Norman Hetherington reminded me a lot of my grandfather. A quiet, cheeky man who was very humble and self effacing. I remember the day I met him like it was yesterday. It was at a local gathering of cartoonists here in Sydney and I thought (even though I felt like I didn’t belong) it would be a good opportunity to mix with other cartoonists.
I met his wife Margaret (Peggy) first who then introduced me to him, (“Norm! Come meet this nice boy!”) and I couldn’t believe I was in his company. Even though I tried to not seem like a teenage fan, he didn’t seem to mind, brushing off my behaviour like he was no more or less remarkable than anyone.
I talked to him for around 20 minutes and proceeded to ask him all the types of questions that he’s bound to have heard before – How did you draw upside down? (monitors) How many squiggles does the ABC still have? (none, they threw them away once each show ended) Why are there no DVD collections of the show? (rights issues – ABC wanted them). He answered them graciously and as though no-one had asked them of him before, often smiling at my terrible attempts to make our company laugh. And then, before I knew it, he was gone. I could have spoken to him all night, his stories were fascinating in a way that hearing stories told from wise people can sound.
Our meal came and I was fortunate to site at the same table as Peggy and himself. Norm was later honoured with lifetime membership to the Australian Cartoonists Association which seemed to come as a surprise to him (it shouldn’t have, he was a very deserving participant). He made a brief speech, received a standing ovation and continued to sit down and finish his meal.
Throughout the night, other cartoonists had spent their time trying to coax Norm into drawing a picture from another squiggle. Eventually he relented and drew ‘an octopus, on roller skates, playing tennis’ and received a cheer from our table for his efforts. The drawing was left in the middle of the table and even though I probably shouldn’t have, I kept it. All the cartoonists then finished the night drawing his caricature and these were presented to him at the end of the night. He appeared genuinely touched by the gesture.
As it turned out, Norm rarely went to these events and this was my first. I was very fortunate to meet him.
After reflecting on the night, I thought it was criminal that his biography hadn’t been written and got in touch with him to tell him so. I humbly offered to do it or suggest if not me, than someone else? I knew people would be fascinated to read about his life. He said he would think about it and let me know. I followed up on it at a later date and he graciously declined. I was disappointed but accepted his decision. Perhaps someone else could ask him at a later date I thought
Norm passed away yesterday, a year before his 90th birthday and the world is worse without him. He left an extraordinary body of work, touching the lives of many Australian and New Zealand children. Rest in Peace Sir; I feel honoured to have met you. May your legacy continue to enrich the lives of many more children for many years to come.