Meeting Cartoonist Ward O’Neill at the Pluriversity Youth Cafe

For a young person, deciding on a career is no easy task. This was how I felt when I left high school, not knowing what different jobs were like, what jobs are out there, or what path to take to reach them. At the Blue Mountains Pluriversity, Youth Cafes offer young people an insight into different careers, giving us the knowledge to guide our decisions and the connections to seek mentorship or guidance on our path. And this could not have been more the case with Ward O’Neill, who recently spoke at a Youth Cafe about his life and experiences working as a political cartoonist.

Ward O’Neill has been cartooning ever since he was in school, drawing cartoons for the school newspaper and then the university paper. At university he studied Politics and Economics, but, like many of the guests who have spoken at Youth Cafes, Ward dropped out of university, deciding instead to make a start in the industry that interested him.

He got a job as a copy boy for Truth, a Sydney Newspaper. A copy boy, much like an intern, is a junior worker on a newspaper tasked with running errands and generally doing whatever needs to be done. “I wasn’t even very good as a copy boy,” Ward admitted, but he had gotten his foot in the door. When not on call, Ward would sketch cartoons on the blotter on his desk, which eventually caught the attention of an editor who recommended he look for a job in the newspaper’s art department.

From Truth, Ward moved from newspaper to newspaper, working various jobs in art departments, retouching photographs and assembling advertisements. He was eventually able to specialise in illustrating and cartooning. Ward’s works have appeared in many publications including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The National Times, The Bulletin and The Australian Financial Review.

Ward spent a lot of time developing both his talents and his portfolio. On his way to London he stopped off in Greece where he lived for only $12 a week. This gave him time to fill his portfolio with drawings. Through this portfolio he found work at the London Daily Mail, and then at The Australian when he eventually got back home.

Ward talked about the importance of finding a mentor in your career, having developed a close friendship with Bruce Petty, one of Australia’s best-known political cartoonists. Following in those footsteps, he’s now generously offering himself as a mentor to any young people looking to make a start in cartooning.

Though Ward began his career self-taught, he spoke fondly of a drawing course he did as part of a cadetship with the National Art School at Randwick. It was through this course that he discovered he was “finding simpler ways of depicting a person” – taking shortcuts when he didn’t know how to draw something. He described drawing as “solving a series of problems … problems of perception”, and highly recommended doing a drawing course, saying “it will teach you how to see”.

Ward is one of many industry veterans who have retired to the Blue Mountains and are keen to share their years of experience with young people starting out. Blackheath is also fortunate to be home to a number of cartoonists, which has led the Pluriversity to start a Cartooning School.

This week cartoonist, storyboard and comic book artist Jason Paulos is also joining us at the Youth Cafe, and on November 17 cartoonist Ian Dalkin will be running a Cartooning and Creative Thinking Workshop. For more information visit

We would like to give a special thanks to Ward and to all the other Youth Café speakers who are sharing their stories and skills with young people.

Jack Coggins

About Lis Bastian

Lis Bastian is the Senior Lead for Blue Mountains City Council’s Planetary Health Initiative. She is the editor of the Local News Platforms and has been a writer, editor, news presenter and teacher/lecturer covering both cultural and environmental issues for over 30 years. She has been pioneering Solutions/Constructive Journalism in Australia since 2012.

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