Les Tanner Remembers

I first met Bill when I was a seventeen year old copy boy in the artist room at the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1944. He had just returned from New Guinea and I was greatly in awe of him. I had seen his work long before (my father had worked in the publishing rooms of various papers and always brought copies home – the Telegraph, Smith’s Weekly, Women’s Weekly, etc) so I was familiar with his comic illustrations. What I now discovered was his immense versatility in the war paintings he did.

He was probably the first adult I was encouraged to call by his first name. At his insistence he was either Bill or Billy Wep or Bill Pidge. Everyone else was Mr. or Sir. He was very warm, friendly, encouraging and funny.

He had a reputation for heavy drinking being among those that appeared in the pub when they opened at 10a.m.. What very few knew was that he’d already worked six hours, rising at 4a.m.. Newspapers were pretty boozy places anyway so the reputation did him no harm.

I didn’t know Jess at all as she was very sick but I heard a lot about her from his friends and colleagues. I know he adored her and that she was strikingly good looking and that he adored her not only for that but for her spirit and all the qualities she had and shared with others. He nursed her until her tragic death.

He used to come to the Artist’s room to get pencils, ink, white poster colour and paper but would always look at what I was drawing and say things like ‘that’s very funny, do more like that’ or show me the books of the old masters. I remember him showing me a book of Hokusai the Japanese 18th century print maker and telling me that he signed his work ‘An old man mad about drawing’. Bill thought that was marvelous.

Bill would appear always wearing a pork pie hat, always well dressed in a casual way. He had a soft voice, workman like hands with solid blunt fingers (as I well remember, from having one of them down my throat to make me up-chuck some of the excess liquor I’d consumed at the Artists’ Ball so I’d be sober enough to drive home.)

He was great encourager of young talent, Brett Whiteley, Peter Harrigan and me. He even set up a travelling scholarship which I was told later he meant for me but I was in the Army in Japan and madly in love with an American girl and didn’t enter. Peter Harrigan did and deservedly won a year in London. I think he was so in love with drawing and painting and just creating with his hands that when he saw talent in others he couldn’t help but foster and encourage. I remember him showing me a short flight of concrete steps at Northwood. He was so proud of having made them that he signed them Wep.

His friends Geoff Turton, George Finey, Bill Mahony and others told me stories about him shocking a posh dinner party with an oyster stuck in his nostril waggling about. About him taking Lennie Lower away to the Snowy Mountains with instructions not to give Lower any more money than two shillings (20c). Lower went to Cooma with his two shillings and came back rotten drunk with seven and sixpence change. He’d gone into Cooma, told everyone who he was and that he was there with Wep so no-one would let him pay for a drink and actually pressed money on him thus defeating the other instruction ‘sober him up and keep him sober’.

I saw a lot of your father when he was cartooning for the ‘Sunday Tele’ as I was rostered on on Saturdays. We used to drink in the Windsor hotel in Castlereagh St. He had his paper on the bar marking stories that might give him an idea for a cartoon. We’d go back to the canteen for a cold pork sandwich and he’d buy a bottle of dry sherry to share with the women in the Social dept. next door to our rooms.

Ure Smith the publisher got me to design the cover for ‘They’re A Weird Mob’ which I did but came down with appendicitis. Ure Smith asked Bill to illustrate it which was a bit much as he was trying to break away from illustration for serious portraiture and in fact had won his first Archibald [not at that time – 1957]. I think it was when he and your mother were either courting or had just married. I know he visited me in hospital to tell me he would do it. I only mention it because when the book launch was held, the author John O’Grady, a XXXX man at best, made his speech he hoped “You all made enough out of my talents to buy a new suit of clothes.” This was greeted by us all in stunned silence until someone announced that Bill had won his second [actually his first] Archibald. O’Grady was lost in the cheers that went up. O’Grady was very put out.

I met your mother several times both before and after marriage and have fond memories of her.

– Les Tanner, Feb. 2000

Caravanning with Wep – Jindabyne 1938; Rabbits Lurk In Evening Murk

Rabbits Lurk In Evening Murk

By L. W. LOWER

BREDBO, Friday.

We have knocked off snowing and started raining.

Gloom sets in on the hills, mist creeps into the Bredbo pub, and afar the trees droop.

Rabbits lurk in their burrows, and stark lie the valleys.

Brush up the town. I am coming back. So is Wep and his missis.

How they shall miss their little lad Lennie!

Sadness shall be their lot!

The publican is about to shout.

I don’t shout – I sing.

I didn’t solve the mystery of the missing golf course in Adaminaby.

Circumstantial evidence implicates a Scotsman seen with a spade looking for a golf ball.

We left the town in tears.

We had to. Everybody else was moving out.

Don’t know whether I should go home. I have lost those fox skins – the whole five bobs’ worth!

I shall cut the back out of Mrs. Wep’s fur on the way back.

She doesn’t know about it yet.

I am saving it up till I get to Darlinghurst. I talk too much.

Caravanning with Wep – Jindabyne 1938; Man From Snowy A Rum Chap

Man From Snowy A Rum Chap

By L. W. LOWER

JINDABYNE, Thursday.

It was a proud moment for the Daily Telegraph Polar expedition when it bought all the eggs in Jindabyne.

The whole six of them.

The hens had staged a stand-up strike. The butcher here is a butcheress, and wields a classy cleaver.

A traffic cop in this town would have to bring his knitting with him if he wanted to keep awake.

There is a small, round, silent cop in the main street, but nobody seems to know why.

I have met the man from Snowy River.

He wears two pairs of trousers, drinks rum, and doesn’t like food with his meals.

He was a great disappointment to me.

He Went Red

Poor Wep, my caravan comrade, has decided to paint something.

None of the scenery around here seems to suit him.

I tried all kinds of scenery on him, but I’m afraid that the Main Roads Board will have to make a few alterations in the general contour of the country before Wep is satisfied.

Another thing is that he just made out his expense account and I had to post it for him.

He must have a conscience, because every time he approached the post office he went red in the face and became boyishly embarrassed, the burglar.

Having no craven inhibitions, I posted it for him.

When I get the courage I will send in my own expense account.

Whip Music

The wee snowflakes have started flickering down.

I’ll tell you something.

Have you ever heard a bullock driver singing “Drifting and Dreaming”?

And accompanying himself with a 20-foot whip?

I have, and you needn’t lie awake worrying about it.

You haven’t missed anything.

Well, we must be getting along.

Caravanning with Wep – Jindabyne 1938; A Far Cry From Home, Minus Handkerchief

A Far Cry From Home, Minus Handkerchief

By L. W. LOWER

JINDABYNE, Wednesday.

Damn all Test matches. I strolled down to the Jindabyne pub last night to listen to the test match.

All was bright and gay within. Without, bleakness had set in in large frozen chunks.

The time came when I had to return to the caravan.

Bright, brittle moonlight was pasted all over the road, and the road went for miles and miles in the wrong direction.

After some hours of steady trudging I had an idea that I should be somewhere about the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I yelled “Coo-ee” in a forlorn, hope-less way, and the echo from the hills nearby made me burst into tears.

I had no matches, no money, no tobacco, and no handkerchief.

I said to myself, “Lower, this is no time for panic. Keep a grip on yourself. Don’t get hysterical.

So I kept on walking, and hours and hours later I found myself outside the same pub.

Trekked Again!

I have in there, and rapped feebly on the door.

They let me in and gave me a bed with two hundred blankets on it.

In the morning I went and had a look at the bathroom, smiled politely at it, and came away again.

I then sought out Straw Weston, the publican.

“I have no money to pay for my room,” I said, getting ready to run like mad.

“That’s all right.” He replied. “you can fix it up later.”

I then proceeded to get lost all over again. Early in the afternoon I found the caravan.

The inmates sneered at me, but I was too weak to object. Next time I go out, I’m going to be hung all over with hurricane lamps and fog horns.

Wep On The Rocks

WEP_Artworks_1651_copy
"Storm over Crackenback"

This is no place for a man who has been delicately brought up in Darlinghurst.

Wep, my artist friend, is away in the hills painting rocks.

Some people have quaint hobbies.

All I’ve got to do now is to find the post office all over again.

If ever I get back to Sydney, the first person who says to me, “Did you enjoy the trip?” gets a smack in the teeth.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Caravanning with Wep – Jindabyne 1938; Bushranger Country Describes It Exactly

Bushranger Country Describes It Exactly

By L. W. LOWER

ADAMINABY, Tuesday.

I am in the bushranger belt, I am informed.

The longer I sojourn in our country districts the more gullible I become.

I am convinced now that the only reason why the man from the bush bought the sundial from the Sydney Botanic Gardens was because he needed a sundial, and it looked like a bargain.

And anyhow, he borrowed the purchase price from the con. man who sold it to him.

That is why, when the local doctor points out to me the very tree where the terror of the ranges was hanged by the infuriated trooper, I just say: –

“Really?”

“Really?”

I believe there was a time when you could sell a farmer an egg-beater and assure him he could get 2BL on it.

Now I, the City Shrewdy, have been loaded with four fox skins – with the bullet holes carefully plugged up and brushed over – at a guinea a skin.

Local Champion

I have a suggestion for the Chief of Police.

Have the Consorting Act repealed and let the city shrewd heads loose in the country.

If they don’t come and give themselves up voluntarily, it will be because they are too ashamed.

But I will tell you something.

I am the best snooker, draughts, domino, and billiards player in the Monaro district.

I am also the best fighting man for miles around.

I am keeping this to myself, however.

Jealousy may rear its ugly head.

 

Wanted To Sell

This pearl of wisdom I pass on to any adventurous young man who thinks of packing his manicure set and leaving Darlinghurst for life:

Don’t try to give away a 2/6 fountain-pen as a token of goodwill. You will immediately become suspect.

Charge 45/ for it.

Accept 6/ as a deposit, spend 1/ of it in shouting the purchaser, and then go somewhere else.

I have this from a man who is now touring the country on his way to Victoria.

He has his own car.

And, may the saints forgive me, I bought a fourpenny self-propelling pencil from him for 3/6 before he left town. I have some delightful fox skins I wish to dispose of, as I am leaving the country.

No offer sneered at.

I wish I was back in Darlinghurst, where you know what to expect.

 

Caravanning with Wep – 1938 Jindabyne; Grimm Tale of Man IN Snowy River

Grimm Tale of Man IN Snowy River

By L. W. LOWER

JINDABYNE, Monday.

I, myself, personally, alone, and unaided, have crossed the Snowy River on foot in my downy underpants.

This, so far as I know, has never been done before.

As for me, it will not be done again within living memory.

Asked by an interested bystander why I did this, I told him in my simple, forthright way that I wanted to see what was on the other side.

This seemed pretty weird to him.

Halfway across I became bunkered in the rapids, but the indomitable Lower spirit triumphed, and nature took a dirty slap to the face.

Innumerable turkeys roam around our caravan.

I missed eight with various-sized rocks, and had just drawn a fine sight on the ninth, with every chance of bringing him down, when a man in dirty khaki trousers came and said: “Waddger thinkyer trianterdo?”

It seems that they were his turkeys.

“I was just teaching your turkeys how to duck,” I replied.

I thought that was rather bright, considering. He didn’t.

Un-palette-able!

My artist companion, Wep, is becoming more tiring every hour.

Today he was squinting at a little church built on the top of a bare rock-strewn hill.

He walked me up and down for miles saying, “It looks better from here, don’t you think. Do you think I’d get the light better from over there?”

I said that it would probably look swell from the verandah of Straw Weston’s pub.

He became temperamental about it, and said I had no eye for beauty, no sense of balance and proportion, and no soul.

I got into my huff and walked off.

I beat him to the hotel by only four minutes.

Caravanning with Wep – Jindabyne 1938; Quavering Made Them Crotchety

Quavering Made Them Crotchety

By L. W. LOWER

JINDABYNE, Sunday.

Pity you weren’t at the dance last night.

All the girls in this town have been mooning around with cast-iron hair-wavers all over them for days and days.

I sang.

The policeman who put me out told me that he was a great lover of music, but there were a lot of narrow-minded people in the town who had no ear for music.

One of our main storekeepers has been fined 28 shillings for fishing for trout out of season.

He didn’t catch any trout, either.

Ain’t he lucky?

If at any time the Government thinks of dredging the river up around these parts, they may come across a safety razor.

That will be mine.

Cows, But No Milkmen

I have now the perfect excuse for not shaving.

When I think of the hot towels, bay rum, and cold cream and talcum powder shaves I had before I went bush, I blush.

That dance I mentioned was in aid of the Bush Nurses’ Association.

What I need mostly now is a bush nurse.

Almost any kind of nurse will do, but I think a bush nurse would be more appropriate.

Little did I know when I left town that I would wake one morning frozen to death and entirely surrounded by munching cows.

“Will you go for the milk?”

“Certainly. Where do I go?”

“See that hill over there, well you keep that on your right shoulder till you come to a creek. You go across there and take to the left track past the bull paddock.”

“Pardon, but do you really think we need any milk? They tell me that the stuff is full of tubercular germs and things. I think we’d be safer without milk.”

Not Much Remains …

There will come a day, I suppose when I’ll just have to go for the milk.

When black-trackers find my remains, people will say, “Poor Lennie. Cut off in the bloom of youth. A winsome lad. How we all loved him.”

Make my wreath of Iceland poppies, freesias, and snowdrops.

Wep is lying on his back, covered with blankets and inertia.

He has gathered sufficient strength to tell me to make the fire and put the chops on.

I wish I had a shilling.

Any of you lads who contemplate having a hot rum about now, please think of me, and breathe in a southerly direction.

Caravanning with WEP – Winter, 1938; a week at Jindabyne with Lennie Lower

 

In the 1930s, Lennie Lower was considered one of Australia’s foremost humorists. His novel, Here’s Luck was first published in 1930 and is considered a classic of Australian humour.  It has been reprinted many times since and was illustrated by his good friend and colleague, Wep with the 1955 edition.  Wep and Lower were closely associated from the time Wep first started illustrating his column at the Daily Guardian in Sydney and later at The Australian Women’s Weekly when that publication commenced in 1933 cementing their notoriety throughout Australia.

Lower was reknowned for his drinking and in the winter of 1938, Wep and his wife Jess were accompanied by Lower for a week’s sojourn in the Snowy Mountains region around Jindabyne and Cooma.  Lower was to write a series of columns for the Daily Telegraph and Wep was under instructions not to give Lower any more money than 2 shillings.  Lower went to Cooma with his two shillings and returned rotten drunk with seven and sixpence change. He’d gone into Cooma and told everyone who he was, and that he was there with Wep. No one would let him pay for a drink and actually pressed money on him thus defeating the other instruction to Wep to “sober him up and keep him sober.”