By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service (ANS Book Review)
AUSTRALIA (ANS – October 25, 2017) — Founder of Eternity newspaper, the largest monthly newspaper in Australia, David Maegraith, has just released a new publication, the memoirs of his grandfather Kerwin Maegraith, who led a colourful, extraordinary life in Australia and Europe last century.
Kerwin (1903 – 1970) knew and drew Picasso in Paris, Einstein and Churchill in London, and even lived with Errol Flynn in Sydney. Caricaturist, journalist and true Aussie larrikin, Kerwin encountered the most famous people of his time from the 1920’s to the Sixties.
The book is out now on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Larrikin-Kerwin-Maegraith/dp/1533331782
Explaining the title of the book “Larrikin”, David says, “When we call someone a ‘larrikin’ in Australia, it means the person has a fun outlook on life, doesn’t take things too seriously, and likes to have a laugh. That sums up my grandfather Kerwin!”
He continues, “There are many fascinating stories in the book, along with some of his artworks, and I think it will appeal to a wide audience. For people of faith, the story of the Presbyterian Pastor and the start of the Flying Doctors is of particular interest.”
The Royal Flying Doctor Service is a vital link for outback Aussies who need a doctor or medical help fast. Due to the vast area of the Australian bush, sick people often have to call a plane instead of an ambulance to be taken to hospital in an emergency.
Kerwin drew cartoons for the Advertiser, the capital city newspaper of Adelaide, Australia in the 1920s and 30s.
His boss was wealthy South Australian Sir Langdon Bonython who owned the Advertiser and also ran it as editor. Kerwin and Sir Langdon were the only ones at the newspaper office late one night in 1926 when a stranger turned up. Kerwin writes,
Dusty boots and dishevelled overcoat, tired and weary, he asked to see Sir Langdon. “He’ll never see you at this time, it’s 11 o’clock,” I said.
“I must see him,” said the visitor, who told me he was in Adelaide from Birdsville (thousands of miles away in Queensland).
“There’s a chap from Birdsville downstairs, Sir Langdon, to see you.”
“Who is he?” replied my Chief.
“He’s a parson.”
“What religion?” snapped Sir Langdon. I had to go down to the front of the Advertiser office to ask him.
“Presbyterian,” I said.
“Show him in!” was the prompt reply.
Half an hour later down came John Flynn waving a wet cheque. “This will provide Alf Traeger with the money to build the pedal wirelesses,” he said.
That was the start of the Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service pedal sets. Alf Traeger invented them, just bike pedals, stirring up the capacity to send out radio signals for help.
Kerwin was thrilled to be present at such an auspicious occasion, and the generous donation from one Presbyterian to another meant the Flying Doctors could communicate with ill patients throughout the Aussie outback.
The Flying Doctors pedal sets were a low-powered, portable, pedal-driven, Morse radio transmitter-receiver with a range of 300 miles. This transceiver, together with the use of aeroplanes, made possible a system of regular long-distance medical consultations and the flying of doctors to patients in emergencies in the bush.
Shortly after this, Kerwin travelled to Europe, where he befriended and sketched many famous people, including this stranger minding his own business. Kerwin writes,
It was in 1933 that Albert Einstein happened to be walking up the High Street in Oxford. I have never ever beheld any man so like a koala, unless it was our former Aussie Prime Minister Joe Lyons. I asked Einstein if he would stay still a few minutes, as I wanted to jot his features down. He obliged.
Another time, Kerwin hung out with Pablo Picasso,
I first encountered Picasso when he was working in Paris in the 1930’s…Pablo proved to be a better actor than most of the dancers I knew then. He loved dressing as a clown and was a cinch for Sir William Orpen, who used to dress up his subjects.
It was Picasso who told me to always use a Conté cray-on in preference to a lead pencil. Picasso is an actor as well as a first class painter and sculptor. He would have made a fortune clowning in a circus, for he has a mischievous idea of fun and practical joking.
Kerwin’s grandson, David Maegraith, said he could not believe the names Kerwin dropped when he first read his unpublished memoirs over ten years ago. It has taken a decade of part-time editing and compilation to get the memoirs to the publishing stage and launch of the book “Larrikin”.
“To be honest, at first I thought he was making it up”, David says. “Hanging out with Picasso, Einstein, he also knew Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Logie Baird (inventor of TV) and J. M. Barrie (author, Peter Pan).
“These are all legendary names in history, but in the 1930’s they were still accessible and the world was a much smaller place. With his chutzpah and sketch pad, Kerwin was able to not only meet these famous people, but get to know them too. Plus, we have his sketches of most of them, so he must have met them! Back then, no professional cartoonist would sketch from a photo without having met someone, and then claim that they had.”
Larrikin: The :Life and Times of Kerwin Maegraith is interspersed with amazing cartoons by Kerwin, from H. G. Wells to King George V, G. K. Chesterton to Noël Coward. Of Chesterton, Kerwin explains…
I found G.K. Chesterton to be an enormous, flabby fellow with a big gut. I could never get him on to one sheet of drawing paper. When I got him all in, I presented my caricature for publication, three sheets stuck together.
And of Winston Churchill, Kerwin writes…
I caught up with my old friend Les Boyce. He arranged for me to have a press lobby pass to the Commons, a rare honour for a young Australian. Here I met Winston Churchill, then a backbencher.
“Can you get me some decent cobalt blue?” he asked me. I got him a tube and he asked me about watercolours, then sculpting. I’ll never forget Winnie’s wonderful enthusiasm for sculpture.
“How do you get the clay not to crack?” he asked.
“Use a little Vaseline,” I said.
Larrikin: The Life and Times of Kerwin Maegraith is available now on Amazon and would make a perfect Christmas gift for anyone with an interest in history, the arts, sport and the names mentioned above. Just go to: https://www.amazon.com/Larrikin-Kerwin-Maegraith/dp/1533331782
Note: Goodreads is offering giveaway copies of Larrikin. Just go here: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/260446
Photo captions: 1) Book cover. 2) Kerwin Maegraith at his drawing desk in the Sixties. 3) The Aussie 20 dollar note features John Flynn the Presbyterian Pastor. 4) The Rolling Stones as drawn by Kerwin Maegraith. 5) G K Chesterton was so large Kerwin could not fit him on one page. 6) David Maegraith. 7) The cover of Dan’s latest book.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist, who was born in Nigeria, West Africa, of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, who then worked with the Sudan Interior Mission, now known as SIM. Dan now lives in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder/president of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of numerous books, the latest of which is “Mary: My Story from Bethlehem to Calvary (http://marythebook.com/ ). He has a radio show and two television programs, all based in Southern California.
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