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Gurney, Alexander George (Alex) (1902–1955)

by Steve Panozzo

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Alexander George (Alex) Gurney (1902-1955), cartoonist and illustrator, was born on 15 March 1902 at Morice Town, Devon, England, son of William George Gurney (d.1903), a captain's steward in the Royal Navy, and his wife Alice Birdie, née Worbey. Alice emigrated to Hobart and in 1908 married a police constable James William Albert Hursey, a widower with two children. Alex was educated at Macquarie Street State School, where he showed keen interest in cartooning. At the age of 13 he worked briefly as an ironmonger before being apprenticed for seven years to the Hydro-Electric Department. He attended evening art classes at Hobart Technical College under F. V. E. L. Dechaineux, sent cartoons to the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, the Bulletin, Melbourne Punch and Smith's Weekly, and in 1926 published a book of caricatures of notable citizens, Tasmanians Today.

By that year Gurney was working in Melbourne on the Morning Post; in 1927, when the Post was incorporated into the Sun News-Pictorial, he moved to Sydney. He revisited Melbourne and, on 16 June 1928 at Christ Church, South Yarra, married Junee, the 19-year-old daughter of Montague Grover. Having created 'Stiffy & Mo' (based on the two vaudevillians) for Beckett's Budget in 1927, two years later he produced a full-page weekly cartoon, 'The Daggs' (later 'Daggsy'), for the Sunday Times. Gurney was employed by the Daily Guardian and the short-lived Labor newspaper, the World, in 1931, and by the Adelaide News in 1932. He transferred to the Melbourne Herald in 1933 and from October drew 'Ben Bowyang', based on C. J. Dennis's column, until taking Sam Wells's place as the leader page cartoonist when Wells returned to England in 1934.

By late 1937 Gurney was working from his new home at Elwood. Upon Wells's return in 1939, Gurney created the comic strip 'Bluey and Curley', centred on two larrikin soldiers: the first six instalments appeared on a full page in the Picture-News in November and the comic strip was moved to the Sun News-Pictorial on 1 February 1940. As an accredited war correspondent, Gurney visited army camps throughout Australia to obtain authentic detail and gain a feel for military life; he contracted malaria in August 1944 while visiting New Guinea.

The strip made 'superb use of Australian idiom and slang', and had an 'instinctive understanding and interpretation of the Australian male'. At the end of hostilities in 1945, Bluey and Curley went to Britain for the Victory march and served in the army of occupation in Japan before resuming civilian life and taking jobs as lighthouse-keepers, lion-tamers, private detectives and so on. The strip was widely syndicated in newspapers in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but Gurney refused to mellow the Australian nature of Bluey and Curley, which hindered its potential sale to the United States of America. In 1948-49 the strip was adapted as a serial on Sydney radio-station 2SM. Gurney illustrated two books of humorous experiences by a medical friend 'G.P.', Sickness Without Sorrow (1947) and Life With Laughter (1950). The proceeds of both went to the Food for Britain Appeal. In the late 1930s he had also designed emblems for the South Melbourne and Essendon Australian Rules football teams.

Gurney was a balding, stocky, bespectacled man who generally wore a felt hat. He belonged to the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, and to the Bread and Cheese, and the Melbourne Savage clubs. His favourite pastimes were fishing and shooting. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, he died suddenly of heart disease on 4 December 1955 at Elwood and was cremated with Anglican rites. The strip was subsequently drawn by Norman Rice and then by Leslie Dixon until 1975.

Select Bibliography

  • V. Lindesay, The Inked-in Image (Melb, 1970)
  • M. Mahood, The Loaded Line (Melb, 1973)
  • J. Ryan, Panel by Panel (Syd, 1979)
  • J. Gurney and K. Dunstan, Gurney & Bluey & Curley (Melb, 1986)
  • Inkspot, no 21, Spring/Summer 1992, p 26
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Aug 1947, 5 Dec 1955
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1955, 2 Aug 1975
  • News (Adelaide), 25 Nov 1975.

Citation details

Steve Panozzo, 'Gurney, Alexander George (Alex) (1902–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gurney-alexander-george-alex-10380/text18389, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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