Michael Leunig (1945): A Controversial Australian Cartoonist Who Redefined Art

An Australian cartoonist, poet, and cultural commentator

Michael Leunig Photo

Michael Leunig was born on 2 June 1945, typically he referred to as Leunig (his signature on his cartoons), is an Australian cartoonist, poet, and cultural commentator. His best-known works include The Adventures of Vasco Pyjama and the Curly Flats series of book compilations of his cartoons. He was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999.

Michael Leunig
Michael Leunig
Born 2 June 1945, East Melbourne, Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Cartoonist, Poet
Notable Works
  • The Curly Pyjama Letters
  • The Essential Leunig
  • The Stick
  • When I Talk To You
  • And more…
Awards Australian Living Treasure (1999)

Personal life

Leunig, a fifth-generation Australian, was born in East Melbourne and grew up in Foots cray, an inner-western suburb, where he went to Foots cray North Primary School. 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. He failed his final year examinations, twice. After working as a laborer in an abattoir.

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.

Leunig’s first marriage to Pamela Munro ended in divorce, He married his second wife, Helga, in 1992. His four children were all born on notable dates: Gus on Guy Fawkes Day 1974; Sunny on Valentine’s Day 1977; Minna on Australia Day 1992, and Felix on Christmas Day 1994. His sister, Mary Leunig (b. 1950), is also an accomplished cartoonist.

Michael Leunig Photo

Life and career

Leunig began his cartoon career while at Swinburne in 1965.when his cartoons appeared in the Monash University student newspaper Lot’s Wife. 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 News day and Woman’s Day.

Michael Leunig illustration

The main outlet for Leunig’s work has been the daily Fairfax Media newspapers, Melbourne’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. In more recent years, he has focused mainly on political commentary, sometimes replacing or supplementing his simple drawings with reproduced photographic images with speech balloons attached. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also provided airtime to Leunig to discuss his views on a range of political and philosophical issues.


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.

Michael Leunig illustration

Leunig has frequently satirized concepts such as Americanization, greed, consumerism, corporations, and warmongering, in a personal proclamation against the War on Terror. 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 “political cartoonist”. Though this is misleading as only some of his works are political in nature or reference. His work has also frequently explored spiritual, religious, and moral themes.

Controversial works

In 2008, Leunig wrote that “Artists must never shrink from a confrontation with society or the state”. His cartoons have occasionally been a source of controversy. Between 1995 and 2000 he drew the ire of “working mothers” by satirizing the heavy reliance upon childcare services in the Australian culture, in several of his works. Leunig’s opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, although in line with over three-quarters of the Australian populace, drew some criticism in the press. In 2006, Fairfax Media censored a cartoon in New South Wales but not in Victoria, which criticized the then prime minister, John Howard.

Michael Leunig illustration

Leunig has also stated his opposition to the Israeli government, and three of his 2004–2006 cartoons drew letters of protest nationally and internationally about this. 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).

Michael Leunig illustration

The policies of Israel with an antisemitic, generalized subversion of the Jewish experience, by relying upon a reference to the Jewish Holocaust. This cartoon came to international attention after it was entered into an Iranian competition conceived by the newspaper Hamshahri as retaliation for the Muhammad cartoon controversy.

Later emerged that the cartoon had been submitted as a prank by Richard Cooke, a web contributor to the Australian comedic team The Chaser.

Michael Leunig illustration

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.

— Michael Leunig, 13 January 2006, The Age

Characters and themes

In the series of cartoons that Leunig has created throughout his career, several characters have persistently appeared, including:

1. The Duck

2. Mr. Curly – a contented character who is at ease in the natural world.

3. Vasco Pyjama – a restless wanderer who sometimes seeks the counsel of Mr. Curly.

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

Honors and celebrity

  • 1999 – Leunig was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia. There are being a Melbourne tram decorated with his cartoon characters.
  •  2006 – Leunig featured strongly in the opening ceremony of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth this performance, the philosophical and mystical nature of his work was on display. It featured a “boy and his duck” and the boy’s dreams and visions. Leunig was heard reading a stanza of his poem as a voice-over.
  • Leunig was the creator of a popular I Google theme.
  • 2016 – Metrosideros leunigii, the oldest described fossil species of the flowering plant genus Metrosideros, was named after Leunig.

Published works

  1. The Penguin Leunig (1974) (40th-anniversary reissue, 2014).
  2. The Second Leunig: a Dusty Little Swag (1979).
  3. The Bedtime, Leunig (1981).
  4. A Bag of Roosters (1983).
  5. Ramming the Shears (1985).
  6. The Travelling Leunig (1990).
  7. A Common Prayer (1990).
  8. The Prayer Tree (1990).
  9. Introspective (1991).
  10. A Common Philosophy (1992).
  11. Every day, Devils and Angels (1992).
  12. A Bunch of Poesy (1992).
  13. You and Me (1995).
  14. Short Notes from the Long History of Happiness (1996).

FAQ about Michael Leunig

Q1: Who is Michael Leunig? 

A1: Michael Leunig, born on 2 June 1945 in East Melbourne, Australia, is a renowned Australian cartoonist known for his distinctive and often controversial works.

Q2: What are some of Michael Leunig’s notable works? 

A2: Michael Leunig’s notable works include “The Curly Pyjama Letters,” “The Essential Leunig,” “The Stick,” and “When I Talk To You,” among others.

Q3: Has Michael Leunig received any awards or recognition? 

A3: Yes, in 1999, the National Trust of Australia declared Michael Leunig an Australian Living Treasure.

Q4: What is the style of Michael Leunig’s cartoons? 

A4: Michael Leunig’s cartoons are characterized by a sparse and quivering line, often in black and white with ink wash. His human characters are known for their exaggerated noses.

Q5: Has Michael Leunig’s work been controversial? 

A5: Yes, some of Michael Leunig’s cartoons have been controversial, particularly when addressing political, social, and religious themes. He has taken stances on issues such as the Iraq War and Israeli government policies, which have sparked debates.

Q6: What is Michael Leunig’s personal life like? 

A6: Michael Leunig has had a complex personal life, including multiple marriages and difficulties in family relationships. He is known for his unique life perspective and dedication to his craft.

Q7: Where can I find Michael Leunig’s cartoons and books? 

A7: Michael Leunig’s cartoons are often featured in newspapers such as Melbourne’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. His books, including his cartoons and poetry collections, are available in bookstores and online retailers.

This post was created with our nice and easy submission form. Create your post!


Do you like it?

Avatar of Sharmin haque prima Participant

Written by Sharmin haque prima

Dr. Sharmin Haque Prima is a dental surgeon. She has done BDS in 2015. She is now doing a master’s of public health at North South University.

Leave a Reply

X O Game

X O Game

Irrfan Khan Caricature

Irrfan Khan Caricature