Introduction by Daryl Karp, Museum Director

Imagine our news without political cartoons. It is almost unthinkable.

In a world where cartoonists are censored, persecuted and even killed, political cartoons are a vital part of Australia’s tradition of free speech. But, like many areas of contemporary life, the digital revolution is sweeping through Australia’s media leaving no aspect untouched – including political cartooning. These changes are reflected in this year’s selection of cartoons for Behind the Lines. Some stalwarts of recent years – John Spooner, Pat Campbell, Rod Clement and Rocco Fazzari – appear for what may be the last time, as print newspapers reduced staff. This year’s selection also confirms the growing trend of fewer large, flagship editorial page cartoons, and more ‘pocket’ cartoons placed within the story they relate to.

But do these changes point to the death of political cartooning? Probably not; in the past our cartooning tradition has gone through changes of similar scale. Our expectation that cartoonists will express their own views in a very personal visual style is fairly recent, dating from the 1960s. Colour – such a powerful element of current cartooning – is a relatively recent change from the century or more of black-and-white linear drawing that preceded it. And even now, almost all the cartoons in Behind the Lines are created digitally rather than with pen and brush. The only constant is change itself.

Through Behind the Lines the Museum of Australian Democracy will continue to explore and uphold our unique tradition of political cartooning. And we will continue to collect and preserve these eloquent images, whatever new forms they morph into, as a vital element of our nation’s robust democracy.

Daryl Karp
Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House