Prolific mid 20th century Sydney-based cartoonist and painter and the creator of "Witchetty's Tribe". Despite having a number of close friendships within the Indigenous communities of northern Australia, in 1980 the Federal Anti-Discrimination Board accused Jolliffe of racism in the way he portrayed Aboriginal people in his cartoons - a claim that was met with outrage amongst his peers.
cartoonist and painter, was born in Portsmouth, England, the youngest boy in a family of 12 children. He came to Perth in 1911, aged four. Two years later the family moved to Sydney and settled in Balmain. They were very poor and moved frequently, 'just one step ahead of the landlord’, he once commented (Rae, 52). Eric left school at 14 and tried a variety of jobs before leaving home to explore Australia at the age of 16 [15 according to Stephens obit.]. He 'humped his bluey through Queensland and New South Wales and worked as a rabbit trapper and shearing shed hand’ (Blaikie, 102) at Cowra, Canowindra, Coonamble and Walgett [for six years according to Stephens]. Although Jolliffe’s heart was in the bush, he needed money to live so moved back to the city where he worked as a window cleaner during the day and attended art classes at East Sydney Technical College at night.
Pre-WWII he worked as a freelance cartoonist mainly drawing for the Bulletin, which bought his first drawing. After his mate Arthur Horner moved to Smith’s Weekly Jolliffe drew Old Andy for the Bulletin from 1930 to 1939 (the anthology Andy was published by Frank Johnson c.1940). Other freelance jobs were for the ABC Weekly (1939), Pix (1946) and the Sun newspaper (1966-70). In fact, his only full-time jobs in a lifetime of drawing cartoons were at Smith’s Weekly for a year or so (1944) and at the ABC Weekly for a few months.
Jolliffe was a camouflage artist with the RAAF during the War, travelling to Arnhem Land and the Kimberley, where he got to know a number of Indigenous people. He specialised in bush humour, both black and white, and was admired by both races. (Billy Palm Island is said to have described Jolliffe as his favourite cartoonist at the opening of the Tambo exhibition at the National Library of Australia in November 1997) His 'comic studies of Aborigines in the more or less raw and the Outback’ featured in the Sun-Herald and Pix (especially) for many years. He sketched everywhere he went. He first met Aborigines from Arnhem Land and the Kimberley while working in a camouflage office with the RAAF in the Northern Territory during the war. They inspired Witchetty’s Tribe , e.g. “I see Daughter’s got herself another beau” ('caveman’ Aborigine dragging female by the hair, original NLA). He also drew hundreds, possibly thousands, of white bushie jokes, many featuring Saltbush Bill, e.g. “Couldn’t imagine Christmas dinner without a bit o’ poultry, Ma”, Bulletin 1941 (Bill about to behead an emu). Douglas Stewart recollected that as 'an exponent of life in the outback’, he 'used to carry the most charming little flying possum in his pocket’ at the Bulletin office (Stewart, 36).
Jolliffe’s 'Saltbush Bill’, 'Witchetty’s Tribe’ and 'Sandy Blight’ cartoons in Pix were nationally renowned, e.g. Corroboree 3 February 1945, 16-17; Walkabout 31 March 1945, 16-17; Back o’ Beyond 26 May 1945, 16-17; Piccaninny Playtime 14 July 1945, 10-11; a double-page spread of 'Jolliffe Jollities’ 16 August 1947, 22-23, on what might happen 'if aboriginal tradition mingles with the influences of our Western civilisation’; The eternal “She” in the Never-never 11 October 1947, 12-13; As Jolliffe sees the Abo 24 July 1948, 12; With Jolliffe in Arnhem Land 30 October 1948, 14-17 (on the Smithsonian Institution-sponsored Arnhem Land expedition – [and/or 'with Bill Harney and Charles Mountford on a National Geographic expedition and with Professor A.P. Elkin, the anthropologist’, according to Stephens] including jokes about most of the individual members of the expedition confronting the Yirrkala people, e.g. the anthropologists). In many of his Aboriginal cartoons the joke depends on the incongruity of the Indigenous Australian’s two worlds, e.g. woman outside humpy smacking baby while husband with spear is saying, “ Now , where’s the exponent of child psychology?” 1955 (ill. Lindesay 1979, 277). His 'Saltbush Bill’ cartoons ran in Pix magazine for nearly 50 years from 1945 (Stephens).
Jolliffe was an immensely prolific artist. By 1983 he had published 130 anthologies of his cartoons and drawings, mainly from Pix , according to Rae, and they were still appearing in People (with which Pix merged, separated, then merged again) in 1997. Annual anthologies exist to 2001; his son-in-law, the cartoonist Ken Emerson , told Tony Stephens that Jolliffe published ’132 books of comics’ (obituary Sydney Morning Herald [ SMH ]). The first was Andy (Sydney: Frank Johnson, c.1940) of which the publisher noted, '“Andy” has become a national figure and the sales of this book of fun on the selection have been phenomenal’ (ad. in Lock anthology 1941). Others include Corroboree: Aboriginal Cartoon Fun (Sydney, 1946) – with poem 'The Artist’ (Albert Namatjira) by Norma L. Davis; Witchetty’s Tribe: Aboriginal cartoon fun no.13 (Rosebery NSW: Sungravure, n.d. [1950s?]) – cartoons from Pix , including a sputnik joke [presumably post October 1957], plus a centrepiece series of portrait heads); Witchetty’s Tribe: Aboriginal cartoon fun no.28 (Rosebery NSW: Sungravure, n.d. [1960s?]) – more cartoons from Pix , plus 45 sympathetic sketches of 'some of the 45 aboriginal dancers from Arnhem Land who recently delighted Sydney and Melbourne audiences with their corroboree dances’, organised by Stephen Haag of the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, plus Jolliffe’s description and sketch of a 'Pukamuni [ sic ] death dance’ on Melville Island. Later he published his own annuals, e.g. Jolliffe’s Outback Australia (E. Jolliffe: Dee Why NSW, 1979), which consisted of Saltbush Bill gags, plus articles on cedar getting on the Macleay River and on the koala, with a portrait of a pretty Aboriginal girl inside the back cover 'for framing’), and Jolliffe’s Outback 129: Saltbush Bill’s 50th Anniversary (Jolliffe Studios, 1994) celebrating 50 years since Bill’s first appearance in Pix as a weekly feature.
In 1980 the Federal Anti-Discrimination Board accused Jolliffe of racism in the way he portrayed Aboriginal people in his cartoons. A burst of publicity ensued, with Ken Slessor, Prof Elkin, Lenny Lower and Jolliffe’s cartoonist mates rallying to his defence (some of whom were presumably cited posthumously). Blaikie said that Jolliffe had, in fact, replaced the earlier offensive Smith’s Weekly moronic 'Jacky Jacky’ stereotype (notably those drawn by Stan Cross ) with athletic hunters with a sense of humour and women 'as beautiful as white models’. Letters and cartoons about the incident are reproduced in The Best of Witchetty’s Tribe by Jolliffe (Jolliffe Publications, Dee Why, 1980). Joan Kerr’s papers include a copy, also photocopies of newscuttings and letters about the incident from Jolliffe’s own files.
Perhaps partly in response to this public insult, Jolliffe won the Stanley Award for best single gag artist in 1985 and 1986. He had also won the Sydney Savage Club Cartoonist Award twice (in 1960 and 1961). He was a fellow of the Australian Institute of History and Art [details unknown] and was awarded the OAM for his services to art as a cartoonist and illustrator, states Stephens. Yet even though he continued to draw cartoons and produce annual anthologies, few contain Aboriginal subjects from the 1980s and there are almost no Aboriginal gags in the Mitchell Library’s collections [ML] of his original drawings.
At the age of 82, Jolliffe added watercolour painting to his repertoire. From then on he regularly exhibited views of outback Australia. He lived in a retirement unit at Bateau Bay (NSW) with his wife, May, whom he married c.1932, but still spent much time travelling in the Northern Territory visiting his many Aboriginal friends. May died in 1993 after 61 years of marriage and their daughter May (wife of Ken Emerson) died in 1997. The Australian Black and White Artists’ Club gave Jolliffe a 90th birthday celebration in Sydney in 1997. He attended both b/w exhibition openings at Sydney in 1999 with his friend John Clements. Eric Jolliffe died in November 2001, survived by Ken Emerson and granddaughter Jane Emerson. His funeral service was held at Ourimbah on the Central NSW Coast on Wednesday, 21 November 2001.
Images include Aboriginal rock painter, “Actually he’d rather do landscape like Namatjira, only he’s scared they might give him citizenship rights” original not located (see Kerr, Artists and Cartoonists ); Aborigine painting on a rockface to his critic, “What d’you mean, 'chocolate boxy’?”
Aboriginal being chased by croc, Bulletin original ('Saltbush Bill’ OR 'Sandy Blight’ collection?), published 1 July 1946 (ML Px*D438/38), showing sheep, cows and rabbits at the top of tree with a bushie saying to a male visitor, “It’s a sure sign of heavy rain” (in State Library of New South Wales Australians in Black & White, the most public art exhibition, 1999).
A small 1960s-70s group of Jolliffe’s Sandy Blight strips are in ML (Pic Acc 3088), donated by the SMH c.1979, while a number of outback cartoons are in the ML Bulletin collection.