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2008-12, 360, Norman Hetherington, The Bulletin

My Bulletin Days, 1946-1961

Norman Hetherington OAM




AT FIFTEEN, while still attending Sydney’s Fort Street Boys’ High School, I sold my first cartoons to The Bulletin and decided I wanted to be a cartoonist and work there—at The Bulletin and nowhere else. Then the Second World War came. I joined the army and was drafted into the 1st Australian Entertainment Unit, but continued sending cartoons to The Bulletin and, wonder of wonders, they continued printing them. When the war ended, I was discharged and, wonder of wonders, I was invited to join the Bulletin staff.

The Bulletin was then situated at 252 George Street, Sydney, four doors from Bridge Street. At the Hamilton Street end, because the Bulletin building lay over the Tank Stream, it often flooded in heavy rain. I found The Bulletin was an extremely interesting place to work. For example, in the first office along the editorial floor was Charles (Charlie) Shaw, originally a farmer who had contributed stories, articles and poems. He was invited to join the staff and, naturally, was given the job of editing the Man on the Land pages.

I might mention here that The Bulletin didn’t pay very generously, so there was quite a lot of moonlighting to make ends meet. The Bulletin relied on its prestige to keep the staff happy. So, in Charlie’s case this outside work consisted of three or four books of poetry, short stories and a novel that was made into a film, Heaven Knows, Mister Alison, which starred Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. This was 1957, and the director was John Huston. Charlie also wrote a series of crime novels, under the pen name Bant Singer, which were set in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Unfortunately, one morning at the office Charlie collapsed with a heart attack and died.

The next office was that of Douglas Stewart—who needs no introduction to most Biblionews readers—the editor of The Bulletin’s Red Page. Like Charlie he was originally also a contributor who was invited to join the staff. Later he was well known for his verse plays, including Ned Kelly, Fire on the Snow, Shipwreck and The Golden Lover. He was a great friend of the artist Norman Lindsay and married Margaret Coen, herself an artist and Norman Lindsay model.

I might mention here that visitors would often drop into the office to meet and chat with their favourite writers. One day when Father Patrick Hartigan visited, Doug asked me to sketch him while they talked. (This was one of my more pleasant diversions.) Using the pseudonym John O’Brien, Father Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878–1952) wrote the kind of verse Bulletin readers expected and for which The Bulletin had become famous as “the Bushman’s Bible”. From his best known book of verse, Around the Boree Log and Other Verses (1921), I think most of us have heard those pessimistic lines:

We’ll all be rooned, said Hanrahan,

In accents most forlorn,

Outside the church, ere Mass began

One frosty Sunday morn.

Father Hartigan made a wonderful sketch!

Next office—David (Dave) Adams, who was Editor most of the time I was there. It was unusual, but interesting, that he was a finance writer and not a literary person. I recall, however, that he did edit The Letters of Rachel Henning, which was illustrated by Norman Lindsay.

Next office was Stan (Bo) Keough. He was the resident humorist, and what his jokes sometimes lacked in humour, he made up for in vocal volume. He was also in charge of the Smoke-oh page, and did very well in keeping us all in good humour for the week.

Stan did film reviews and often took the children of Bulletin staff to the latest children’s cinema. He also did music reviews, and I recall that when the ABC featured overseas musicians of renown I was often called upon to provide a caricature of the artist, for which I was rewarded with tickets to the Sydney Town Hall performances. One I remember was the conductor Otto Klemperer; another was the New Zealand opera singer Oscar Natzka, singing the then rather risqué song Foggy, Foggy Dew.

Next was Malcolm Ellis. He was the resident anti-communist, hardly necessary at The Bulletin. He always kept his door locked. As well as writing mighty tomes on such historical figures as Lachlan Macquarie, Francis Greenway and John Macarthur, he was also a political writer. Malcolm, too, had visitors to be sketched, and one of these was Bill Wentworth. I was to produce a sketch of Bill to be used in his campaign for Parliament. Malcolm even produced a bust of Bill’s famous ancestor William Charles Wentworth (1790–1872) to inspire me. I completed the sketch, then went on holiday. When I returned I discovered someone else had drawn Bill Wentworth. My drawing had been rejected by Malcolm—it wasn’t flattering enough to get Bill elected to Parliament.

I didn’t draw any more people for Malcolm.

Ron McCuaig was next: a poet and also the Bulletin’s short story editor. Illustrating these stories was another of my jobs. Ron would happily bring me bundles of galley proofs to illustrate. I would invariably put them all in a drawer and promptly forget them—and eventually Ron would give up and come and rescue his proofs. A bowerbird would have been proud of it!

Ron’s regular weekly contribution to The Bulletin was a piece of verse on some topical subject under the pen name ‘Swilliam’. Having chosen a subject, he would pace up and down the corridor, composing and bubbling like a tea kettle on the boil and dashing into his office to record an inspiration as it occurred to him.

Jim Blair was the most versatile writer on staff, writing features, leaders, politics, humour, satirical verse, items of all sorts, and acting as Editor when Dave Adams was away. Jim also wrote short stories, often about his family of kids—David, Tony, Richard and Patsy—and Jim expected me to illustrate them. So he brought in lots of photos of the kids (Brownie box camera size) which needed a magnifying glass to even see them. He expected me to get likenesses—quite impossible!



Another who wrote his way onto The Bulletin was Phil Dorter. He won a short story competition in the late 1930s, the prize being a short stint on the staff. However, war intervened, but after service in the Air Force Phil remained on the staff, where his main job was editor of the Sundry Shows page. Whenever he was short of copy I was called upon to attend a theatre performance and sketch some of the actors to fill up the space. This was another divertissement of mine.

Cecil Mann was another versatile writer who fitted in whenever needed. In our house he is infamous because when ghosting Jim Tyrell’s Old Books, Old Friends, Old Sydney (1952), he reprinted a sketch of mine of the poet Will Ogilvie, originally drawn for The Bulletin. But it was attributed to “G. N. Hetherington”, whoever that may be.

The Woman’s Page was another important part of The Bulletin. Pauline Littlefair (nee Dempsey) was its editor. I had nothing to do with that section,  so I cannot comment on it.

But no talk of The Bulletin would be complete without a mention of the cartoons. Their weekly display in the George Street windows had a devoted following. Each Thursday morning at 10 o’clock the editorial staff gathered around the news-paper files to discuss ideas for the main cartoons for the next week’s issue, which came out the following Wednesday. This getting of ideas six days ahead was not easy. Politics can change overnight and, if it’s a great idea, then another paper, a daily, could easily get in first. So it was an ongoing problem.

However, when the ideas were settled on, Ted Scorfield, the chief cartoonist, and I would retire to our offices and start work on the cartoons. But if the idea seemed a particularly suitable one for Norman Lindsay, then the high tech machinery of the day swung into action. The Managing Director, Ken Prior, rushed to the telephone, placed a trunk call to Springwood in the Blue Mountains, where Norman lived (no STD or direct calling in those days), hung up the phone and waited.

Half an hour or so later the phone rang. “Your Springwood call is on the line. Go ahead, please.” The idea was explained to Norman; Norman spent the afternoon on the cartoon; the cartoon was on the evening train to Sydney; it was picked up from the Parcels Office at Central Railway Station the next morning; and it was on the Editor’s desk by 9 o’clock. Occasionally Norman’s likeness of a public figure did not quite measure up to Ted’s expectations, and somehow, sometimes, there would be an unofficial alteration made by Ted before the paper went to press.

However, everything changed in 1960–61, when The Bulletin was sold to Mr Frank (not yet Sir Frank) Packer, father of the late media magnate Kerry Packer. We all, writers and artists, had to go. But we were lucky to have been there.




One thought on “My Bulletin Days, 1946-1961

  1. This is reminiscent and satisfying material, not least because I worked on The Bulletin from 1955 to 1960 and knew all the people Norman mentions — and others: John Fountain; Keith Ross, the proofreader; John Abernethy, who eventually cast up at A & R’s as book editor; and of course most of the machine room boys. I joined the paper as assistant proofreader and (not unlike Phil Dorter and Charlie Shaw) wrote my way on to the editorial floor.And now Norman’s gone.I don’t think there’d be more than two people still alive who worked at The Bulletin in the 1950’s — myself, and Ray Alexander. The experience shaped my entire life. In particular, Douglas Stewart and Ronald McCuaig both went out of their way to help me, in the process providing a sure grounding in writing. There was also the finesse of Cecil Mann as a discerning and meticulous sub-editor. In the current age of sloppy English construction, where oh where are the Cecil Manns?????

    Posted by Adrian Wintle | 13/01/2011, 5:59 am


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