Alan Charles Moir

Born New Plymouth New Zealand 1945

By Lindsay Foyle

When Alan Moir was working for the Courier Mail in 1983 he received a writ demanding he apologise for a cartoon he had drawn of two Queensland politicians, Llew Edwards and Joh Bjelke-Petersen. If he did not he would be taken to court. The company legal advisor quickly typed up an apology and gave it to Moir to sign. Moir refused, and resigned instead. When Harry Gordon, the editor-in-chief heard about what was going on he sort further legal advice. It contained very different advice, possibly because the first solicitor had also been the treasurer of the Liberal Party. Gordon dropped the apology request and told the Queensland Solicitor General, “You can take us to court. It’ll have to be a group action, because it’s not defaming anybody in particular, and there is no precedent in Australia for successful group action.” Nothing was heard of the threat again.

Moir was born in Hawera, a little town near New Plymouth, New Zealand in 1945 and he grew up in Dunedin. Because he was good at drawing his schoolteacher lent him some books on David Low who had also grown up in Dunedin.

He started drawing cartoons in his last year of primary school and continued at Kaikorai Valley High School. While there he met the Otago Daily Times cartoonist Sid Scales and was impressed that he showed him around the paper. He moved from Dunedin to Napier in his last year of school but still managed to qualify for university. He attended Elam Art School for a time before taking on a few odd jobs to earn money so he could go overseas. He moved to Auckland, worked in factories, on the wharves and other odd jobs to get the money to enable him to travel.

He got to Australia in 1970 and started work in a plastics factory while looking for cartooning opportunities. He moved to Perth where he stayed for about 15 months. It was then back to Sydney. What he wanted to do was draw political cartoons. It was an ambition he had harboured since he was about twelve. So, he submitted some cartoons to the teachers Union. Next, he sent some to The Bulletin in early 1973. While the magazine was famous for its cartoons content, in fact, it had not had a cartoonist since Les Tanner had left in 1967 to work on The Age, and was relying on syndicated cartoons from Punch. Trevor Kennedy had only been editor for a few months and was keen to get some local political cartoons into the paper.

Moir’s presence in The Bulletin attracted a number of other cartoonists to try submitting cartoons. Many got their cartoons published too, but few could match Moir. As his reputation grew so too did his confidence and in 1979 he was asked to do three months, work as the political cartoonist on the Daily Telegraph. He thought if he did well, he might become the paper’s daily cartoonist. What he had not been told was he was only filling in till Bill Michell arrived from Perth to take the job.

His disappointment did not last long. He soon got an offer of permanent work in Brisbane on the Courier Mail, replacing Stuart McCrae who was retiring. Moir was a shock to the quiet pages of the Courier Mail and to the politicians who had come to think of the newspaper as theirs. He was also a shock to the editor who was used to people doing what they were told.

On one occasion Russ Hinz one of Queensland more colourful politicians, approached the editor of the Courier Mail complaining about being drawn as a bulldog. Moir was called into the editor’s office where Hinz’s expressed his dislike for Moir’s drawing od f him. Moir was in a consolatory mood and offered to draw him as a Pekingese dog. Hinz thought about the proposal before saying he preferred the Bulldog image.

Moir was still drawing cartoons for the Courier Mail when in 1984 he heard George Molnar was retiring from the Sydney Morning Herald. He applied for the job and got it. He retained it for the next 34 years.

Moir was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 1999 and the UN Award for Political Cartooning 2004 and his cartoons are also syndicated internationally through The New York Times Syndicate.

He has given talks on the History of Western Political Cartooning in Sydney and Canberra, NZ (Auckland and Wellington), India (New Delhi, Trivandrum, Kochi), and following the 2006 the Danish Prophet cartoon controversy; he was invited to the Australian Senate to give a lecture on the history of political cartooning.

Because of the declining interest in newspaper art being shown by the newspaper editors the Australian Cartoonists’ Association decided to establish the Stanley Awards in 1985. These are national awards voted on by the cartoonists working in the industry. As well as having awards for different sections, there was also a special award given to the artists whose year’s output was considered the best. Moir was the first cartoonist to win the ACA Artists of the Year award in 1985. He has also won Stanley Awards in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991 for his political cartooning. And he has won Walkley Awards in 2000 & 2006 for political cartoons.

Moir has work held in several collections including the National Library of Australia, the National Museum of Australian, the Cartoon archive in the National Library of New Zealand, the State Library of Queensland, the State Library of Victoria and the State Library of New South Wales as well as in the private Collection of Kofi Annan, the former Secretary- General of the UN.

There have been a number of books published of Moir’s cartoons which included, Joh’s Family Album (with Mac Vines) 1980, Flo goes to Canberra (with Mac Vines) 1981, Brisbane Lines (with Donald Greenfield) 1982, The Bob Book (with Mac Vines) 1984, Alan Moir’s Joh’s Party Album 1987, Moir’s Gulf 1991, I Cassius 1995, Are We Nearly There Yet? 2010.

In 2018 the Sydney Morning Herald decided to only use Moir cartoons in the Saturday edition. He then started an online subscription service selling cartons to subscribers.

Alan Moir entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Further reading