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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Strange, Benjamin Edward (Ben) (1868–1930)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Benjamin Edward (Ben) Strange (1868-1930), cartoonist, was born on 10 May 1868 at the cavalry barracks, Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, son of Benjamin Strange, private in the 10th Hussars, and his French wife Augustine, née Menefoz. After serving in India, his father retired and Ben attended a London board school. He learned drawing and painting at evening art classes and from a family friend who illustrated weekly journals.

Migrating to Western Australia in 1885, he went a few years later to the Yilgarn goldfields as a dryblower and while there contributed cartoons to the Sydney Bulletin. He joined the staff of the Coolgardie Miner and Coolgardie Pictorial in 1894. Next year the Coolgardie Goldfields Courier, owned by James MacCallum Smith, retained him to provide a weekly page of humorous sketches. Because his drawings had to be mailed via Fremantle to Melbourne or Sydney for engraving and then back to the West, he generally depicted the foibles of local characters rather than attempting contemporary political comment. He transferred to the Coolgardie Pioneer in 1897 and in April 1898 began a page of topical 'cartoonlets' for (Sir) Winthrop Hackett's Perth weekly, the Western Mail. Except for a period in 1899-1900 when he served in the South African War with Lord Roberts's Horse, he stayed with the Mail for the rest of his life.

Strange was a skilled draughtsman with vivid powers of characterization and his heyday extended from the latter years of Sir John Forrest's premiership to World War I. Among his favourite subjects were Sir John and Alexander Forrest, (Sir) Walter James and John Scaddan. His cartoons were 'never gross and never such as to give needless pain or offence to their subjects. Their satire was of the gentler Gilbertian sort'. A staunch Western Australian and an Imperial patriot, he turned his sharpest thrusts against radicals and Labor politicians. His most celebrated cartoon, 'East is East, and West is West', appeared after the rejection of conscription at the 1916 referendum: his outline map of Australia showed Western Australia as a British lion and the 'No'-voting eastern States as a timid rabbit.

Short and stocky, with a waddle in his walk, Strange was good humoured and kindly; a bachelor and at times a loner, he was fond of a drop and lived at the edge of suburban Perth near the Canning Bridge. In the 1920s his cartoons lost much of their local appeal and were reduced from their full-page spread, but his work appeared regularly in the Western Mail until he died suddenly of heart disease on 16 August 1930. He was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery.

In artistic merit and humorous imagination Strange at his best was the peer of any Bulletin cartoonist. By remaining in Perth he missed wider recognition and stimulus; although it was frequently reproduced in the English Review of Reviews, his work has been unduly neglected. A collection of his cartoons may be seen at History House, Armadale.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Mahood, The Loaded Line (Melb, 1973)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 21 Aug 1930
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Strange, Benjamin Edward (Ben) (1868–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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