The perennial and increasingly tiresome question of Australian ‘national identity’ will probably diminish rapidly after the point where the design of a new and truly Australian flag is determined.
That it is a question at all, after just on two hundred years of settlement here, is curious. Part of the condition was diagnosed by the late Arthur Phillips in his studies of our colonial culture, The Australian Tradition, where he perceived in this country what he termed ‘the cultural cringe’. Phillips’ book, together with Vance Palmer’s The Legend of the Nineties and Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend, were emancipating surely.
More than in any other way, Australian humour has evolved and found its greatest expression not through the nation’s writers, entertainers, or film makers, but by the means of cartoonists drawing for the Australian press. This humour had two significant periods of development - the first beginning with the founding of the Bulletin a little over a century ago when the editors of this illustrated publication, notably J.F. Archibald, encouraged and fostered native talent, especially those artists of the day with comic graphic skills.
The thing that has distinguished the ‘inspired genius’ from the run of the mill ‘practitioner’ in all creativity is quality of mind. Michael Leunig, few Australians have to be told, has this. But astonishingly, quality of mind has not been a gradual, developing part of Leunig’s work, for it was evident as an integral part of his art, first widely seen in the pages of the fondly remembered National Review fifteen years ago. This is not to say he has not developed – he has in subtle directions and of course his graphic expression too has developed, as it should, with the discipline of creating for the Melbourne Age newspaper.