Kenneth Albert Emerson

Born Sydney, New South Wales 09. 07, 1927
Died Sydney, New South Wales 12.02.2010

By Lindsay Foyle

In 1992, it was Steve Panozzo’s (the Australian Black and White Artists’ Club president), privilege to arrange for Ken Emerson to receive a smock. The problem was how to get him to the Sketches at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Sydney where the presentation was to be made. Ken had just been through a rough year, and felt reluctant to attend any large gatherings. He told Steve he doubted he would attend the evening.

Steve telephoned James Kemsley and the two concocted a plan. Steve would ask Ken to attend the night, so he could make a speech about James, who as far as Ken knew, was to receive the smock. To add flavour to the scheme, Steve asked Ken to help get James along. Steve told Ken James was ‘iffy’ about attending.

Later that day Ken rang James and then reported back to Steve.

Ken said he had found James reluctant to attend, but convinced him to come by saying he would attend if James would also attend.

When Ken arrived at Sketches he was expecting James to be given the smock. He was a little lost when Steve asked James to say a few words to the gathering. Only after James started talking did Ken understand it was him who was to get the smock, not James.

Steve has said it was the most fun he had had deceiving someone as nice as Ken.

Kenneth Albert Emerson was born in Sydney 1927. He spent part of his youth in central Queensland before studying art in the mid 1950s for 3 years at East Sydney Technical College where he met his future wife Meg Jolliffe. Then followed a few years in New Zealand where worked in assorted job including volunteer fireman.

Emerson worked in a variety of jobs in Australia and New Zealand, including being a greaser in a sugar mill, a chain-man for a surveyor and a barman.

Back in Sydney he took a job as a lighting hand at the old Tivoli Theatre in Sydney. He then became a boilermaker’s offsider, a builder’s labourer and a volunteer fireman, before eventually becoming a full-time artist.

His first art job was as a commercial artist and where he retouched photographs for an American company in Sydney. Next, he moved to TV animation. During his early days, he worked in a primitive studio near Botany Bay. Then he moved into advertising, doing freelance cartoons for trade magazines as a sideline. He drew a cover for The Bulletin in 1960.

Emerson contributed cartoons to a number of publications around Sydney and in May 1960 had a comic, Bush Folks accepted by The Australian Woman’s Mirror. It was owned by The Bulletin, which was taken over by the Frank Packer owned Conpress Printing Limited in November 1960. Soon after Packer merged Women’s Mirror, a very conservative magazine with the very raunchy Weekend. The two magazines had nothing in common and ended up being called Everybody’s. Emerson’s comic was dropped but he sold cartoons the new magazine for several years. Everybody’s folded late in 1967.

Emerson redeveloped his original idea into The Warrumbunglers, which was first published in The Sunday Telegraph in 1967. It was dropped in 1969 and returned to print in The Sun-Herald later in the same year. Only to be dropped again in 1971 and resurrected a third time in 1977 and still in The Sun-Herald.

Emerson kept busy; he came up with an idea for a second comic strip, On the Rocks set in the colonial days of Sydney, and it too ran in The Sun-Herald. Ken was still producing The Warrumbunglers in January 2010 when he realised that doing the work had become too physically difficult due to his ill health and reluctantly after almost 43 years, he decided call it quits. He died the following month.

Ken Emerson entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2016.

Further reading