The Cartoons

If you don’t ask you don’t get, if you do ask you get stuff all.”

John Frith, c. 1975

In 1950 John Frith was approached by artist and humourist of Smith’s Weekly, Stan Cross. Acting on behalf of Sir Keith Murdoch, Managing Director of The Herald and Weekly Times, Cross sought to lure John Frith to The Herald in Melbourne. Continued below...

Robert Menzies and Arthur Fadden (dressed as a woman) emerge from a door labelled Divorce Court. Fadden pushes an empty pram, while Menzies holds Billy Hughes, depicted as a screaming baby.
Robert Menzies, dressed as a lifeguard, emerges from the ocean holding a woman he has rescued from drowning. However, a more handsome lifeguard, with a sash that reads Labor, gets the credit, with the woman crying ‘My Hero!’ as she tries to embrace him.
Robert Menzies holds a camera and photographs a Maori pou whenua (carved wooden pole), in which the indignant faces of Doc Evatt and Arthur Calwell can be seen staring back at him.
A man and his wife are staring at a large barometer marked: Cold War, Change, Peace, Happy Christmas and War, with one hand pointing to change, and one to cold war. He holds a newspaper which reads Fighting Ends on Indian Border. Cuba Quiet.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is depicted sitting in the sun on top of the globe, inside a rapidly melting block of ice.
A man (Frith) mows his lawn, while another man waves to him over the fence. On the second man’s shoulders and climbing a tree near him are three children, one of whom holds a flag which says Irian. There are palm trees and desert on the other side of the fence, and a lot of people crowding the yard.
Robert Menzies walking two ducks, wearing crowns, as two bemused gentlemen walk behind him. The Provisional Parliament House is in the background. They are watched by a muzzled dog and a bird holding a sign: Dogs Eat Royal Ducks.
Caricatures of several leading world politicians kissing one another: Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenaur (who hangs from a rope); John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro; Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong; Robert Menzies and Arthur Calwell; and Gamal Abdel Nasser and David Ben-Gurian, who is standing on a stepladder.
Robert Menzies is depicted as Little Jack Horner, cutting into a large pie. He is surrounded by representations of the six state Premiers, of which Henry Bolte is most prominent, holding plates expectantly. A bird outside the window holds a sign: Rush to invest in C’wealth Loan.
A family of four (a father in a suit, mother in an apron, older girl and young boy) roll out a very long carpet along a roadway which bears the message: welcome. The mother has a Union Flag in her hat and the father an Australian flag. An observing kangaroo also holds an Australian flag and an observing bird holds both.
A lifeguard stands in a tower labelled Australia’s Watchtower, staring with binoculars at a cloud of smoke on the horizon labelled Indonesia-Malaysia tension.
Robert Menzies depicted as a thistle, while a cranky Arthur Calwell looks on.
Sir Robert Menzies and Arthur Calwell, in trekking or safari outfits, greet John Frith as they emerge from thick jungle or forest. They carry briefcases labelled To Canberra.
Calwell and Menzies each mounted on horseback in armour in a jousting tournament. A sign nearby says No confidence tournament: Calwell challenges Sir Bob. Looking on is Frith himself, dressed as a princess.
John F. Kennedy looks on in exasperation as a small girl (Caroline) sits in a chair talking on the telephone, which is labelled Direct Line to the Kremlin’ In the second panel, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is seen speaking on the phone, to Caroline, labelled Direct Line To The White House. Khrushchev is watched by a portrait of himself.
A figure of a woman representing Justice, carrying a sword, a scale and with a sash labelled Justice, is ejected from a courthouse by Hendrik Verwoerd, as a black South African man looks on dejectedly.
A tour guide shows a group of tourists the opened doors to the Senate. Over the doorway is a large cobweb.
Arthur Calwell, wearing a Roman helmet, approaches an American soldier holding a sign saying Not before you consult us. The soldier is guarding a large button labelled Fire! Press button – quick!
The by-election for the seat of Grey in South Australia had returned a Labor MP but by a narrower margin than at the 1961 federal election.
A hand holding a banknote. The banknote features Sir Robert Menzies wearing a crown, the Australian coat of arms and the words One Royal. John Frith is depicted on the note with a worried expression.
Robert Menzies, with an umbrella, and Harold Holt are struggling to walk in a fierce storm. The hailstones falling all around them are all labelled No.
U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev are facing a convex mirror like those found at amusement parks, which makes their reflections look like monsters with devil’s horns and demonic appearance.
Two workmen are bringing a long, rolled up piece of material into a building while a worried-looking Menzies observes.
Arthur Calwell is shown as a bushwalker with a backpack labelled Labor election hopes. A guide (Frith) is showing him a sign reading Nationalisation dead-end, which points over a cliff.
Menzies is shown behind the wheel of a car, with Holt in the passenger seat and Calwell in the back seat. The wheels of the car are emitting smoke and sparks, and there is a burn trail below the car. John Frith is a police officer who has pulled the car over, as a traffic jam piles up behind them.
Menzies and Holt are dressed as chefs, stirring a large bowl. Holt holds a cookbook labelled ‘Holt’s recipe’. Arthur Calwell, wearing a chef’s hat, sticks his head through the open window. He holds a book called Calwell’s Recipe for Budget Pudding.
A doctor (Frith) is examining Menzies with a stethoscope as Arthur Calwell looks on. A headline on a nearby newspaper reads Fed. Gov’t survives budget censure motion.
Henry Bolte surrounded by caricatures of Robert Menzies, Arthur Calwell, John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev and Harold Macmillan. All are wearing long Fu Manchu moustaches and traditional Chinese costume.
Menzies is dressed as a gypsy fortune teller, looking into a crystal ball. Opposite him, a concerned-looking Calwell stares into the ball with him.
John Frith stands on a platform, with Menzies holding a trapeze, urging Frith to grab hold of it. Opposite, Arthur Calwell swings on another trapeze, labelled as general election.
Sir Robert Menzies and Arthur Calwell are shown as golfers, wearing golf outfits and carrying clubs. Sir Robert is about to tee off. Calwell is confronting him, shouting ‘TFX…TSR2…production line…when available…costs…drawing boards…prototype…how much…etc, etc, etc, etc……’. John Frith stands nearby with a sign saying Aust. Open Election and a Menzies vs Calwell scoreboard.
Frith is in formal dress at the races. On either side of him are Menzies and Calwell, leaning down and whispering into each ear. Menzies whispers ‘Back Liberal – can’t lose’ and Calwell ‘Put it on Labor – it’s a cert’.
A worried Menzies sits in a foxhole, wearing a military helmet, as a series of missiles streak towards him. The missiles are labelled Child endowment increase, More for education, Free health plan, Extra maternity allowance, cheap housing loans and increased-pensions. A smug Arthur Calwell, also wearing a helmet in a foxhole, looks on, the missiles having been fired from launchers behind him.
A man (Frith) and a woman stand between two pie stalls, one manned by Calwell and the other by Menzies. Each holds a large pie; Calwell’s is labelled Lab policy. Frith is eating a slice of Calwell’s pie. Next to them is a board with the headline Menzies’ pie-tasting tomorrow night.
Menzies and Calwell are cricketers; a scoreboard reads Test: Libs v Lab. Menzies holds a cricket bat labelled preferential voting, while Calwell has a much larger bat labelled First-past-the-post voting.
A hand in a sleeve featuring the US flag places a book on a shelf. The book is labelled Kennedy and the other books Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Hoover and Wilson.
Menzies and Calwell are both dressed as barristers and standing before a judge. The judge holds two papers, one labelled Lib case, and one Lab case. The judge says ‘I shall deliver judgement tomorrow’.
Menzies is shown on a tennis court, leaping over the net, throwing his racquet aside in glee, beaming before a crowd.
On a stage, Menzies is dressed as a magician. He stands before a wooden box containing two different Sir Garfield Barwicks, lying with their heads sticking out opposite ends. One is labelled Barwick Attorney-General, and one Barwick External Affairs. Menzies holds a saw and is about to saw the two Barwicks in half. A sign in front of them reads The portfolios of Attorney-General and External Affairs may be separated.
Menzies is driving a car, wearing a seat belt labelled Big Majority. Harold Holt and John McEwen are in the car’s back seat.
A soldier, labelled Britain, is standing on one side of a very small Suez canal. Harold Holt is on the other side, near a signpost labelled East of Suez. Holt has grabbed the soldier’s leg and is stretching it as far as it will go over the canal.
A drill sergeant stands before a line of different versions of Sir Robert Menzies, all wearing different costumes, representing stages of Menzies’ long career in law, politics and academia.
Two cricketers wearing bearskin hats as found on guards at Buckingham Palace are playing cricket at Lord’s against several players wearing slouch hats. The slouch hatted players, presumably Australians, are very surprised by the bearskin hats.
On a stage, a formally-dressed Paul Hasluck introduces a dancer (U.S. President Lyndon Johnson), wearing a dress labelled American Bombing. Watching, Ho Chi Minh (labelled Nth Vietnam) shouts ‘Take it off!’
A coffin labelled ‘Martin Luther King’ sits before the United States Capitol, its flag at half mast, as a thunderstorm rages above the Capitol and flames burn across it and the city in the background.
A Soviet soldier, decorated with hammers and sickles, stands holding a rifle. On one shoulder a man stands holding a Czech flag and a banner reading Czechoslovakia’s 50th Anniversary, and before the soldier stands a sign reading: Anti-Soviet Demonstrations will not be tolerated. By order – Kosygin. The man on the soldier’s shoulder is shouting ‘Go Home!’ into the soldier’s ear, and the words emerge from a cloud out of the other ear.
John Gorton is on a stage wearing an acrobat’s costume, precariously balancing Gordon Freeth on one arm, Dudley Erwin on the other and William McMahon doing a handstand on Gorton’s head. Gough Whitlam sits in a viewing box armed with a slingshot, taking aim at Gorton.
Arthur Calwell depicted as a cockatoo on a perch, screeching ‘Curse the press!’
Gough Whitlam depicted in stereotypical French attire – a beret, striped T-shirt, and with a poodle on a leash.
Caricature of Doug Anthony, Deputy Prime Minister in the Fraser government.
Caricature of Andrew Peacock, Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Fraser government.
Caricature of John Dawkins, Shadow Minister for Education and later Minister for Education in the Hawke government, later still Treasurer in the Keating government.
Caricature of David Combe, National Secretary of the Australian Labor Party. Combe was involved in a spy scandal early in the Hawke government when he was accused of being a potential security risk due to his friendship with a Soviet official. Combe was later exonerated.
A woman, labelled Australia, sits on a couch. Bob Hawke, an angry look on his face, approaches her holding a cactus like a bouquet of flowers. The cactus is labelled Strikes.
Caricature of Paul Keating.
Caricature of Robert Menzies.
Bob Hawke depicted as a strongman or weightlifter, flexing muscles.
Caricature of Paul Keating.
Caricature of Ben Chifley.
Caricature of Malcolm Fraser.
John Kerr depicted with Gough Whitlam sitting roughly and uncomfortably on Kerr’s head.
Caricature of a weightlifter representing an unknown politician.
Rough sketches of Malcom Fraser

Over many pots I listened to Stan outlining the Murdoch proposition… we continued to haggle until 2.30 am… Stan recorded all the misty details on sheets of paper which between hiccups he handed me and between hiccups I signed. I doubt if a more incomprehensible contract was ever signed in such dismal surroundings at such an hour… my signature closed my years as cartoonist with the Sydney Morning Herald.”

John Frith, c. 1975

Frith soon found that his political cartoons were not always to management’s liking…

Early in the piece I had to withstand a great deal of needling and piddling criticism over cartoons which were considered too political… My options were very limited. I decided to carry on and live in the hope that someone in authority would eventually get ‘fire in the belly’ and give a cartoonist full reign for his talents.”

John Frith, c. 1975

However, Frith waited in vain.

He remained with the paper until 1969 when he retired from the newspaper scene. With no fanfare or public farewell, John Frith left his Herald studio closing forty successful years as one of Australia’s greatest political cartoonists.

Many of these original cartoons by John Frith were published in the Melbourne Herald newspaper between 1962 and 1968. They were donated to the museum’s collection by the Frith family in 2012. The others are caricatures of public figures Frith drew which have not been published.