cartoonist, was born in Portsmouth, England but came to Tasmania when only a few months old. He lived in Hobart in his teens, served a 7-year apprenticeship with the Hydro-Electric Commission and trained in art at night classes at the Hobart Technical School. He had cartoons published in the Tasmanian Mail then in Melbourne Punch , followed by the Bulletin and Smith’s Weekly . After publishing Tasmanians Today: Caricatures and Cartoons – mainly caricatures – in 1926 (publisher unnamed) he went to Melbourne and worked on the Morning Post until it (rapidly) folded. He then moved to Sydney, where he drew for Beckett’s Budget (1927-31), a controversial magazine that reported courtroom tales and had been labelled obscene. For it Gurney created Stiffy and Mo in 1927, a comic strip based on the Roy Rene and Nat Phillips’ vaudeville stage characters. It is sometimes said to be the first Australian comic strip, though other competitors for the title are Frank Dunne’s untitled soldier comic strip in Smith’s Weekly in the 1930s (Lindesay 1979, 30) and Norman Lindsay’s strip of animal characters in Lone Hand from 1907 (see Blaikie and Lindesay 1994).
Gunn’s Gully was another strip Gurney created for Smith’s , while his gag cartoons include 'Waiting for the last ferry – seat occupants and their thoughts’ (8 June 1928, 14); 'DAVE: “You orta marry me; you know I’m a good, steady cove.”/ BLASECITY DAME: “Steady’s right, Dave. If you were any steadier you’d be motionless” (16 May 1930, 13). He worked on the Sunday Times (1928-29), the Daily Guardian and World (1931 examples in Joan Kerr Archives, National Library of Australia) and was political cartoonist on Sydney’s Labor Daily . He spent a year in Adelaide on the News in 1932 then joined the Melbourne Herald in 1933, where he was leader-page cartoonist. His original Billy Hughes cartoon c.1935 (NLA) was possibly published there.
A meticulous draughtsman, Gurney would spend six to eight hours drawing a single strip of three frames despite drawing six of them every week for over 14 years (Lindesay 1979, 30; David Gurney in James). He created the popular Bluey and Curley strip for the magazine Picture-News in 1940. After being transferred to the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial it became the best known of all WWII soldier cartoons and was syndicated all over Australia, Canada, NZ and in the servicemen’s paper Guinea Gold (New Guinea). Norman Rice then Les Dixon inherited the strip after Gurney died suddenly on 4 December 1955. One of his last cartoons featured Bluey and Curley preparing for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Johnson (p.157) claims he was the last great black-and-white artist member of the Melbourne Savage Club.
The AWM has a good original 1945 art cartoon, More palette-able , with Bluey and Curley as WWII soldiers in the jungle coming across “one of them official war-artist-coots, paintin’ the stoush for the Aussie War Museum!” (Gurney unsuccessfully yearned to join Australia’s official war artists but was kept out by General Blamey, according to Gurney’s family, who supposedly said “You can’t call Bluey and Curley art !”) Unlike Australia’s actual official war artists, however, in his cartoon the artist is a modernist. Predictably, when Bluey asks Curley “What d’yer think of that painting Curl?” his mate replies, “I think I like th’ one he’s got his thumb stuck through better!”
Other Bluey and Curley strips relate to Aboriginal rock art, e.g. the 'plurry Namatjirist’ gag (original unlocated – see Kerr, Artists and Cartoonists ). Another 3-part original strip, (p.c.) and illustrated in the “ Golden Years of Cartooning” 1920 to 1940 catalogue (p.33), shows the two crossing the desert on camels with a bearded man: (1) “The professor says he is seeking a cave that contains primitive Aboriginal rock-carvings which will startle the scientific world!” “Gosh!” (2) [climbing rocks with Aboriginal guide]“At last! Now our names will go down in history.” (3) [Uncaptioned drawing of the three Caucasian men gazing with astonishment at crude drawings labelled 'Ned Kelly’, 'Phar Lap’, 'Sydney Bridge’ and 'Billy Hughes’, with part of a boomerang showing to indicate they are Aboriginal but contemporary.]
A series of letters (p.c.) from the editor of the Sun News-Pictorial suggest changes to figures and wording in the cartoons, i.e. censoring them. Two are reproduced in the Bluey and Curley catalogue, p.21.