Larry Pickering, the Walkley Award winning political cartoonist, best known for his “Pickering’s Playmates” calendars of naked politicians in the 1980s, has died of cancer. He was 76.
A controversial figure late in his life, Pickering, who died an undischarged bankrupt, was at the height of his powers some 45 years ago during the prime ministership of Gough Whitlam, winning Walkleys for his cartoons four years in a row between 1971 and 1974, the first two during his time at The Canberra Times, then The National Times and Sydney Morning Herald. Two years later during the Fraser era, he moved to The Australian, then retired from the role after five years in 1981.
His calendars were best-sellers between 1978 and 1992, appearing on the back of countless toilet doors around Australia, a nod to the nation’s risque irreverence towards politics. Politicians who loomed large on the landscape – and they were all men – were portrayed with much smaller seats of power.
He was a denim-capped larrikin with a cheeky, knowing grin, and also the face of Dulux paints in advertising campaigns.
Pickering’s subsequent careers included racehorse trainer, with one, Rising Fear, runner-up in the 1986 Melbourne Cup.
But the wealth accumulated from his early success disappeared in the 1987 stock market crash, and in 2010, living on the Gold Coast, he was made an undischarged bankrupt by his former defacto after a betting company failed, costing investors millions. Many considered it a scam. More than 300 people bought in, losing their money.
Pickering denied any responsibility, but the Queensland Supreme Court concluded otherwise, saying it was “thoroughly implausible” that he was not involved in its management and received “significant financial benefits” from the software’s Australian distributor. Queensland fraud squad detectives reopened their investigation into Pickering links to Cohen Strachan Investments, in 2015, but no further action was taken.
Former employees of the business alleged Pickering approached investors using a fake name.
Meanwhile, Pickering returned to the public fray in recent years with a blog called The Pickering Post, railing against the Left, Muslims, unions, global warming, gay people, the ALP and especially Julia Gillard as prime minister.
He reserved his most vicious and obscene efforts for Gillard, along with other women, at one stage portraying the then-PM as wearing a sex toy and calling for a male MP to use it on.
In February last year, he made headlines again as the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner for the far-right, anti-Islamic Q Society, declaring he starts shaking if Muslims are in the same street as him.
“They are not all bad,” he added, “they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings.”
Fellow cartoonist Paul Zanetti paid tribute to Pickering saying “his indomitable, larrikin spirit never left him”.
“Just last week when the doc told his wife, Carol, to let Larry have anything he wanted, he lit up with that irrepressibly irreverent grin,” Zanetti wrote.
“Really? Anything? Can I have two sheilas, love?”
Zanetti described his “close friend and confidant” as “loyal, generous, entertaining and simply brilliant”.
My close mate, the legendary cartoonist, Larry Pickering passed away peacefully last night in the company of his family.
No other cartoonist cast such a wide net over the political landscape.
Condolences to the Pickering family.
— Zanetti Cartoons (@ZanettiCartoons) November 19, 2018
Veteran Herald cartoonist Alan Moir said he remembered Pickering from the 70s.
“He was astonishingly good. Strong, pointed and prescient and equally unfair to pollies. Then he gave it all away, but the memory of those early years survives,” he wrote on Twitter.
Others, such as business journalist Michael Pascoe took a much less flattering view, calling him a “conman and scumbag”.
Taken to task on Twitter for that comment, Pascoe responded: “I have respect for Pickering’s many victims and his family members who suffered because of him, the many he ripped off, the many he abused, the many he delighted denigrating and offending.”
Pickering checked himself out of hospital on Friday, having defied medical opinion for two years after a first bout of cancer saw most one lung removed in 2016.
Larry Pickering is survived by 11 children he had with five mothers, and his wife Carol.