Frank Dunne

Born: March 1898

Died: 1937

Lawrence Francis Dunne:

Cartoonist and painter, born Boorowa, near Harden, NSW, worked as a process engraver until he enlisted in 1915, aged seventeen (acc. 1964 exhibition catalogue). He began sketching while serving with the AIF 1st Field Ambulance on the Western Front 1915-19 (where he lost part of a hand). After the war he worked on the Sunday Times and Truth , joining Smith’s Weekly as a cartoonist in 1928. He is best known for his Digger jokes in Smith’s , which he took over drawing for ‘The Unofficial History of the A.I.F.’ (which survived the paper’s entire lifetime of 30 years) after Cec Hartt died in May 1930, his tough, ugly, squat figures lifting them to new degree of popularity (acc. Rolfe, 269, who considers Smith’s a harsher and cruder paper than the Bulletin ), e.g. ‘Tommy Officer: “Could you direct me to the nearest bar, Diggah?”/ Digger: “Yairs, come on; you’re the first bloke to shout me a drink over here!”’, 1937 (ill. Caban, 43). His diggers were in turn succeeded by Lance Mattinson’s at Smith’s when Dunne died.

Dunne drew good political and civvy cartoons, e.g. ‘Ideal Home’ (high-rise architecture joke) 4 August 1928, 23. He was an outstanding draughtsman, although he had lost part of a hand at Pozières. Blaikie notes that he did a drawing of meticulous detail with thousands of leaves and blades of grass for Smith’s because editor Frank Marien wanted ‘more background’. Marien gave it its title: ‘1st Tramp: “Why did Frank Dunne stick us in this sketch?”/ 2nd Tramp: “Because the boss ‘as been growling that ‘e wants prettier pictures!” ‘. He was also colour blind (and ‘a teetotaller, but he’s so popular that nobody holds that against him’, noted Smith’s 20 April 1935).

Lindesay states that Dunne was a first-class painter (he took one of his sons on painting expeditions to indicate red and green). A painting exhibition planned in 1938 never eventuated due to his premature death on 23 December 1937, aged 39. In 1965 the Black and White Artists’ Club held a ‘Cartoonists’ Dinner’ and an exhibition on the theme of Digger humour, comprising original works by Hartt, Dunne, Mattinson, Daryl Lindsay, “Unk” White, Ted Scorfield, Stan Cross, Will Dyson, “WEP” (William Pidgeon), Alex Gurney (who had toured battle areas in WWII to record Oz soldiers in action against the Japanese) and Tony Rafty (official war artist in WWII), at which Dunne’s sons, Tony and Roger—his only surviving family—were present (Lindesay 1994, 45).

Written by Joan Kerr 1996.