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Miller, Sydney Leon (Syd) (1901–1983)

by Lindsay Foyle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sydney Miller, self-portrait, 193?

Sydney Miller, self-portrait, 193?

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an6481177

Sydney Leon Miller (1901-1983), cartoonist, was born on 24 December 1901 at Strathfield, Sydney, younger child of Sydney Miller, stationer and newsagent, and his wife Leontina Anne, née Thorpe. His father was born in Sydney and his mother in New Zealand. Syd was educated at Fort Street Boys’ High School. After he left in 1916 he worked briefly for Muir & Neil, pharmaceutical importers.

At the Bulletin Miller started as a trial apprentice in process engraving while attending night classes at the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. In 1917 he joined Harry Julius’s Cartoon Filmads Pty Ltd, where he worked on Australia’s first animated films. He also drew freelance cartoons for the Bulletin and Aussie. Smith’s Weekly contracted him from 1919 to cartoon, caricature, draw humorous illustrations and write film and stage reviews. While his cartoons of animals proved the most popular, caricatures of famous people were the most interesting to him. On 12 April 1923 at St John’s Church of England, North Sydney, he married Susan Austin.

Reputed to have the energy to work ninety hours a week, Miller (sometimes using professionally the name Noel) risked dismissal by taking on freelance work. He resigned from Smith’s Weekly in 1931. Freelancing for the Sydney Sun, he also drew ‘Curiosities’ for the Melbourne Herald and ‘Weird and Wonderful’ for the Daily Telegraph. In 1938, for Smith’s Weekly, he created ‘Red Gregory’, which he later published in comic book form. He also devised ‘Chesty Bond’ with Ted Moloney for Bond’s Industries Ltd. ‘Chesty Bond’, whom he described as ‘a strong but not a lumpy weight-lifting type’, became a regular feature in the Sun, running three times a week in 1940 and five in 1942; it was possibly the world’s first daily advertising comic. When Bob Hope was touring Australia in 1944 Miller used him in seven episodes without permission, which brought threats of a lawsuit.

From 1942 to 1945 Miller served with the Volunteer Defence Corps in Sydney, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He lampooned Hitler in ‘The Big Boss’ in Smith’s Weekly and published comic books from 1940 to 1945. For a short time he published a children’s newspaper Monster Comic. The increasing cost of paper brought his publishing to a halt. He withdrew from ‘Chesty Bond’ in 1945, when he was contracted by the Melbourne Herald to draw ‘Sandra’. In 1946 he produced ‘Rod Craig’, which became a radio serial, and a feature called ‘Animalaughs’; both were syndicated around the world.

When ‘Rod Craig’ ended in 1955 Miller started ‘Us Girls’ for the Herald; he resigned in 1957 to work in television animation at Ajax Films Pty Ltd. In the 1950s he drew a comic, ‘A Little Bear Will Fix It’, which advertised adhesive tape. He retired in the mid-1960s and enjoyed photography, drawing—especially scraperboard illustrations of flora and fauna—and creating copper sculptures. Predeceased by his wife (d.1978) and survived by his daughter and son, he died on 31 December 1983 at Wahroonga and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blaikie, Remember Smith’s Weekly? (1966)
  • J. Ryan, Panel by Panel (1979)
  • A. Shiell and I. Unger (eds), ACE Biographical Portraits (1994)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Dec 1982, p 6
  • private information.

Citation details

Lindsay Foyle, 'Miller, Sydney Leon (Syd) (1901–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/miller-sydney-leon-syd-14962/text26151, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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