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Drawing the Line

Chapter 5.
Wavering between Virtue and Vice

Constructions of Youth in Australian Cartoons of the Late-Victorian Era

Simon Sleight Monash University

This chapter examines issues of embodiment, exploring the ways in which cartoonists have employed metaphors of youthfulness to broach society’s leading questions. Focusing specifically on cartoons concerning Australian topics in the late-Victorian period, the analysis exposes a dichotomy between those who regarded youth as a realm of possibility and those for whom youth represented weakness or failing. Analysing the visual currency of youth casts light not only upon the use of characterisation to convey meaning but also upon a series of contemporary colonial debates ranging from familial domestic dramas to the interactions of a politically incipient Australian nation with its longer-established imperial ‘parents’.

When a Lincolnshire court sentenced George Trickett to transportation to Australia in 1833, scarcely could the 24-year-old have imagined that a little over 40 years later his son would return to England and redeem the family name in such spectacular fashion.1 On 27 June 1876, Australian-born Edward Trickett – ‘Ned’ to his friends – found himself lining up on the Thames in London to race English champion Joseph Sadler for the sculling championship of the world. Along the river banks a vast crowd had gathered to witness the event, with further groups of onlookers crammed aboard steamers plying the course in search of the best vantage points. No doubt most spectators expected the local star to outclass the Australian, with Sadler the punters’ clear favourite to retain the title when racing commenced from Putney at 5.38 pm.2 Yet some 25 minutes later, and four-and-a-quarter miles downstream, Ned Trickett crossed the finish line at Mortlake a full four lengths ahead of his exhausted rival, so becoming the first Australian to win a world championship in any sport.3

From the moment that the opponents’ oars first skimmed the water the contest conveyed symbolic meaning. While Sadler stuck to traditional sculling methods, Trickett employed the modern efficiency-enhancing sliding seat.4 Sadler’s boat, the Lancelot, recalled in name past glories and mythical acts of heroism; Trickett’s vessel, christened Young Australia, evoked ideas of incipience, youthful potential and future development.5 Press reporters were quick to draw further contrasts: Trickett, they noted, was twelve years younger, half a stone heavier and five inches taller than his competitor.6 The Englishman, it seemed, was ‘played out’; by comparison with the Australian’s youth and vigour, Sadler’s force looked spent. Capturing the mood in visual terms in the aftermath of the race, a Sydney cartoonist depicted Trickett receiving a handshake from ‘Father Thames’, a Poseidon-like figure who asks the ‘young Cornstalk’ whether there are ‘Any more like you over there where you come from?’.7 The question suggested curiosity, congratulation and trepidation in equal measure. Here youth was represented as a decided virtue, a source of fitness and raw power. But this was far from the only way in which the category of youth was imagined during the late-Victorian era.8 Trickett’s victory may have been comprehensive, but this did not always entail that cartoonists would portray youth in a positive light. Indeed, as this chapter reveals, the concept of youth held wildly different meanings for cartoonists working on Australian topics. In some circumstances it signified a highly positive attribute; in other situations it implied abject failure. To explore the graphic terrain between these contradictory positions, what follows examines as case studies 15 images produced during the period, assessing in each instance the intended purposes behind portrayals of youthfulness, and connecting the findings to nineteenth-century discussions about individual and collective identities, age-related transition and the ‘generation gap’. In addition, the chapter alerts historians to the wider significance of reading youth into cartoons produced in other social contexts and argues that resonances of nineteenth-century constructions of youth continue to persist in today’s political climate.

Australian historians have seldom considered factors of youth and generation in their analyses, particularly where visual evidence is concerned. With a handful of exceptions,9 the part played by age-related cartoons in informing late-Victorian debates about the nature of the native-born, local political discussions and wider imperial relationships has been overlooked. This is surprising, given the frequency with which cartoonists working in the period employed images of youth to convey meanings about individual historical actors or broader themes of colony, nation and empire. To the cartoonists, youth proved an eminently malleable concept: a way of exploring personal and political relationships and helping explain the leading issues of the day. Whether intending to bolster or belittle the subjects of their cartoons, cartoonists turned repeatedly to signifiers of youth to mediate their respective messages. To access this visual discussion, I have focused on cartoons circulated by a range of Australian publications – mostly based in Melbourne – during the final decades of the nineteenth century and the very early 1900s. In defining my selection criteria, I have been guided by Raphael Samuel’s suggestions to scrutinise ‘families’ of images and contextualise ‘the figures of national myth’ with one another by seeking out representational similarities and differences.10 This approach has allowed for close comparisons to be drawn across a body of work produced by different cartoonists interested in similar themes and almost certainly influenced by one another’s efforts. Samuel’s method further paves the way for assessments to be made regarding change across time, clearly an important rationale for any historical investigation.

Where cartoonists depicted young people or ‘youth’ more broadly defined, a number of layers of graphic exposition can be discerned. Images ranged from cartoons concerning specific individuals to the use of generic child-like figures to express opinions about the activities of the native-born or Australia’s place within the British Empire. In seeking to mine these different levels for meaning in what follows, I have principally adopted a context-based methodology, as I firmly believe that cartoons are best understood by accessing the specific social milieux in which they are produced. This said, I also approach individual cartoons as unique ‘texts’ which invite viewers, then as now, to make their own interpretations. This marriage between a context- and text-driven analysis allows historians to maintain a sense of rootedness in the past, whilst at the same time appreciating that the message of a particular cartoon lies not solely with the intention of the cartoonist but also with the circumstances of its reception and the unique linkages that observers make between one image and another.

Late-Victorian Australia provides fertile ground for such an analysis. As a place of European settlement and by contrast with ‘older’ nations like Britain and France, Australia was relatively ‘young’ in this period. Not until 1901, moreover, did the various Australian colonies federate to form a political union. In the lead-up to this event, contemporaries began to speak more and more often of ‘Young Australia’, a concept often infused with nationalistic rhetoric and further underpinned by demographic factors and the rise to numerical prominence of the local born.11 At the census in 1871, children aged 14 years and under comprised 42 per cent of the white Australian population, with the largest concentration based in Victoria and its capital city, Melbourne.12 The Victorian goldfields had lured tens of thousands of prospectors during the 1850s, and the legacy of this influx – as the migrants settled and married – was a population boom. Distributed by colony, Victoria was home to the largest number of under-14s between the 1860s and the 1890s.13 This concentration of young people contributed in turn to heated discussion in Melbourne’s literary circles about such topics as ‘the Coming Australian’ and the especially contentious question of whether or not Australian climatic factors would lead to a decline in ‘racial pedigree’.14 By the late 1870s, furthermore, a momentous shift had occurred whereby the Australian native-born for the first time outnumbered those who had come from overseas.15 This change, compounded with the distinctly youthful nature of the local population, accounts in large measure for a key aspect which informs a reading of late-Victorian cartoons: Melbourne’s generation gap.

That gap forms the subject of Figure 5.1. Street smart and savvy, the two ‘Young Australians’ drawn here in a Melbourne street take delight in embarrassing the ‘old buffer’ by squirting water into his eye as he crosses a drainage channel. The cartoon carries obvious comic overtones and seems to endorse the capacities of the street boys to outwit and outsmart their social superiors. The date is significant in reading this image, for it was from the early 1860s that social commentators became increasingly interested in exploring the place of young people in the urban environment.16 Appearing in the Melbourne Punch (a conservative digest of social affairs aimed at well-heeled adult readers), this cartoon can perhaps best be regarded as something of a wake-up call for the magazine’s subscribers. The native-born have arrived, this example announces. Crossing an urban divide, an adult Melburnian encounters the younger generation, experiences ‘astonishment’ and doubtless a new apprehension of urban youth, in both senses implied by the term.

Figure 5.1. ‘A Palpable Hit’, Melbourne Punch, 8 March 1860 (An old colonist is embarrassed by two ‘Young Australians’).

Courtesy Rare Books, Matheson Library, Monash University.

Figure 5.2, ‘Young Australia’ (1885), conveys a similar message concerning precocity. On the left-hand side of the cartoon, another street encounter between a youngster and an ‘old gent’ sees the 12-year old protagonist eschewing the adult’s paternalistic entreaty by returning the sentiments from a position of equality. On the right hand side a parallel exchange takes place within a domestic setting. Here mother’s attempts to reason with her daughter prove similarly ineffective, with the young girl forthright in her opinion that her way is best. Understanding the objective of this cartoon is not entirely straightforward. Is the viewer, one wonders, intended to side with the young people against the adult injunctions, smile at the children’s trifling impertinence or instead criticise them as young upstarts? Taking this cartoon in isolation, each of these interpretations would appear plausible. By reading the image in concert with numerous other examples, however, a clearer framework emerges in which this figure (and also Figure 5.1) can be located.17 Seen to be wise before their time, the colonial youth depicted in these cartoons are consistently depicted as brazen and (over-)confident: an indication that adults regarded the native-born as a new and different breed. Such images distil a wide variety of societal debates into plain terms, and suggest that historian Anne Higonnet’s twentieth-century ‘Knowing child’ – images of whom ‘endow children with psychological and physical individuality at the same time as they recognise them being distinctively child-like’ – finds its close relation in nineteenth-century cartoons.18 These imagined children are also ‘knowing’; indeed they know too much, even if they retain, in something of a paradox, a certain childish naivety. Their appearance in late-Victorian journals like the Melbourne Punch and Australian Tit-bits serves to indicate a society with mixed feelings about the young people in its midst.

Figure 5.2. ‘Young Australia’, Australian Tit-bits, 12 November 1885: 12 (The precociousness of ‘Young Australia’).

Courtesy, Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria.

As Victoria’s precocious youngsters matured, some of them formed their own organisations. Among these the Australian Natives Association (ANA) came to play a leading role in colonial affairs. Founded in Melbourne in 1871, the ANA enshrined white ‘nativist’ thinking in concrete terms: ‘pride in native birth, shading into an assumption of superiority [and the] assertion of special rights for natives’.19 Although its growth was at first unspectacular, within 15 years the ANA was firmly established in Victoria with nearly 4,500 members (mostly aged in their early twenties) and 58 branches.20 What began modestly as a mutual benefit society with a membership confined to the Australian-born quickly began to engage with ‘national’ concerns, most particularly the movement to federate the Australian colonies. Equally significant, the ANA helped cultivate the generational divide by sponsoring debates on ‘Australian’ topics and, at its most radical fringe, by alleging that colonists born overseas lacked patriotism and political ability.21

Given the age profile of its membership and the causes it stood for, it was perhaps unsurprising that cartoonists often chose to represent the ANA as youthful. In 1892, for instance, the conservative Melbourne Punch portrayed the organisation as a grinning child, impudent and ignorant.22 Even in 1900, by which time most periodicals had come to appreciate the Association as a mature player on the political scene, its members blessed with a special kind of patriotism, Ambrose Dyson drew a disparaging illustration for the Adelaide Critic on the subject of one of the ANA’s campaigning causes – 26 January as a national holiday – with the organisation again appearing as a juvenile (Figure 5.3).23 The actual age of ANA members was indeed young (most members, notes Marian Quartly, were aged in their low 20s in the 1880s, and closer to 30 during the 1890s), but here the visual imagery of youth was employed to suggest immaturity and inexperience rather than potential or wisdom.24 In the cartoon, entitled ‘More “Crimson” Links’, a slightly bashful ANA child looks on as a humbled ‘Miss Federation’ scowls at the indignity of being forced to remember Australia’s convict origins (strikingly referenced by leg irons and the figure hanging by the neck in the background). The title of the cartoon is an allusion to New South Wales Premier Henry Parkes’ famous phrase ‘the crimson thread of kinship’, a metaphor conjured to emphasise the blood link to Britain. Far from being progressive, here the ANA is seen as reactionary in recalling the past instead of looking towards the future. Youth in this instance is a hindrance, not something to be celebrated.

Figure 5.3. Ambrose Dyson, ‘More “Crimson” Links’, Critic, 22 September 1900, and reproduced in Margaret Anderson, Julia Clark and Andrew Reeves, 1998, editors, When Australia Was a Woman: Images of a Nation, Perth: Western Australian Museum: 77.

Caption reads: “The A.N.A. in Melbourne are trying to induce officialdom to make 26 January the big Federal holiday.” – Daily paper.

A.N.A. – “I think it becomes you immensely”.

Federation – “You’ve never been happy without your leg irons”’.).

Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

Depicting an organisation with political ambitions as youthful could evidently carry negative connotations, and the same point holds true for cartoons of individual politicians. It was an oft-repeated jibe amongst the older generation of Australians in the late nineteenth century that no credible political leader had yet emerged from the ranks of the native-born.25 Alfred Deakin – local boy and ANA member – would change all that, though first he would have to contend with the cartoonist’s power to denigrate.26 When Deakin was elected to lead the Liberal side in a coalition government with Duncan Gillies’ conservatives in 1886, the Melbourne Punch scoffed and predicted troubled waters ahead. In the illustration ‘The New Boat’ (Figure 5.4), Deakin stands somewhat unsteadily at the prow of the coalition ship of state. He is dressed farcically in the sailor suit of the ‘Little Boy from Manly’, cartoonist Livingston Hopkins’ representation of a naïve if determined New South Wales and/or Australia (first drawn for the Sydney Bulletin in 1885 and only copied infrequently outside that colony). Deakin, aged 29 when the government was formed, is seen to embody Youth, whilst his Scottish-born coalition partner Gillies, indolently resting a hand on the tiller as he holds both a cocktail and a cigar, is portrayed by Punch artist Tom Carrington as epitomising Pleasure. Neither attribute is acknowledged as a virtue. Geoffrey Serle notes that Gillies had a reputation as ‘a convivial clubman’ with an eye for the ladies; here his languid, self-absorbed posture suggests that if anyone is likely to rock the boat, so to speak, it will be him.27 The composition is inspired by William Etty’s oil painting ‘Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm’ (1830–32), dutifully referenced by Carrington in the cartoon’s subtitle.28 Etty’s allegorical picture portrays the crew of a vessel too engrossed in self-amusement to notice gathering dark clouds which will sweep them to their doom. Evidently Carrington had little hope for a smooth passage with Deakin and Gillies in charge.

Figure 5.4. Tom Carrington, ‘The New Boat’, Melbourne Punch, 18 February 1886: 64.

Courtesy Rare Books, Matheson Library, Monash University.

Figure 5.5, a front cover for the short-lived Melbourne journal The Outpost, also employs the visual language of youth to make its political point. The context for this cartoon is the Victorian parliamentary election of 1900. Here ‘The Country’, a father figure representing the Victorian voters and/or Premier Turner’s political allies from country electorates, thrashes the political ‘children’ who have just lost their seats in the November vote. Known during the 1890s as the ‘Young Australia’ faction, William Watt, Hume Cook and their young political companions were all associated with the ANA. In their entry for Watt in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, John Anderson and Geoffrey Serle note that members of the group were highly critical of Turner’s cautious positions on a number of issues including federation, taxation, land policy and also with regard to the decision to send a military contingent to the Second South African War.29 They helped to dismiss Turner in 1899, and under Premier Allan McLean, Watt became postmaster-general (hence the reference in the cartoon to the GPO) – reputedly the youngest cabinet minister in the Empire.30 The cartoon reveals a scathing attitude towards these ‘Young Australia’ politicians, portrayed here as naughty little upstarts who need to be kept firmly in their place. Once again the imagery of youth is invoked to create a striking scene and simultaneously undercut the idea of youth as an asset.

Figure 5.5. ‘Skip’, The Outpost, 10 November 1900: front cover.

Figures named (left to right): Hamilton; Watt; ‘the Country’; McCay; Hume Cook.

Caption reads: ‘The Country: “I’ll teach you to go forming Young Australia parties”.

Children: “Oo-oo-hoo. It was only a joke”’.

Courtesy Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Forming a marked contrast to images in which youth is regarded as a failing, cartoonists wishing to compare the colony of Victoria to neighbouring New South Wales often chose to emphasise youthfulness as an important virtue: something, in short, to be celebrated. Around the time of Victoria’s separation from its longer-settled northern neighbour in 1851, the image of a sprightly Victoria had occasionally been contrasted with a hoary, convict-tainted New South Wales.31 When issues of trading preferences or indecision on the federal question arose at a later date, Melbourne’s cartoonists would again render the colony across the Murray River as decrepit in order to promote Victoria’s position. In Figure 5.6, for instance, the economic systems of the two colonies are differentiated, much to Victoria’s favour. Here it is ‘Protection’ in the guise if a youthful, gracefully-proportioned and fashionable Victoria who carries the purse of contentment while New South Wales – represented by an old, overweight and overdressed woman struggling with a battered sunshade – clings on to the doctrine of ‘Free Trade’.32 Victoria, the caption informs us, is ‘cool and comfortable’, ‘trim and tidy’; New South Wales, by comparison, is exhausted by the heat and consequently chastised for not adapting to Australian conditions. This caption also conveys a secondary message. New South Wales, Victoria asserts, is blindly following ‘foreign fashions’ and wearing the clothes of ‘Home’ (that is, Britain) rather than a more practical local fabric. By implication, therefore, it is Victoria which is the more patriotically ‘Australian’. Figure 5.7, published in an offshoot of the same magazine two years earlier, explores a similar theme. While all the other colonies frolic youthfully in the ‘Federation Baths’, a haggard and thickset ‘Old Lady’ (identified as New South Wales) expresses reluctance to join in. Here the cartoonist is employing a youthful metaphor to poke fun at the softy-softly approach to federation then being advocated by the New South Wales press. An accompanying poem rams home the message:

Figure 5.6. ‘Imitation is the Sincerest Flattery’, Life, with which is incorporated Australian Tit-bits, 25 May 1886: 9 (Striding ahead – a youthful Victoria leaves an elderly New South Wales lagging behind).

Caption reads: New South Wales – ‘My word! How cool and comfortable she looks. I say, miss, why can’t I be as trim and tidy and contented as you are?’
Victoria – ‘Because you don’t adapt yourself to the climate. That gingham of yours is all very well at Home, but in these new countries we should wear what we need, and not blindly follow foreign fashions. Get a sunshade like mine, and you’ll soon be smiling’.
Courtesy Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Figure 5.7. ‘Extreme Caution’, Australian Tit-bits, 13 November 1884: 9.

Caption reads: Old Lady On Platform – ‘No, you giddy young things, I am not going into the water until I have learned to swim!’ (New South Wales papers say they don’t want Federation ‘until they know all about it’.)
Courtesy Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Old Granny Sydney won’t go in;

The Fossil fears a dip;

Because she hasn’t led the way,

She seems to have the pip.

A Federation bath she thinks

May prove she’s losing caste;

She much prefers her being thought

A relic of the past.33

With the political context shifted from an individual or local level to that of inter-colonial rivalry, the cartoonist’s whim has transformed youth into an outright virtue. In such instances observers are invited to interpret youth not as retrograde but rather as a progressive force.

When weighing up matters of nation and empire, cartoonists turned once again to the visual language of youth to offer their opinions. As is becoming clear, it was only a short imaginative step from perceiving the child at large in the colony to the colony itself (and indeed the incipient Australian nation) as childlike, or otherwise youthful. The relationship between ‘Young Australia’ and its British imperial ‘parents’ provided a source of particular fascination in this regard, with cartoonists ever keen to address matters of state in terms of generational interaction. One of the earliest cartoons to picture Australia in this way featured in an 1850 edition of the London Punch (Figure 5.8). Here we see Australia as an oversized lad, standing tall whilst his measurements are taken by John Russell, the British Prime Minister, in his imperial outfitter’s shop. Australia appears pleased: he has outgrown his clothes and new ones are clearly required. The context for this cartoon is the Australian Colonies Government Act, then a subject of debate in the British Parliament. The Act paved the way for the separation of Port Phillip from New South Wales and granted a limited form of self-governance to the Australian colonies. Van Diemen’s Land, now to be renamed Tasmania, was also to receive a legislature, and hence the smaller figure in the cartoon (already separated from his loftier sibling) prepares to take off his jacket in preparation for new attire. Punch readers who thought that the Australian colonies were to now figuratively ‘come of age’ as maturing democracies would have been disappointed, however. Once established, the trope of Australia as a youth, poised perpetually on the threshold of adulthood, would prove difficult to transcend. The image of the imperial ‘parent’ would also recur; though accommodating Australia’s growing stature with new vestments, Britain urged its precocious offspring to depend upon its imperial tailoring. Figure 5.9 presents similar concerns from an Australian perspective in 1887 – is the powerful child Australia to be stunted by the desires of his British parents or allowed to outgrow the confines of the imperial household?

Figure 5.8. ‘Lord John Taking the Measure of the Colonies’, Punch, or the London Charivari, XVIII, [1850]: 75 (‘Young Australia’ standing tall – an English depiction of a burgeoning colony).

Figure 5.9. Luther Bradley, ‘An Old Cruelty Revived’, Life, with which is incorporated Australian Tit-bits, 24 March 1887: 9.

Caption reads: Mrs. Britannia – ‘Whatever are you doing to that lad, John?’
Mr. Bull – ‘Hush! Don’t let him hear. I’m giving him a dose as’ll stunt him, so we can keep him handy for work up the chimney. He was getting so big and strong that pretty soon he wouldn’t have gone up at all’.
Whilst a worried Britannia looks on, John Bull attempts to feed the giant lad Australia some of his ‘Imperial Federation Mixture’, in which the bitter taste of the medicine is sweetened with jam. A wary view of the imperial relationship from the Melbourne-based (but American-born) Luther Bradley.
Courtesy Rare Books, Matheson Library, Monash University.

The interrelated issues of change, growth and transition referenced in figures 5.8 and 5.9 acquired increased urgency as the Australian colonies debated the finer points of federation. By encapsulating complex political discussions about the practicalities of an Australian union and Australia’s role in the British Empire, cartoonists helped explain various aspects of the discussion in succinct terms. Choosing to draw the various players as actors in an ongoing family drama proved a masterstroke, affording cartoonists considerable artistic licence and resulting in seemingly endless variations upon a theme close to the hearts and hearths of the reading public. In ‘What Shall We Do With Our Girl?’ (Figure 5.10) and ‘You’re Getting a Big Girl Now’ (Figure 5.11), comparisons are drawn between the transition from youth to maturity of an individual and the position of a colony and potential nation in the imperial household. In 1869 ‘Victoria’ appears ready to assume the mantle of responsibility – her hair is up and her skirts ankle-length (markers of female maturity) and the fruits of her learning and fertility surround her. Yet because she is ‘inclined to be flighty’, Britannia declares sternly that her education must continue ‘a little longer’. Clearly appearances can be deceptive, and Britannia’s comment may be a reference to the dim view taken in the British Colonial Office of Victorian Premier Higinbotham’s resolutions that year to deny the right of the imperial government to intervene in the colony’s domestic affairs.34 Parents pondering this image were intended to read their own domestic discussions into the cartoonist’s carefully constructed scene, for this cartoon and others like it simultaneously address broad political debates and localised household decisions.35 By 1888 (Figure 5.11) the concern is more national; ‘Australia’ attends her centennial birthday party only to be chided by Britannia once again for bringing to the table her ‘toys’, among them ‘Jealousy’, ‘Parliamentary Clowning’, ‘Extravagance’ and ‘Blow’ (potential signs of the fractious debates concerning the issues of how, and where, to hold the centennial feasts). This cartoon suggests that Britain sees herself as distanced from such paltry local distractions, and that ‘Australia’ – who appears younger than the ‘Victoria’ of 1869 – has much still to learn. The fact that both of these illustrations were created in Melbourne for local consumption is intriguing. In each cartoon the subject is subordinate and mute, yet also healthy and attractive. An inferiority complex is in evidence here, alongside a sense of fresh optimism and a belief that the matronly chastisements of Britannia will not always go unanswered.

Figure 5.10. ‘What Shall We Do with Our Girl?’, Humbug, 17 November 1869: np (An Imperial question framed as a domestic issue).

Mrs. Britannia (with asperity): ‘Young girls are inclined to be flighty, John; she’d better stop a little longer’.
Caption reads: John Bull: ‘Don’t you think, my dear, that it’s about time Victoria left school?’
Courtesy La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria.

Figure 5.11. You’re Getting a Big Girl Now’, Melbourne Punch, 26 January 1888: 43.

Courtesy Rare Books, Matheson Library, Monash University.

If Australia was to go its own way, commentators wondered, would this be with or without Britain’s parental blessing? Figures 5.13 and 5.13 consider this question and propose contrasting answers. In 1897, ‘Dame’ Britannia (British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain, in drag) asks a youthful Australia to hand over the axe of independence and remain bound by the imperial apron strings. Australia, precociously holding a pipe, appears to be considering the request but looks ready to sever the link should Britain tighten the reigns. In 1900, by contrast, a key has replaced the axe and Britannia is seen to be content for Australia (depicted here as a young woman) to come and go as she pleases. Both of the cartoons featured in Punch, though the latter image is drawn from the London edition and hence can be taken to represent an ideal view – centring upon orderly transition – from the British perspective. Each image shares the context of ongoing debates about Australian federation and once again dramatises somewhat dry political moments (a speech by Chamberlain, on the one hand, and on the other the insertion of a clause regarding legal appeals into the Australian Federation Bill) by casting them in terms of family drama. Additionally, in a clever turn of phrase, the 1900 cartoon employs a well-known motto of the ANA – ‘Advance Australia’ – and uses it to suggest how rapidly the colony has matured.

Figure 5.12. ‘Looking Ahead’, Melbourne Punch, 22 April 1897: 304.

Caption Reads: Mr Chamberlain stated, in the course of a speech, that if the colonies remained bound to England they might one day equal, or even surpass, that country as nations.
Chamberlain – ‘That’s right, my little fellow. You’ll be a man before your mother if you don’t go trying that axe on these strings. Hadn’t you better give it to me to mind?’.
Courtesy Rare Books, Matheson Library, Monash University.

Figure 5.13. John Tenniel, ‘Advanced Australia!’, Punch, or the London Charivari, CXVIII, 25 April 1900: 299.

Readers will have noted that whilst Britannia and John Bull are depicted fairly consistently across the cartoons examined here, Australia (or Victoria) is drawn in multiple guises, at different ages and either as male or female. According to Josie Castle and Helen Pringle, the varying age and gender of ‘Young Australia’ figures in the late 1800s is evidence of a ‘crisis of political representation’, linked to broader fin de siècle confusion concerning masculine and feminine roles and difficulties in imagining the coming nation.36 Supporting this interpretation, Edmund Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister, appeared in several cartoons either side of Federation wearing drag and dressed either as a wet nurse or midwife (see for instance Figure 5.14).37 Within his arms was commonly cradled a genderless newborn infant – the Australian Commonwealth – which features in these depictions as an inarticulate child far younger than those drawn in the 1870s and ‘80s to represent the nation. In the sexual ambiguity of such images, Castle and Pringle locate fears regarding ‘the fitness for autonomy or self sufficiency of Australian manhood’ and anxieties relating to Australia’s ability to take its place within an orderly and legitimate succession of power.38 To borrow Marilyn Lake’s phrase, if it was ‘mission impossible’ for men to give birth to the nation, then it appeared equally improbable that ‘Young Australia’ could ever constitute itself absolutely without reference to its parents, be they an ageing Britannia and John Bull or awkward-looking and ill-dressed politicians as in figures 5.12 and 5.14.39 Possibly the regression in age which accompanied Federation in 1901 further reflected not just the political ‘infancy’ of the Australian nation, but also a loss of optimism regarding Australia’s future. As Stephen Alomes notes, by the mid-1890s economic depression, drought and a dimming of radical hopes regarding social progress had limited the scope of ‘Young Australia’ discourse.40

Figure 5.14. Livingston Hopkins, ‘Arrival of the New Baby’, Bulletin, 14 July 1900: front cover (One of the most famous cartoon portrayals of the birth of the Australian nation).

Caption reads: Arrival of the New Baby. Nurse Barton: ‘He ain’t much to look at now. But wait till he grows!’
Courtesy Newspaper Collection, State Library of Victoria.

As both poets and cartoonists realise, however, hope and its close cousin, youth, spring eternal. The national figure of a young Australia may not have matured much or even at all by 1901, but cartoonists working in the new century would still find themselves gravitating towards youthful characters to express their hopes and fears for a federated country. Figure 5.15, for example, revises the image of the ‘Little Boy from Manly’ to offer readers of the nationalist Lone Hand journal a ‘Slate Lesson’. Composed by Lionel Lindsay in 1907 to illustrate an article on ‘Prolific Australia’, here we see the Little Boy chalk up the resources of the nation. Coal and iron are listed as in ‘limitless supply’, gold, silver and copper are noted as being available in ‘millions’ (of tons, one presumes); natural resources are ‘boundless’, and there are said to be no obstacles to development in terms of disease, savage wildlife or acts of nature. The cartoon is a visual manifestation of long-cherished beliefs concerning Australia’s youthful potential, now framed in economic terms. Aspects of this thinking echo throughout the twentieth century and are still present in the Australia of 2009, suggesting that in some ways the Australian nation remains poised (some would say stuck) as a budding adolescent.41 Some newspaper cartoonists continue to draw Australia as a child, and for the cover of a recent book on Australia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States, cartoonist Andrew Joyner chose to represent America as a wily ‘Uncle Sam’, surreptitiously holding a gun, and Australia as a young and naïve-looking koala.42 In visual terms at least, Australia looks set to continue its perpetual adolescence.

Figure 5.15. Lionel Lindsay, ‘A Slate Lesson’, The Lone Hand, 1 (1), May 1907: 71.

Courtesy Rare Books Library, Monash University.

In a fascinating consideration of the use of imagery, Raphael Samuel argues that ‘national fictions’, of which the allegorical figures examined here form an integral part, ‘might be considered not as reflections of ideology … but as components in it, an imaginative underpinning, or disguise, for precepts which are the common currency of political debate’.43 As we have seen with the characters drawn to represent ‘Young Australia’, the representations themselves rarely stand in isolation from specific arguments concerning the intricacies of federation, for example, the perceived qualities of the native-born or Australia’s place within the empire. In the posture and actions of a particular figure, then, researchers are often able to perceive both a commentary on contemporary debate and also an attempt to further a particular agenda. Such is the malleability of the metaphor of youth that Australian cartoonists were able to mould many different shapes from the basic precept that theirs was a young country. The idea of youth, put another way, yielded a ‘symbolic repertoire’ from which could be selected key notions – youth as vulnerable, full of potential, naïve, precocious and so on – with which to fashion an argument.44 And as the cartoons of Alfred Deakin and the ‘Young Australia’ politicians illustrate in particular, it was not always actual youth in terms of real age but rather relative youth which might matter most. Youth is itself a relative quality, of course, and when transposed to the imperial level the cartoonists’ re-workings of the generational theme promised to fix an imagined Australia in either a position of youthful subordination or boundless potential.

Expressions of deliberate endeavour as well as more subtle and indeed unintended traces of the illustrator’s craft are revealed when historians study cartoons. This chapter has argued that just as cartoons are ‘cut’ with the purpose of contemporary commentary in mind, so too they are ‘cross-cut’ with a host of further concerns influenced (whether consciously or not) by the context of the day. Other historians have examined how cartoons are informed by and in turn inform ideas of class, race and gender; this analysis, by contrast, has illustrated how an assessment of youth can further extend our grasp of cartoons as historical evidence. Reading youth into the cartoons of late-Victorian Australia discloses an essential ambivalence about individual and collective identities – an uncertainty best explained by considering the ill-defined role of young people in society at this time, a parallel hesitancy about Australia’s ‘national’ standing and, of course, the pragmatism of many different cartoonists for whom youth could be made to represent either a virtue or a vice depending on personal outlook or mere whim. In the eyes of these illustrators, to be young, or to be seen as somehow youthful, was either a positive quality or an outright failing, and this dichotomy perhaps helps account for the ongoing equivocation about young people’s proper place in today’s society. Thinking more broadly, this chapter also shows how cartoons which dwell upon youthful themes are innately political in nature. To study them – in whatever national or temporal context – is to gain a unique access point into the minds of their makers and, as I have suggested here, to tap into a whole series of clues about how society understands the most pressing issues of the day.

Endnotes

1    See Gordon H. Trickett, 2000, Ned Trickett: Champion Sculler of the World, Lane Cove Library: Hippo Books: 8.

2    Sadler was the 2 to 1 favourite at the start of the race (‘Race for the Scullers’ Championship of the World’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 1876: 5).

3    One might more properly say ‘“British World” champion’, for only Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the former colony of America competed at the highest levels in sculling at this time.

4    Trickett, Ned Trickett: 26.

5    The names of the boats are noted in ‘The Sculling Championship’, New York Times, 10 July 1876: 2.

6    ‘The Sculling Championship’, New York Times, 10 July 1876: 2; Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 1876: 5; ‘Trickett’s Victory’, Argus, 16 August 1876: 6–7.

7    Gordon Trickett reproduces the cartoon in Trickett, Ned Trickett: 32. The original is in Sydney Punch, 28 July 1876: 148. A later ballad also cast Trickett as ‘our CORNSTALK, the Champion of the Blue’ (see Trickett, Ned Trickett: 48). The description of Australians (most particularly inhabitants of New South Wales) as ‘cornstalks’ (i.e. long in the limb) is traced by Sidney Baker to Peter Cunningham’s 1827 travelogue Two Years in New South Wales, in which the author remarks that the native-born ‘shoot up’ like Indian corn, evidently exceeding the expectations of cultivators and parents alike (See: Sidney J. Baker, 1959, The Drum: Australian Character and Slang, Sydney: Currawong: 55–56).

8    My use of ‘late-Victorian’ refers to the period from 1870 to Queen Victoria’s death in 1901.

9    See: Ken Stewart, 1996, ‘The Language of “Youth”‘, in Ken Stewart, editor. The 1890s: Australian Literature and Literary Culture, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press: 1–6; Ken Inglis, 1981, ‘Young Australia 1870–1900: The Idea and the Reality’, in Guy Featherstone, editor. The Colonial Child, Melbourne: Royal Historical Society of Victoria: 1–23; and the debate between Inglis, Richard White and Robert Crawford concerning the figure of the ‘Little Boy from Manly’ in Ken Inglis, The Colonial Child; Ken Inglis, 1985, The Rehearsal: Australians at War in the Sudan 1885, Sydney: Weldon; Richard White, 1981, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1788–1980, Sydney: Allen & Unwin: 121–124; Robert Crawford, 2001, ‘A Slow Coming of Age: Advertising and the Little Boy from Manly in the Twentieth Century’, in Journal of Australian Studies, 67: 127–143.

10   Raphael Samuel, 1989, ‘Introduction: The figures of national myth’, in Raphael Samuel, editor. Patriotism: the Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, London and New York: Routledge: xxix. Also see Thomas Milton Kemnitz, 1973, ‘The Cartoon As a Historical Source’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 4 (1): 89–90: ‘The similarity of content is of great importance. Are the cartoons presenting different views of the same issues or concentrating on different issues entirely …?’

11  For further discussion, see: Ken Inglis, ‘Young Australia’; and Simon Sleight, 2008, ‘The Territories of Youth: Young People and Public Space in Melbourne, c. 1870–1901’, unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University. Sections of the following analysis are also based on the latter source.

12  A statistic noted by Kim Torney in 2005, Babes in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image, Fremantle: Curtin University Books: 69. Indigenous people were not counted by census administrators at this time.

13  Sleight, ‘The Territories of Youth’: 18–19.

14  For a flavour of this debate, see: Marcus Clarke, 1877, ‘The Future Australasian Race’, in Bill Wannan, 1964, editor. A Marcus Clarke Reader, London: Angus & Robertson: 26–30; Anon, 1879, ‘Will the Anglo-Australian Race Degenerate?’, Victorian Review, 1: 114–123; James Francis Hogan, 1880, ‘The Coming Australian’, Victorian Review, 13: 102–109; Henry Ling Roth, 1881, ‘A Few Words in Reply to Mr. Hogan’s “Coming Australian”‘, Victorian Review, 15: 313–315; George Meudell, 1882, ‘Australia for the Australians’, Melbourne Review, 27: 315–324; Samuel Rinder, 1882, ‘The “Foreigner” in Australia’, Melbourne Review, 28: 437–442; Stephen Thompson, 1887, ‘Young Australia’, Westminster Review, 128: 548–559.

15  At the 1881 Victorian census it was found that 59% of the population was born locally, compared with 45% at the previous count 10 years earlier. See: Marian Aveling, 1970, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association 1871–1900’, unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University: 3 and 40.

16  Sleight, ‘The Territories of Youth’: 24–26.

17  Further examples of this type, depicting in the activities of Melbourne newsboys and their encounters with adult city-dwellers, are reproduced in: Andrew Brown-May, 2005, ‘Melbourne’s Newsboys’, notes for exhibition held at Melbourne Town Hall, 4 May–4 July.

18  See Anne Higonnet, 1998, Pictures of Innocence: The History of Crisis of Ideal Childhood, London: Thames and Hudson: 12.

19  Definition offered in: Aveling, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association’: 39–40 & 46.

20  See: Geoffrey Serle, 1971, The Rush to be Rich: A History of the Colony of Victoria, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press: 231, and Aveling, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association’: 414.

21  Aveling, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association’: chapters I, II & VII; & Meudell, ‘Australia for the Australians’.

22  See: ‘Dignity and Impudence’, Melbourne Punch, 24 March 1892: 178.

23  See the editions of The Age (Melbourne) 14 March 1900: 4; and 26 November 1885: 4 – both cited in: Aveling, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association’: 414 & 110.

24  Aveling, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association’: 414.

25  See, for instance: Rinder, ‘The “Foreigner” in Australia’: 441–442; Thompson, ‘Young Australia’: 551–554.

26  Deakin held key positions in the Victorian Government for much of the 1880s and went on to attain the office of Prime Minister of Australia three times during the first decade of the 1900s.

27  Serle, The Rush to be Rich: 40. Also see: Paul Strangio and Brian Costar, 2006, editors. The Victorian Premiers 1856–2006, Annandale: Federation Press.

28  A digital image of this painting can be found at http://www.tate.org.uk/, where it is noted that Etty in turn found inspiration in the following lines from Thomas Gray’s 1757 poem, ‘The Bard’: ‘In gallant trim, the gilded vessel goes / Youth on the prow, and Pleasure at the helm, / Unmindful of the sweeping whirlwind’s sway’. Accessed 1 April 2008.

29  John Anderson and Geoffrey Serle, ‘Watt, William Alexander (1871–1946)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), Online Edition. Accessed 15 April 2008. Available at: http://www.adb.online.ana.edu.au/.

30  Anderson and Serle, ‘Watt, William Alexander’.

31  For an example, see the illustration: ‘Beautifully Linked; Might and Right’ in Margaret Anderson, 1998, editor. When Australia Was a Woman: images of a nation, Perth: Western Australian Museum: 63.

32  In today’s economic context, by contrast, a cartoonist would likely reverse the argument, and portray ‘Protection’ as the outdated model.

33  See: ‘Afraid of It’, Australian Tit-bits, 13 November 1884: 8.

34  Gwyneth M. Dow, ‘Higinbotham, George (1826–1892)’, ADB Online Edition. Accessed 15 April 2008. Available at: http://www.adb.online.ana.edu.au/.

35  For analysis of lifecourse transition in this period see: David Walker, 1987, ‘Youth’, in Graeme Davison, J. W. McCarty and Ailsa McLeary, editors. Australians 1888, Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon: 281–295.

36  See: Josie Castle and Helen Pringle, 1993, ‘Sovereignty and sexual identity in political cartoons’, in Susan Magarey, Sue Rowley and Susan Sheridan, editors. Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests in the 1890s, Sydney: Allen & Unwin: 136–149.

37  Also refer to: ‘Current Cartoonlets’, Melbourne Punch, 2 September 1897: 256 (in which George Reid, Henry Parkes and other political notables also appear in frocks); and ‘The latest addition to the family’, Bulletin, 9 September 1899. Figures 5.4 and 5.5 also feature politicians dressed in women’s clothing.

38  Castle and Pringle, ‘Sovereignty and sexual identity’: 147–148.

39  Marilyn Lake, 1992, ‘Mission Impossible: How Men Gave Birth to the Australian Nation – Nationalism, Gender and Other Seminal Acts’, Gender & History, 4 (3): 305–322.

40  Stephen Alomes, 1993, ‘Australian Nationalism in the Eras of Imperialism and “Internationalism”‘, in John Arnold, Peter Spearritt and David Walker, editors. Out of Empire: The British Dominion of Australia, Melbourne: Mandarin: 176–177.

41  Refer, for instance, to: E. J. Brady, 1918, Australia Unlimited, Melbourne: Robertson; and Hugh MacKay, 1993, Reinventing Australia: The Mind and Mood of Australia in the ‘90s, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

42  See, for instance: Sydney Morning Herald, 26 January 2000: 23; Linda Weiss, Elizabeth Thurbon and John Mathews, 2004, How to Kill a Country: Australia’s Devastating Trade Deal with the United States, Crow’s Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

43  Raphael Samuel, ‘Introduction: The figures of national myth’: xix.

44  The phrase in inverted commas is borrowed from: Joan B. Landes, 2003, Visualizing the Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press21.

Primary Sources

Age (Melbourne), various editions.

Anon, 1879, ‘Will the Anglo-Australian Race Degenerate?’, Victorian Review, 1: 114–123.

Argus, various editions.

Australian Tit-bits, various editions.

Brady, E. J., 1918, Australia Unlimited, Melbourne: Robertson.

Bulletin, various editions.

Etty, William, 1830–32, ‘Youth on the Prow, and Pleasure at the Helm’, oil painting. Accessed: 1 April 2008. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/.

Hogan, James Francis, 1880, ‘The Coming Australian’, Victorian Review, 13: 102–109.

Melbourne Punch, various editions.

Meudell, George, 1882, ‘Australia for the Australians’, Melbourne Review, 27: 315–324.

New York Times, various editions.

Rinder, Samuel, 1882, ‘The “Foreigner” in Australia’, Melbourne Review, 28: 437–442.

Roth, Henry Ling, 1881, ‘A Few Words in Reply to Mr. Hogan’s “Coming Australian”‘, Victorian Review, 15: 313–315.

Sydney Morning Herald, various editions.

Sydney Punch, various editions.

Thompson, Stephen, 1887, ‘Young Australia’, Westminster Review, 128: 548–559.

Secondary Sources

Alomes, Stephen, 1993, ‘Australian Nationalism in the Eras of Imperialism and “Internationalism”‘, in John Arnold, Peter Spearritt and David Walker, editors. Out of Empire: The British Dominion of Australia, Melbourne: Mandarin: 176–177.

Anderson, Margaret, 1998, editor. When Australia Was a Woman: Images of a Nation, Perth: Western Australian Museum.

Anderson, John & Geoffrey Serle, ‘Watt, William Alexander (1871–1946)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), Online Edition. Accessed 15 April 2008. Available at: http://www.adb.online.ana.edu.au/.

Arnold, John; Peter Spearritt & David Walker, editors. 1993, Out of Empire: The British Dominion of Australia, Melbourne: Mandarin.

Aveling, Marian, 1970, ‘A History of the Australian Natives Association 1871–1900’, unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University.

Baker, Sidney J., 1959, The Drum: Australian Character and Slang, Sydney: Currawong.

Brown-May, Andrew, 2005, ‘Melbourne’s Newsboys’, notes for exhibition held at Melbourne Town Hall, 4 May–24 July.

Castle, Josie & Helen Pringle, 1993, ‘Sovereignty and Sexual Identity in Political Cartoons’, in Susan Magarey, Sue Rowley & Susan Sheridan, editors. Debutante Nation: Feminism Contests in the 1890s, Sydney: Allen & Unwin: 136–149.

Clarke, Marcus, 1877, ‘The Future Australasian Race’, in Bill Wannan, 1964, editor. A Marcus Clarke Reader, London: Angus & Robertson: 26–30.

Crawford, Robert, 2001, ‘A Slow Coming of Age: Advertising and the Little Boy from Manly in the Twentieth Century’, Journal of Australian Studies, 67: 127–143.

Davison, Graeme; J. W. McCarty & Ailsa McLeary, 1987, editors. Australians 1888, Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon.

Dow, Gwyneth M., ‘Higinbotham, George (1826–1892)’, ADB Online Edition. Accessed 15 April 2008. Available at: http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/.

Featherstone, Guy, 1981, editor. The Colonial Child, Melbourne: Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

Higonnet, Anne, 1998, Pictures of Innocence: The History of Crisis of Ideal Childhood, London: Thames and Hudson.

Inglis, Ken, 1981, ‘Young Australia 1870–1900: The Idea and the Reality’, in Guy Featherstone, editor. The Colonial Child, Melbourne: Royal Historical Society of Victoria: 1–23.

Inglis, Ken, 1985, The Rehearsal: Australians at War in the Sudan 1885, Sydney: Weldon.

Kemnitz, Thomas Milton, 1973, ‘The Cartoon as a Historical Source’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 4 (1): 81–93.

Lake, Marilyn, 1992, ‘Mission Impossible: How Men Gave Birth to the Australian Nation – Nationalism, Gender and Other Seminal Acts’, Gender and History, 4 (3): 305–322.

Landes, Joan B., 2003, Visualizing the Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

MacKay, Hugh, 1993, Reinventing Australia: The Mind and Mood of Australia in the ‘90s, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Samuel, Raphael, 1989, editor. Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, London and New York: Routledge.

Serle, Geoffrey, 1971, The Rush to be Rich: A History of the Colony of Victoria, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Sleight, Simon, 2008, ‘The Territories of Youth: Young People and Public Space in Melbourne, c. 1870–1901’, unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University.

Stewart, Ken, 1996, ‘The Language of “Youth”‘, in Ken Stewart, editor. The 1890s: Australian Literature and Literary Culture, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press: 1–6.

Strangio, Paul & Brian Costar, 2006, editors. The Victorian Premiers 1856–2006, Annandale: Federation Press.

Torney Kim, 2005, Babes in the Bush: The Making of an Australian Image, Fremantle: Curtin University Books.

Trickett, Gordon H., 2000, Ned Trickett: Champion Sculler of the World, Lane Cove Library: Hippo Books.

Walker, David, 1987, ‘Youth’, in Graeme Davison, J. W. McCarty and Ailsa McLeary, editors. Australians 1888, Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon: 281–295.

Wannan, Bill, 1964, editor. A Marcus Clarke Reader, London: Angus & Robertson.

Weiss, Linda; Elizabeth Thurbon & John Mathews, 2004, How to Kill a Country: Australia’s Devastating Trade Deal with the United States, Crow’s Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

White, Richard, 1981, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1788–1980, Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

 

Cite this chapter as: Sleight, Simon. 2009. ‘Wavering between virtue and vice: Constructions of youth in Australian cartoons of the late-Victorian era’. Drawing the Line: Using Cartoons as Historical Evidence, edited by Scully, Richard; Quartly, Marian. Melbourne: Monash University ePress. pp. 5.1 to 5.26.

© Copyright 2009 Simon Sleight

All rights reserved. Apart from any uses permitted by Australia’s Copyright Act 1968, no part of this book may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission of the copyright owners. The fact that this book is published online does not mean that any part of it can be reproduced without first obtaining written permission: copyright laws do still apply. Inquiries should be directed to the publisher, Monash University ePress:

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Drawing the Line

   by Richard Scully, Marian Quartly