Ben Boyang

Ben BoyangG’day, remember the comic strip ‘Ben Bowyang’ or ‘Gunn’s Gully’ as it was called in some papers?   Well I certainly do.   I drew ‘Ben Bowyang’ every day for 10 years.

But now Ben Bowyang is appearing in the great comic strip in the sky.   Y’see, the Melbourne Herald killed him off in 1979.   Golly, I remember when I was drawing ‘Ben Bowyang’, if I drew a milk pail badly or a wattle and daub milking shed incorrectly, letters would pour in to the editor insisting I be sacked, horse whipped with rusty fencing wire, and at least confined to a study tour of the Australian outback and bitten by a blue heeler for 100 years.

Probably the only funny thing about the strip was hordes of people throughout Australia actually believed they knew Ben Bowyang and, even though he was a fictional fella, they fervently believed that he lived in their own small town and that they grew up with him.   A lot of ‘em could even remember him talking to them when they were children.   Some of them even wrote letters to the Editor in which they included photographs of who they believed was the old bushman.   To many people they were fair dinkum old bush stories and the forced humour of the hard times of the pioneering days when the farm was recognised as being Australia.

People related to the outback Australia.   Even those who crowded the cities firmly believed that they were of a farming community and were proud of it.   This certainly was the case when Ben Bowyang was created by C. J. Dennis in the 1930s.   Dennis took to writing letters to the Herald which he signed ‘Ben Bowyang – a hayseed from the bush’.

They were funny letters with comments on city life and how it affected a boy from the bush down for the Melbourne Show.   The readers of the Herald loved these letters and so the Herald instigated a search to find the author, Ben Bowyang.

Eventually they discovered it was the renowned C.J. Dennis.   They convinced him to write more letters which became a regular feature.   So popular, in fact, that the artist Wells drew a head and shoulder portrait of the fictional hayseed.

Then in October 1933 Ben Bowyang finally blossomed into a full comic strip.   The famous Alex Gurney (who subsequently became the artist and author of ‘Bluey & Curly’ remember them?) drew and wrote the new strip ‘Ben Bowyang.’

It was also drawn by Mick Armstrong, Keith Martin, Sir Lionel Lindsay (although none of his ever appeared) and that wonderful artist Alex McRae who spent most of his drawing life perfecting the strip.   Alex was, without a doubt, the finest artist to draw Ben Bowyang and his mates.   Bevyn Baker, the Olympic sprinter took over after McRae and after Baker’s short stint I wrote and drew the strip for 10 years.

 Anyway, one of the interesting points of the strip’s conception was that a lot of the gags centred around Mrs. Bowyang.   But we never saw her.   That’s right, she was never actually drawn.   She was only a voice balloon coming out of an open window.   You see, when Ben started, it would be improper to draw a pioneer’s wife in caricature.   They believed that the married woman must maintain her dignity because often she was left alone at the homestead while the husband was off fencing in the bush and so it was important that she was always treated with dignity and respect by any passing male.   And there were a lot of swaggies about at that time knocking on the back door of lonely homesteads asking for a meal in exchange for some chopped wood.   And so it was believed that lampooning the Missus in comic strips would undermine her dignity and authority.   So that’s why she is always depicted as an upright, sober citizen who talked about sewing and cooking and helping other people.   What cooking she did was usually plain, simple straight-forward food like a leg of lamb with mint sauce and peas and roast potatoes.   My bush cook recipes appeared in the ‘New Idea’ of September 22, 1979.

But there was more than just Ben Bowyang and his Missus in the strip.   There was Bill Smith – Bowyang’s fat bearded little mate, and Smith’s girlfriend – ugly ferocious Lil.   There’s the Australian bushwhacker Kanga and the mean old cow Wilson who owned the corner store, Hogan the publican who never had a frozen beer in his life, and the old bush Parson with his flat crowned hat and foiled umbrella who has finally stopped sermonising the beer swilling bush blokes at Hogan’s bar.

In a way I suppose it’s a relief to no longer sob over my drawing board in desperation as I try to think up a daily joke to suit the characters of Gunn’s Gully, as well as the ardent and loyal readers of the comic strip.

They’ve all been laid to rest, or really I suppose I should say they’ve retired, because you see none of them will ever die, because they’re all Indian inked into the history books of Australia.   It’s sad when I wade through knee-deep piles of old ‘Ben Bowyang’ comic strips which litter the floor of my drawing room.   There are hundreds and hundreds of them, all in frozen animation.

Maybe one day someone will give them mouth to mouth (pen to paper?) and breathe life back into the old comic strip of Australia’s past.

You can buy an original BEN BOWYANG for $85.00 plus postage.   They are unframed and drawn on flimsy paper.   Each original appeared in the famous Melbourne Herald and other papers owned by The Herald & Weekly Times group.   In some states the strip was called GUNNS GULLY.

Email me here if you after any original Ben Bowyang artwork.

Comic Ben Boyang Strip1

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