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Alexander George "Alex" Gurney (15 March 1902 - 4 December 1955) was an Australian artist, caricaturist, and cartoonist born at Pasley House, Stoke, Devonport (now Stoke, Plymouth), England.
He was the son of William George Gurney and Alice Birdie Gurney (née Worbey), who had married in Portsmouth on 29 May 1901. He was born on 15 March 1902 at Pasley House, Stoke, Devonport (now Stoke, Plymouth), England.
His father and his mother, who was an Australian, born in Hobart, moved with Alex and settled in Hobart, Tasmania. Soon after the ship upon which his father, a steward in the merchant navy, was serving, went missing at sea; and his father was presumed dead. On 2 July 1908 his mother (always known as Birdie, rather than Alice) married again, to James William Albert Hursey (1866-1946).
Alex Gurney married Junee Grover (1909-1984) on 16 June 1928 at Christ Church, South Yarra. Junee was the daughter of the journalist Montague "Monty" MacGregor Grover (1870-1943), and Ada Grover (1877-1928), née Goldberg.
Alex Gurney (second from left) presenting the original art work of a Bluey and Curley comic strip to soldiers of the 2/12th Battalion in New Guinea, 5 March 1944.
Alex and Junee Gurney had four children: John (1929-2004), Jennifer Anne (1932-2004), Susan (1937-2003), and Margaret (1943-), the eminent Melbourne artist.
Gurney was educated at Macquarie Street State School, where his prowess with a pencil soon became evident, regaling his classmates with caricatures of their faces perched atop incongruous bodies. Leaving school at age 13, he found employment at an ironmonger's shop, followed by a couple of other jobs, before embarking on an electrical apprenticeship with the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission, in the expectation of becoming an electrical engineer. This entailed taking night classes at Hobart Technical College, but it was not long before his attention was drawn to art classes conducted at the same institution by Lucien Dechaineux (1869-1957).
As well as significantly embellishing his wonderful graphic skills as an artist, his exceptional capacity for the observation of his fellow humans also allowed him to successfully perform as an impersonator of well known people.
has gained international reputation possesses
what is probably the most travelled, and historic
drawing board in the Commonwealth. Originally,
it was a panel of a cedar door in the now
demolished "Old Bell Hotel", Elizabeth Street,
Hobart. The door which marked the entrance to
a room in which Marcus Clarke is supposed to
have written "For the Term of his Natural Life"
was bought at an auction sale, the panel-
drawing-board being later presented to the
then burgeoning artist. Mr. Gurney has been in
many parts of Australia and the thousands of
drawing-pin holes tell a story of their own...
In 1926 he published a book of his caricatures of eminent Tasmanians, Tasmanians Today, the first book of its kind ever published in Tasmania.
By 1939, his fame was such that, not only was he endorsing Red Capstan, cork-tipped, "special mild" cigarettes, but he was also supplying the advertisement's art-work as well.
Bluey and Curley
In 1939 he created the characters for which he became famous: Bluey and Curley. He applied for the copyright registration of "Bluey and Curley" on 16 October 1939; and his application was granted on 9 November 1939 (Australian Copyright No.6921).
The strip, about a pair of soldiers, Bluey, the Great War veteran who had re-enlisted, and Curley, the new recruit to the A.I.F.
The strip was widely appreciated for the good-humoured way it depicted the Australian "diggers" and their "mateship", as well as for its realistic use of Australian idiom of the day.
During the war, he was accredited as a war correspondent, and he visited army camps throughout Australia and New Guinea to ensure authenticity for his strip.
While in New Guinea he contracted malaria and was incapacitated for some time.
Gurney was in England in June 1946, as part of an Australian Press Syndicate sent specifically to view the Victory Parade.
As well as sending caricatures of various eminent people involved in that parade back to Australia for distribution through the press, he also used the opportunity to have Bluey and Curley attend the parade, and a number of his Bluey and Curley comic strips reflected that event.
Gurney's visit to London, and his version of events, as seen through his Bluey and Curley comic strip, was also historically significant for another reason: it was the first time that a newspaper comic strip had ever been transmitted from England to Australia by radio.
The strip lost some of its appeal and readership when the pair returned to "civvy street".
Today's world needs men who can make it smile and some-
Alex Gurney, creator of the Bluey and Curley comic strip, who
died on Sunday night, was that kind of man.
He was a happy man himself. He liked fishing, a beer or two,
a good story.
Gurney will be remembered for a long time, because he had
an inborn genius for knowing what makes men laugh. He would
have hated to picture them weeping over his tomb.
John Hetherington, The Age, 6 December 1955.
After Gurney's sudden death from heart attack, the strip was continued by Norman Rice, and then by Les Dixon.
^McCarter (1934); also has a photograph of Alex Gurney at work with his drawing board. See also: Day by Day: "Eventful History", The Mercury, (Friday, 12 December, 1941), p.3: "I wonder if Alex. Gurney, who every day enlivens us with his sketches in "The Mercury" of "Bluey and Curley", still uses his historic drawing board which once formed a panel of a cedar door in the Old Bell Hotel in Elizabeth St. Hobart. The door once gave entrance to the room in which Marcus Clark is believed to have written his famous book "For the Term of His Natural Life". When the hotel was demolished the door was bought on account of its fine wood. The panel, made into a drawing board, was later presented to Mr. Gurney. It is a strange thought that on that drawing board whose wood once witnessed the writing of one of the most painful stories of the past there should now be sketched the laughable anecdotes of Australian soldiers fighting for the Empire"; and also Beatty, B., "Australoddities", The Cairns Post, (Monday, 6 March 1950), p.4.
McCarter, Jim, "Historic Drawing Board", p. 6 in McCarter, J., Australian Curiosities: The Rare, Strange and Interesting (Robertson & Mullens' National Handbook No.15), Robertson & Mullens Ltd, (Melbourne), 1934.
Kendig, D., "Alex Gurney", The Funnies Paper, (November/December 2000), pp. 24-26.
Gurney, Alex (1902-55), p. 334 in Wilde, H.W., Hooton, J.W. & Andrews, B.G., Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (Second Revised Edition), Oxford University Press, (Melbourne), 1994.