Mary Leunig (1950- ) is the younger sister of soppy, much loved newspaper cartoonist Michael Leunig. We (Milly and I) have had her earlier savagely funny books of drawings forever – There’s No Place Like home (1982) and A Piece of Cake (1986). She put out a couple of others in the 90s but One Good Turn (2018) is her first book for a quarter of a century, and what a beauty it is!
The kids had unrestricted access to my bookcase and could often be found with their heads over a Mary Leunig illustration trying to work out what was going on (see illustration on the right below). My favourite was a of a young housewife at the sink , a child tugging at her leg, dreaming of the white knight coming to rescue her, her arms blood to the elbows, plunged unnoticed into the insinkerator.
Leunig lives with her artist husband on a bush block in north eastern Victoria and her drawings reflect that, she draws her life and what she thinks about life. She draws personally and she draws politically. She draws her battle to keep her unborn son against the constant pressure to give it up for adoption, through to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s formal apology to young mothers in Parliament in 1990. She draws taking out her kids to show them off when they are little, through to taking them out with machine guns when they “grow up to be fascists”. In a double page spread she finally gets the recognition she deserves “by shooting my brother in the bum” (she must have used an expanding bullet as poor Michael loses an awful lot of organs through a gaping exit wound).
Milly sees a progression in the stories told by the pictures – I gave this to her for her birthday last year, but couldn’t persuade her to write a review – I couldn’t, but can perceive a theme: That the upper classes are bastards, working people and women especially do it tough, and moments of enjoyment may still be found.
All of the pictures bear looking at, over and over. For ‘simple’ drawings they have extraordinary depth and complexity. There is a picture of richly gowned prelate lying face down, arms wide, crucified. The eye is drawn first to the spilled bottle of grog beneath his left hand, then to the two, small bare feet sticking out to the right from under his robe, and finally to the child’s clothes – shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, underpants – neatly off to the side.
Many of the drawings are intensely personal, or more accurately, refer to intensely personal situations. In the page after the drawings above Leunig writes under another drawing of herself now, “But I’m post menopausal, and sex hurts … plus I’m not interested. AT ALL! THE END.” Early in the book there is a picture of her mother’s gravestone topped by a very angry angel. In a later series she attempts to visit her mother from whom she was estranged, and her brother in law calls the police. A year later she hears her mother is dead.
He early drawings always had her son and daughter tangled around her feet, but apparently as the kids got older they disliked what she drew and now they too are estranged (I have provided a link to a very open ABC interview). As she writes, “First I fucked up the kids. Then I fucked up Lois [dog]. And now I’ve fucked up the chooks! to be cont….”
There’s lots more. Lots of it sad. Lots I don’t understand. But every house should have a copy.
Mary Leunig, One Good Turn, Brow Books (an offshoot of The Lifted Brow), Melbourne, 2018
ABC interview (here)