Stanley Cross

1888 - 1977    |    VIC   |    Cartoonist

Cross created perhaps Australia's best-known cartoon, known by its caption "For Gorsake, stop laughing - this is serious". His art portrayed typical Australians, from farmers to jackaroos, doctors and diggers. For The Herald in Melbourne, he created the adventures of Wally and the Major in a comic strip syndicated for decades in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji and celebrated in 18 annual books from 1943 to 1960. His name is perpetuated in the annual Black and White Artists' Club Stanley Awards.

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Stanley George Cross was one of the first in a long line of world-class Australian cartoonists, a colossus in the history of the craft.

One of Australia’s most distinctive and successful political and strip cartoonists, Cross had an ability to caricature Australian personalities, from wharfies to politicians.

He was born in 1888 in Los Angeles to English parents who had met in Australia and then migrated to the US for work. They returned with young Stanley when he was four and settled in Perth.

He started his working life with the State Government as a railways clerical cadet. He studied art in the evenings at Perth Technical College. In 1912, at the age of 24, and with the financial backing of his brother, he resigned from his job and went to London to study at the St Martins School of Art. Punch magazine accepted some of his drawings.

He returned to Western Australia and began freelancing for newspapers such as the Western Mail and the Sunday Times in Perth. After several years of developing his talent he received an offer of five pounds a week from Smith’s Weekly in Sydney and in 1919 he started his 20 year stint at the paper. There he created several famous comic strips such as ‘You and Me’ in 1920. The strip centered around the life of a Mr Pott, and while starting out as a vehicle for political satire, it gradually developed into a domestic commentary. He drew this strip for the next nineteen years up until he left the Smith’s Weekly in 1939. The comic strip was then taken over by Jim Russell who renamed it ‘Mr and Mrs Potts’.

Stan Cross thought his future was secured with the Smith’s Weekly position so he asked his West Australian sweetheart Jessie May Hamilton to come and join him in Sydney. She was 25 years old and worked as a clerk and they were married in Bondi Junction in 1924. Stan and Jessie had two children; Lorraine, born in 1927 and Stephen, born in 1935.

In 1928 he started another comic strip, ‘The Vaudevllians’, about a drunken sailor called Rhubarb and his straight sidekick Norman. To add to his considerable workload in 1936 he drew a comic strip for the Smith’s Weekly based on the famous Dad and Dave radio serial.

Stan Cross was also an adept exponent of the single panel cartoon. It was in 1933 on 29 July that he drew what is arguably Australia’s most famous editorial cartoon. The cartoon features two male construction workers high up on a building site. A girder has just given way and the two men are dangling precariously with one holding on to a beam, his pants down around his ankles which are being clutched by his mate in desperate bid to prevent himself falling to a certain death.

He is convulsed in laughter at the situation they find themselves in, while the other exclaims, “FOR GORSAKE STOP LAUGHING - THIS IS SERIOUS”. The Smith’s Weekly’s editor Frank Marien claimed it was the funniest cartoon ever drawn. There could be no better bouquet from an editor to a cartoonist. The cartoon was reprinted in the thousands on quality paper stock and sold far and wide across Australia and the world.

Drawn during the depression years, the prints cost two shillings and sixpence, a fair sum for those times. The public identified strongly with the humour in the cartoon.

Framed copies hung in shops, homes and bars all around the country. In the 1980s the cartoon of the two men was cast in bronze as a statuette and awarded to cartoonists members of the Australian Black and White Artists Society. Stan Cross was the longest serving president of the club from 1939 to 1970. The club today is called the Australian Cartoonists’ Association and every year it awards the nation’s best cartoonists and caricaturists at the Stanley Awards with a statuette recreation of the cartoon depicting to the two dangling construction workers.

In 1939 the Smith’s Weekly was experiencing financial difficulties and Stan Cross resigned from the paper. In 1940 Sir Keith Murdoch made an offer for him to join the Melbourne Herald, with the special condition that Cross could still live and work in Sydney. It was at The Herald that he created the Winks comic strip in 1940, and after only a few months it became Wally and the Major. For nearly 30 years readers were entertained by the antics of Wally Higgins and Major Winks during World War II and afterwards when they worked on a sugar cane plantation in northern Queensland.

Stan Cross retired in 1970 and the artist Carl Lyon continued the strip. Stan Cross was an imposing figure, standing 6’ 2” tall. He wore spectacles, enjoyed conversation on politics with colleagues and had the curious hobbies of economics, accountancy and English Grammar. He wrote extensively on grammar, but never published. He also participated in soil conservation on his sheep property in Guyra in New South Wales, not far from Armidale. His son Stephen managed the property where they discovered and mined tin and sapphires.

Stan Cross retired in 1970 at the age of 82 due to failing eyesight. The journalist Kenneth Slessor wrote of him:

“Without warnings or goodbyes, one of Australia’s old masters of black and white art has quietly vanished from the daily papers. There was no official announcement a few weeks ago when the last of the comic strips made famous by Stan Cross was taken over by other artists imitating his style (but not his comic genius). Stan has finally retired and the world will seem a little duller and flatter without his quips.”

Stan Cross had been devastated by the death of his wife in 1972 and then his son in 1975. He spent the last few years of his life in Armidale with his son’s wife and grandchildren.

He passed away there on the 16 June 1977.

Mark Knight is the multi-award winning cartoonist for the Herald Sun, an emerging legend in his own right.

'For gorsake stop laughing - this is serious', Stan Cross, published in Smith's Weekly on 29 July 1933.


Wally and the Major feature cover.

Wally and the Major feature cover.


Portrait of Stan Cross taken between 1935 and 1950. Courtesy National Library of Australia.