Geraldton Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival lures cartoonist Michael Leunig

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian
Cartoonist and writer Michael Leunig.
Camera IconCartoonist and writer Michael Leunig. Credit: Sam Cooper

Michael Leunig is no stranger to conflict; his commentary on politics, culture and society often sparks hostile reactions and mountains of hate mail.

But the cartoonist, writer, painter and philosopher said he never sets out to hurt anyone’s feelings, it just comes with the job.

The national living treasure will be in Geraldton for the 13th annual Big Sky Readers and Writers Festival from May 25-27.

Not one to shy away from an issue, Leunig uses his whimsical and child-like drawings to show an alternative perspective on major topics, from the Vietnam War to 9/11, consumerism to religion.

With a career spanning more than 40 years, it would be easy to believe the 72-year-old is immune to hateful comments but Leunig still finds himself taking remarks to heart.

“You can easily offend people with cartoons,” he said,

“That’s part of what will happen if you’re doing your job properly; you’re not going with the tide, you’re questioning the direction of society all the time.

“You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings but you stumble into it, and I always feel anguish about it.

“I think I get more sensitive as I get older.”

Growing up in a working class family after World War II in Footscray, Leunig was never exposed to the arts.

Despite a lack of creative support, Leunig had a poetic view of life and creative inclinations from a young age, and in the 1960s he was free to explore his artistic side. But when he received his notice of military conscription in 1965, Leunig’s passion for the arts was well and truly sparked.

“I was a resister, I was ready to go to jail,” he said.

“I was very opposed to (the war) and felt it was a huge mistake to become involved.

“I had to go in for a medical examination and I’d forgotten the fact I was born totally deaf in one ear so (the army) didn’t want me anyway — my big crusade was over.

“It was a scary time that inflamed my creativity.”

A self-taught cartoonist, Leunig started out drawing for underground magazines, often run by students.

Over the years Leunig crafted his unique style, gradually gaining a loyal following around the nation with his cartoons predominately featuring in Melbourne’s The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite the advent of the digital age, Leunig has stuck largely by the traditional newspaper medium.

But the cartoonist said over the years the media had shifted away from being a vocal commentator.

“Humour is a great state of mind to open questions up but it’s a bit dangerous to be humorous these days,” he said.

Leunig will be among 12 local, national and international guests at the festival, from May 25-27, which has 19 free and ticketed events on offer.

For more information, visit library.cgg.wa.gov.au/bigsky2018.

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