010s. A film documentary about his life by Kasimir Burgess, The Leunig Fragments, was released in 2020 and reveals various difficulties that Leunig has experienced with family relationships.[24] He did not attend his parents' funerals[25] and is not in regular contact with his siblings.[24] His four children were all born on notable dates: Gus on Guy Fawkes Day 1974, Sunny on Valentine's Day 1980, Minna on Australia Day 1992 and Felix on Christmas Day 1994.[26] All of his children were homeschooled.[citation needed]

His sister, Mary Leunig (b. 1950), is also an accomplished cartoonist.[27]

Leunig has a studio in Northcote, Melbourne, and a property in north-east Victoria.[28]

Honours and celebrity[edit]

Collaboration with Gyan[edit]

In 2006 Australian musician Gyan Evans released the album Billy the Rabbit, which was based on the poetry of Leunig. Gyan and Leunig launched the album at the Melbourne Writers Festival, with Leunig illustrating during Gyan's singing. They also performed together at the Byron Bay Writers Festival and the Sydney Opera House.[31]

Published works[edit]

Collections of press cartoons and original art and/or poems

  • The Penguin Leunig (1974) (40th anniversary reissue 2014)
  • The Second Leunig: a Dusty Little Swag (1979)
  • The Bedtime Leunig (1981)
  • A Bag of Roosters (1983)
  • Ramming the Shears (1985)
  • The Travelling Leunig (1990)
  • A Common Prayer (1990)
  • The Prayer Tree (1990)
  • Introspective (1991)
  • A Common Philosophy (1992)
  • Everyday Devils and Angels (1992)
  • A Bunch of Poesy (1992)
  • You and Me (1995)
  • Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness (1996)
  • Why Dogs Sniff Each Other's Tails (1998)
  • Goatperson and Other Tales (1999)
  • Carnival of the Animals (2000)
  • The Curly Pyjama Letters (2001)
  • The Stick and Other Tales of our Times (2002)
  • Poems (2003)
  • Kicking Behinds (2003)
  • Strange Creature (2003)
  • Wild Figments (2004)
  • A New Penguin Leunig (2005)
  • Hot and Bothered (2007)
  • The Lot: in Words (2008)
  • When I Talk to You (2014)
  • Musings from the Inner Duck (2015)

Multi-decade compilations

  • Poems: 1972-2002 (2003 hardback) later Curly Verse: Selected Poems (2010 paperback)
  • The Essential Leunig: Cartoons from a Winding Path (2012)
  • Holy Fool: Artworks (2014)
  • The Wayward Leunig (2015)

Works in the Australian National Bibliographic database[edit]


  1. ^ Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth (1 January 2006). 1001 Australians You Should Know. Pluto Press Australia]. ISBN 9781864033618. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  2. ^ "Biography". Leunig.com.au website. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b Michael Leunig (9 February 2008). "Education and the bunghole of life". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  4. ^ Michael Leunig (13 January 2007). "Blood and guts, violence and death". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  5. ^ Michael Leunig (14 October 2006). "Lest we forget". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  6. ^ Gravett, Paul, 1001 Comics You Should Read Before You Die, Universe, 2011, p. 269.
  7. ^ "Leunig, Michael (1945–) – People and organisations". Trove. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Richard Phillips (23 February 2006). "Zionists witch-hunt Australia's leading cartoonist". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  9. ^ Michael Leunig (7 June 2008). "Art from the heart". The Age. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  10. ^ "Leunig and Good Taste". Media Watch. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 May 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Australian in Iran cartoon 'hoax'". BBC News. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  12. ^ Norrie, Justin (16 February 2006). "Chaser behind Leunig stunt". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  13. ^ Tyeson, Cam (9 November 2018). "The Melbourne Comedy Festival Has Quietly Binned Anti-Vax Lunatic Leunig". Pedestrian.tv. Retrieved 5 June 2024.
  14. ^ "Cartoonist Michael Leunig axed from prime spot at The Age over anti-Dan Andrews image" by Ben Graham, news.com.au, 25 October 2021
  15. ^ "People Are Roasting Leunig's Awful Comparison Of The Anti-Vax Movement To Tiananmen Square". Junkee. 28 September 2021. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  16. ^ Chang, Charis (27 September 2021). "'Offensive' Leunig anti-vax cartoon slammed". news.com.au. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  17. ^ Croggon, Alison (2 April 1991), "My life with a duck. -Cartoonist Michael Leunig-", Bulletin (Sydney): 98–99, ISSN 1440-7485
  18. ^ Holland, Angus (21 November 1995), "Mr Curly comes clean. -Inside the Michael Leunig asylum.-", Sydney Weekly: 12–15, ISSN 1324-3993
  19. ^ a b "The Curly Pyjama Letters by Michael Leunig". www.penguin.com.au. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  20. ^ Leunig, Michael (October 1987), "Michael Leunig: poetry in pictures. -Interview conducted by Ewins, Rory-", Togatus, 58 (8): 16–19, retrieved 27 October 2014
  21. ^ Leunig, Michael (6 May 1991), "Michael Leunig, a very unpretentious man. -Interview-", Lot's Wife, 21 (i.e. v.31) (6): 12–14, retrieved 27 October 2014
  22. ^ Leunig, Michael (1995), "Making a cartoon: despair, chaos ... and the clock keeps ticking. - Interview with Michael Leunig by O'Connor, Peter-", Temenos (Canberra) (1): 19–22, retrieved 27 October 2014
  23. ^ Leunig, Michael (23 April 2000), "A Leunig kind of thing [For more than 30 years Michael Leunig has presented his unique cartoon vision of the human condition. Interview by, McAloon, Dan]", Catholic Weekly, 59 (4008): 12–13, ISSN 0008-8420
  24. ^ a b The Leunig Fragments
  25. ^ The Guardian
  26. ^ "Rewind". Sunday Life Magazine the Sunday Age: 54. 16 December 2007.
  27. ^ "About". maryleunig.com website. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  28. ^ Leunig Fragments documentary.
  29. ^ "iGoogle Artist Themes – Michael Leunig". Archived from the original on 15 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  30. ^ "Tarran, Myall; Wilson, Peter; Hill, Robert (April 2016). "Oldest record of Metrosideros (Myrtaceae): Fossil flowers, fruits, and leaves from Australia". American Journal of Botany. 103 (4): 754–768. doi:10.3732/ajb.1500469. PMID 27056926.
  31. ^ "Gyan and Mr Curly" (PDF). The Echo – Echonetdaily. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 August 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2013.

External links[edit]