Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bush humor when I was a Waterview kid

This is the cover of a famous Australian weekly magazine, Pix, dated 23 September 1946 (the eve of my 6th birthday). The woman is the US actress Rita Hayworth [1918-1987], and we see from a news heading on the cover that she has just started a "new dance craze". I would imagine that they're referring to the jitterbug, which had been spread throughout the planet (including jazz clubs in the Latin Quarter of Paris) by the American GIs. Pix was a popular photo-journalistic magazine with a huge readership: nearly a million Australians.

At home in Waterview, Pix was regular reading for everybody, along with The Daily Examiner and The Women's Weekly. As a child, I probably wasn't particularly excited about Rita Hayworth and the jitterbug. The item that amused me most of all in Pix was the regular cartoon by Eric Jolliffe, whose specialty was Aussie outback humor… or funny bush drawings, as we would have said. The central personage was a rough rural fellow known as Saltbush Bill, who was always attired in a felt hat and black waistcoat.

Saltbush Bill lived with his large family in an environment that might be thought of as harsh and primitive, where he was perpetually faced with typical bush problems.

To a certain extent, we rural folk at Waterview were probably in mild empathy with Saltbush Bill and his caricatural milieu. Snakes in tree stumps, for example, were an everyday affair… like spiders, heat, dust, flies and backyard lavatories, etc. I hasten to point out, however, that we knew nothing whatsoever (for geographical reasons) of a dimension that was constantly present in Saltbush Bill's universe: the Aborigines, inevitably depicted by Jolliffe—in a way that would be ethically unthinkable today—as incredibly primitive. If ever Saltbush Bill appeared in an urban environment, it was usually a matter of finding solutions to his rural problems. Here, for example, he's dropping in on the local blacksmith:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

The caption is typically banal, since words played a relatively minor role in Jolliffe's work. Saltbush Bill informs the blacksmith that the name of his old horse is Flattery, "because it never gets me anywhere".

PARENTHESIS: I'm intrigued by the construction technique for the post-office roof. I don't recall having seen anything like that in Australia. Apparently the external wooden frame is intended to keep the sheets of corrugated iron in place. As a guess, I would imagine that the purpose of this technique was to avoid the use of nails, since there would have been several obvious advantages in not using nails. First, you didn't need to have a system of solid rafters capable of receiving roof nails. Then you didn't have to puncture the corrugated metal, allowing rain to leak in. Finally, you didn't have to go into town and purchase nails. I would imagine that the external framework was tied together with wire or string. And, if the metal sheets got blown off in a storm, it would have been easy to put them back in place.

Now, just to make it clear that my authentic family environment was only remotely associated with that of Saltbush Bill, here's a photo of my grandfather Charles Walker [1882-1937], attired in a fine Sunday suit and shiny shoes, with a watch chain stretched across his waistcoat, and a cigarette in his left hand:

[Click to enlarge slightly]

As they say in the movies: All characters appearing in Jolliffe's work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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