Michael Leunig: A man for all seasons

January 19, 2018


He has been called a national living treasure, prophet, artist and mystic.

Michael Leunig is a cartoonist with an uncanny gift for razor sharp social and political commentary. But what you may not know is his personal identity as a spiritual person who also enjoys writing prayers.

Leunig was born in East Melbourne in 1945. His father was a slaughterman and Leunig is the second of five children.

His schooling was at the local state primary and high schools, and Leunig told The Melbourne Anglican (TMA) that, as a little boy, he felt a natural inclination to the poetic dimension and the divine world, which took him in the direction of his local, weatherboard church.

“I found my way there and was fascinated. There were candles burning and a language which was different—‘Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name’. The language and liturgy fascinated me,” he recalls.

He went on to be confirmed (made a member) in the Anglican Church and became an altar boy.

As he grew up, he found great comfort and community at his church.

“After the blessing, ‘The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord‘, a great peace came over me,” he told TMA.

Leunig’s post-school education could be described as coming from the University of Life, as on his website he says he fled in disgrace from formal education and pursued a successful career as a factor labourer and meatworker, nurturing his art and philosophy before beginning work as a newspaper cartoonist in 1969.

Such is his success as a cartoonist that he has published 24 collections of newspaper columns, poetry and prayer, while his prints, paintings and drawing have been exhibited and many are kept in public and private collections.

Leunig is also known for his whimsical characters Mr Curly and Vasco Pyjama who make frequent appearances in his work—as do ducks.

Leunig came into his own as a political cartoonist after the American terrorist attack of 9/11, in September 2001. Through his cartoon commentary, he opposed the war and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, a fact that caused some friction with newspaper editors and elements of Australian society.

In 1999 he was declared a national living treasure by the National Trust, and received honorary degrees from Latrobe, Griffith universities and the Australian Catholic University for his contribution to Australian culture.

Leunig believes that prayer is a force that can cause the world to listen and change.

He writes:

“God help us to change.
To change ourselves and to change our world.
To know the need for it. To deal with the pain of it.
To feel the joy of it.
To undertake the journey without understanding the destination.
The art of gentle revolution. Amen.”

Away from his work, this married father of four is a nature lover and divides his time between the bush in northern Victoria and his home in Melbourne. He says he enjoys talking to strangers in the street, walking in the park, having morning coffee in a café and listening to chamber music in a concert hall. 

This visionary who knows how to value the simple things in life has a message with which we can all identify:

“Love one another and you will be happy.
It’s as simple and difficult as that.
There is no other way. Amen”
(from A Common Prayer). 


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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