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By John Hetherington

ki OST professional humorists are pretty lugubrious fellows when

,VI off duty, but there are exceptions to this rulé. Alex Gurney, black-and-white artist creator of "Bluey and Curley/' is one of the'


QURNEY not only likes to

make other people laugh, but also likes to laugh himself. Perhaps he acquired the gift of laughter in the days before "Bluey and Curley" made.him a national figure and he was suffering-more than a fair share of the kicks Pate delivers to artists struggling for recogni- tion.

"Bluey and Curley," his pen^-children, have put him in a happy position. They have al- ready performed for him in more than 3,100 daily strips, the latest of which appears on page 27 today.

Since Gurney, at 49, should have at least another 20 years as an active black-and-white artist, there seems to be no eood reason why "Bluey and Curley" should not perform an- other 7,000 times or so before they quit the daily ' newspaper stage.

It is improbable that Gurney foresaw the success he was one day to win when he launched himself upon the precarious career of a commercial artist nearly.40 years ago.

He was a pupil at Hobart's Macquarie St. State school at the time, and by al] accounts not strikingly different from the Gurney of today.

The brain worked on iden- tical lines with the Gurney brain today, bidding him scorn such mundane things as mathe- matics, history, and spelling, and take his pencil in hand to draw his fellow creatures.

Sketched Mates

It all started when he sketch- ed one or two classmates in a casual way. Everybody else in the class wanted Gurney to

sketch him, too. And suddenly i Gurney realised that art could be made to pay.

He embarked on a series of caricatures, usually the subject's head balanced on a dashing figure in cowboy costume, for which each sitter paid a fee in marbles. There was no set fee. It varied according to the num- ber of marbles the sitter owned.

"1 made a lot of marbles that way," Gurney recalls.

However, serious - minded parents could hardly be ex- pected to consider a gift for sketching a sufficiently stout craft td bear a healthy boy across the sea of life. Gur ney's parents were no excep-


When he left school at 13 he went unromantically to work in an ironmonger's shop. .

He held several other equally non-artistic jobs in the next year or two, then joined the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Com- mission as an engineer's junior assistant, with the idea of be- coming an electrical engineer.

After he had settled in at the commission. Gurney enrolled himself at Hobart Technical College for night classes in sub- jects bearing on his chosen pro-


He took a sudden decision.

He retired more or less grace-! fully from the studies which would have helped him to quali- fy as an electrical engineer and moved himself and his yearn- ings round the corridor into the art department.

Versatile Teacher

The art master was Mr. Lucien Dechaineux. Gurney describes Mr. Dechaineux as one of the most versatile human beings he has ever known - a man who could teach art, mathematics, engineering or practically any other subject in Hobart Tech's


"I don't think Mr. Dechain- eux approved of the change I made," Gurney says. "Perhaps he figured the world was going to lose a perfectly good elec- trical engineer - and get a poor artist in exchange.

"Anyway, I think he started out to sicken me of art. He sat me down in front of a cast of an eagle's head and told me to

draw that eagle's head for weeks

and weeks."

As a variant from the eagle's head, Gurney one evening drew a caricature of Mr. Dechaineux himself.

He took it up to Mr. Dechain- eux at the end of the lesson and laid it on the master's desk. Mr. Dechaineux studied it for a few moments, then grunted:

"You'll never make an artist as long as you live."

Gurney was undismayed. He struggled on, doing his daily stint at the Hydro-Electric Commission, studying nights afc Hobart Tech., drawing anybody who would sit for him, includ- ing his half-brother, Max Hur sey, whose services were to be had at 1/ an hour.

Strip Took Shape

He began to sell drawings here and there. His work ap- peared in the "Tasmanian Mail," Melbourne "Punch," Syd- ney "Bulletin," "Aussie," and "Smith's Weekly."

He scored some local suc- cess with a series of carica- tures illustrating a book on leading Tasmanian personali-


His share of the profite from the book was only £13, but the bulge of the money in his pocket emboldened him. Peeling reads to conquer the world, he cross- ed Bass Strait and landed ir Melbourne. That was in 1925.

In the years that followed £ conception gradually took shape

Gurney took his idea to thi people who could say Yes or Nc They said Yes.

I And on February 1, 1941, tb ¡first "Bluey and Curley" dail; strip appeared in the Melbourn


. The rest is black-and-whit history.

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