cartoonist and painter, was born Frank Bennier [ sic ] in Hindmarsh, SA, a fourth generation Australian of Basque extraction whose family migrated to South Australia in 1843. He signed his work 'Benier’ and always wore a basque beret in honour of his heritage, although locally born and educated. His first cartoon appeared in the Adelaide Express & Journal in September 1934, when he was 14:

“…it was just a one-line gag sort of thing and I can’t remember the exact date – but I do remember I received the princely sum of 30 bob ($3) and blew the lot on lollies.” (Quoted obituary SMH 24 October 1998, 120)

His father, a bushman turned copper miner, disapproved of his son’s passion for drawing and sent him splitting fence posts and doing other manual labour on farms around the Mount Gambier area. After leaving school, he was employed as a copy boy on the Adelaide News and assigned to the processing department after telling his boss of his artistic ambitions. Finally, he graduated to the art department.

Benier rejoined the News as an artist after serving in military intelligence (a contradiction in terms, he joked) in the Middle East and New Guinea during WWII. In 1956 (acc. Australian obit, elsewhere 1957 and 1958) he moved to Sydney and worked in animation (Australian). He contributed to the Bulletin , original (ML Px *D452/92) paid 10 December 1958 showing a chap in a restaurant lassooing the salt with spaghetti: “To me, spaghetti without salt is nothing” – a very Mercier style of gag.

Mercier was Benier’s mentor when he joined the Sun in 1958. Benier’s big break came when Mercier’s suggestion that he fill in while Mercier was away on holidays was accepted, but he left in 1960. According to Wendy Stokes in the Sun-Herald 1971 (quoted in obit.), Benier loaded his second wife, Penny (now dead), their 'three children by previous marriages on both sides and one child of their own’ (apparently all boys) into the car and went to London. His comments on England in 1962 are quoted by Jensen, pp.11-12. He remained away for three years, then returned to the Sun as feature cartoonist in February 1966 [1965 acc. Australian obit.].

Frank Benier of the Sun won a Walkley Award for best cartoon of the year in 1967 (Bruce Begg won in the category of 'Press Artwork’ and John P. Petersen of Woman’s Day for illustration). His cartoons also appeared in the Sun-Herald , e.g. 'The Dingo and the Lizard’ (undated original AGWA 957/D377) and presumably the two 1960s and 1971 originals in ML (PXD 764). His obituary writer notes:

“His second stint on the paper wasn’t always easy, Bennier growing increasingly critical of its editor, the late Jack Tier, for trying to tell him what to draw.”

In 1973 Benier joined the Sun 's arch-rival the Daily Mirror , having been offered a raise of about 30% and less editorial control. A road cartoon (very like Rigby ), done for the Mirror , is in Hayllar & Sadler (111). He continued drawing cartoons for another decade, although by 1971 he considered himself 'first of all a painter’ (Wendy Stokes, Sun-Herald 1971). He specialised in hot outback landscapes. Even so, he did not regard cartooning as prostitution of his art, according to Stokes:

“The true guts of all art is observation. The cartoon is observation of current life – and it’s also the preparation for a painting. A lot of Basques are fishermen and shepherdesses. Few of them are artists. But I know it’s because of my Basque background that I have a nostalgia for the country, a closeness to the whole earth.

“This makes an artist partly international. You tend to drift towards farmers and peasants.”

In later years his cartoons included a miniscule bloke in a corner wearing a black beret. He smoked a pipe and was a great wine lover. After he retired to his home at Patonga Beach (NSW) in the 1980s, he continued as a member of the Black and White Artists’ Club until his death in 1998. He was survived by his third wife, Mary Lou, and three of his four sons: Nick, Steve and Kerry. Many original cartoons were already in the SLNSW Bulletin collection in 2000 (e.g. cricket and football gags c.1970) and he bequeathed the library another 2,250 or so.

Kerr, Joan
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