New Matilda’s Fiona Katauskas Grabs Walkley Nomination

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If you’re a long-time reader of New Matilda you will have noticed plenty of changes since the site was launched in 2005. Writers come and go. Editors move on. Even our old website has finally been laid to rest.

But over a period that has seen five separate prime ministers hold the office, one thing has remained constant: Fiona Katauskas.

Still one of our weekly cartoonists, Fiona’s distinctive observations on political life in Australia have found a home at NM since shortly after the site was first launched.

Last night, for the first time in her almost 20 years in the trade, Fiona was announced as a Walkley award finalist, joining The Age’s David Pope and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Cathy Wilcox in the All Media Cartoon category.

Having submitted cartoons to the Walkley panel for almost a decade – and once judging the award herself – Fiona wasn’t holding her breath to get the nod this year, especially given the rather cheeky content of the cartoon she put forward.150716 Tony Power 600

“I thought there was no way in hell this cartoon is going to get in… because of Tony’s bare arse,” she says, referring to the exposed derrière of the former PM in one of the cartoon’s panels.

But in their infinite wisdom this year’s judges disagreed.

Fiona was at the pub when a friend texted her congratulations. Incredulous, she checked the Walkley’s website. If there had been any doubt about it after that the “five million” notifications on her twitter account confirmed the news.

“It was exceedingly exciting,” she says.

Fiona never intended to become a (Walkley nominated) cartoonist. While working in the NGO sector she would pen designs for campaigns, and make cards for friends. After being made redundant one of them suggested she take the chance to change career.

“My friend said ‘everybody has been keeping your cards for years, you’re good at this, why don’t you give it a go?’”

And thanks to that anonymous hero, all the rest of us have been enjoying Fiona’s work ever since (although, as she notes, she is yet to see a pay rise for her years of hard labour. To any MEAA reps reading this I encourage you to initiate industrial action against NM editor Chris Graham immediately).

The daughter of a refugee, Fiona admits her work can be frustrating at times.

“Looking back over my cartoons since 2001 I realise so many have been about asylum seekers. Sometimes I think up a cartoon idea and realise I did it in 2003,” she says. “I would love to never do a cartoon about asylum seekers again.”

Sadly, it seems we’ll be asking Fiona to help us make sense of these policies for many years more.

But the big question I have for her now is whether she can finally get it over Pope and Wilcox and take home the ultimate prize. She doesn’t seem too fussed, and insists Pope’s Charlie Hebdo cartoon – which went globally viral after the killing – deserves to win.

“I can genuinely say the friendship between cartoonist is real, it’s a very collegial environment,” she says. “We’re a very small community.”

“It’s such a freaky job, so few people in the world do it.”

Aside from filing regular cartoons for NM, Eureka Street, and The Australian Doctor, Fiona recently launched a sex education book for children The Amazing True Story Of How Babies Are Made.

Fiona may be backing the opposition when the final Walkley winner is announced, but those of us on the NM staff will be cheering loud and hard for her come December 3.

Congratulations Fiona, and thanks for all your brilliant work.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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