Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Mr Michael Atchison
I rise tonight to speak about one who South Australia claims as its own, and who sadly we recently farewelled. Cartoonist, artist and educator, Michael Atchison died on 16 February this year at the age of 75. I had the honour of having Michael as a colleague in my days at the Adelaide Advertiser. And I also had the honour in 2004 of inducting him into the South Australian Media Hall of Fame, the state’s highest industry award, recognising an individual’s long-term commitment and achievement in the media.
Michael began work at the Advertiser in 1967 and spent his career closely examining the lives and times of the political characters which graced the state, national and world stages. He worked for such auspicious publications as Britain’s Punch to Australia’s racy Man magazine as well as newspapers now defunct, including Sydney’s Daily Mirror and the Sunday Advertiser. He explored and brought to light idiosyncrasies of our politicians with a deft hand on a daily basis.
He cited amongst his favourite subjects political leaders Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Don Dunstan and Steele Hall, while sports personalities, film stars and just about anybody in the public spotlight was unable to escape his attention. While some journalists spend thousands of words exploring the ins and outs of the rich, the famous and the infamous, Michael could capture the essence of the story in one satirical blow—all with the help of his trusty art pens and, for around 30 years a furry little dog who became instantly famous by urinating in his first ever appearance in the media.
Michael’s was an extraordinary talent and he was recognised by his cartooning peers as one of the great Australian political satirists. In 1998 he was bestowed with the hallowed artist’s smock by his colleagues, a tradition dating back to the 1920s, in appreciation of his service to the cartoonist profession. The list of accolades for Michael is long and includes a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community as a political and social commentator through the print media and as an author and cartoonist. Despite the esteem in which he was held, he was a humble man and he never sought recognition by entering awards.
Michael’s cartoon history of word origins, Word for Word, has appeared daily in newspapers in Australia and around the world since 1989 and has been well loved by his many thousands of readers. A friend and colleague, South Australian poet and columnist Max Fatchen said of Michael:
When he sat down with his pen, magic flowed from it because he looked at humankind in a passionate but perceptive way.
Another colleague, friend and well-known Advertiser journalist and arts critic Samela Harris said on his passing:
For 40 years, Atchison made people laugh, smile and think. He had that quirk of intelligent mind which could see the comic and ironic aspects of even calamitous events.
Michael had other passions, among them teaching. It was while studying at Adelaide Teachers College that he met his beloved wife, Olga, then a fellow student art teacher. Their five-decade partnership produced two daughters, Michelle and Nicola, and three grandchildren. Michael’s working days began with six years of teaching, before he moved with Olga to Britain to work as a freelancer. While abroad he was for seven years art director of a London advertising agency.
His love for teaching never faded though. After his return to Australia, from 1968 until 1997 this was his morning occupation before arriving at the Advertiser to set about his daily creation. His love for mentoring art students at his own Adelaide alma mater, Kings College, today known as Pembroke School, was well known. In Samela’s words, ‘Michael Atchison is no longer with us but his humour remains, timeless in its perfect encapsulation of the big themes of life.’