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Bruce Leslie Petty (1929–2023)

by Matthew Westwood

from Australian

Bruce Petty, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

Bruce Petty, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

National Library of Australia, 13683140

Satirist, artist, filmmaker and The Australian’s first political cartoonist, Bruce Petty, has died at age 93.

Petty’s “doodle bombs” and sharp satirical edge were instantly recognisable. He had drawn cartoons for publications in Britain and the US before he was hired as The Australian’s first daily cartoonist, a role he held from 1964 to 1976.

“It was a huge privilege to be drawing at that time and to be given that space to draw a daily cartoon,” he said in 2019.

“Politicians are hard to draw. Eventually, someone gets them right and we all copy them. There is an expectation in that little square we are given in the paper that there will be a huge exaggeration and a disfigurement of politicians, and an insight into politics, and that remains the same.”

Petty’s work took him beyond that “little square” of newsprint. His animated short film, Leisure, won an Academy Award in 1977. Later, he won an AFI award for best direction of a documentary for his film Global Haywire, an attempt to understand the origins of the crisis between East and West.

He was also a three-dimensional artist, producing “machine sculptures” such as Man Environment Machine for the Australian Pavilion at the 1985 World Expo in Japan.

Petty’s cartoons appeared in publications including The New Yorker, Esquire and Punch and, in Australia, in The Daily Mirror and The Bulletin.

After his stint with The Australian, he was hired by The Age and continued to contribute there until recent years.

His outstanding contribution to journalism was recognised at the 2016 Walkley Awards.

A statement said Petty died peacefully in Sydney on Thursday morning, and would be dearly missed by his loving family. He was first married to film critic Julie Rigg, and later to author Kate Grenville.

Of political cartooning, he said: “I always tried to do a graphic version of what the issue of the day was. I tried to unravel it rather than just insult a politician.”

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Citation details

Matthew Westwood, 'Petty, Bruce Leslie (1929–2023)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

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