JANE SULLIVAN

THIS is my father, Arthur Horner, in the days when he worked as a cartoonist for The Age. It's an unusually solemn portrait, showing his introspective side. He was more often smiling, out there. When I look at this picture on my mantelpiece I find I unconsciously mirror that defensive posture, hugging the arm and the body.

Behind him you can see his most famous creation, Colonel Pewter. Older Age readers will remember the long-running strip cartoon, and today there are fans of the Colonel running websites and collecting his exploits on CD, and many of Arthur's drawings are kept in our state and national library collections. The personal Arthur Horner fan club is much smaller: family, and a few old friends.

I'd have liked to show you the picture of him with the baby donkey, but I can't find it. We used to live on five acres in England with donkeys, goats, ducks, peacocks, hens, guinea fowl, two mad dogs and a cat. My mother was long-suffering. I think my dad fancied himself as a zookeeper or a country squire, like Colonel Pewter, but he also felt an affinity with the animals. He taught us how to communicate with the donkeys by breathing into their nostrils.

He drew as he breathed: even his doodles, covering the notepad by the phone, were magnificent. He shouted angrily at the politicians on the television as he sketched them. He hated those who betrayed their socialist principles, but he wasn't a hating man, he was infinitely gentle, like the donkeys.

He was Australian through and through, but he loved the English and their eccentricities, perhaps because he was a little bit eccentric himself. My sister disagrees: she thinks we were brought up in a perfectly normal family, and she's right too. My father was dreamy, absent-minded, sometimes he called us by the dog's name, but he had a ferocious work ethic, even if he did leave everything until the last minute.

 

He wanted us girls to be whatever we wanted to be. Whenever I came home weeping because of some small drama I'd elevated into a major catastrophe, he'd smile and say, "It's all good experience." And it was, with him, all of it.

 

Recently I found some letters he'd written to his brother, back in Australia. I was at university then and he was clearly very proud of me, but he was a bit wistful because I hadn't come home for any weekends during term time. I was astounded: why had it never occurred to me then that he and my mother might miss me?

 

He died 13 years ago. I miss him every day.