Geoscience Australia natural hazards booklets

In 2013 Geoscience Australia commissioned me to illustrate some booklets they were preparing about natural hazards. Specifically: volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunami. This was a joint project with geological agencies in Papua New Guinea, with the booklets to be distributed to local PNG communities – especially volcanically-active towns like Rabaul, East New Britain.

Capturing the look of Papua New Guinea

One key aspect of the project was the need for the illustrations to be relevant for the local Papua New Guinea communities. Geoscience Australia had previously tried to engage local artists from PNG to illustrate the booklets, but nothing could be confirmed.

Armed with a stack of reference photos of the Rabaul township, its people, and the Tavurvur volcano, I began drawing scenes. I think I succeeded in capturing the ‘look’ of the local Papua New Guineans – their physical features, and styles of clothing. As well as the style of buildings and vegetation that fill their towns. Geoscience Australia was also glad to see small details I included in the illustrations, such as dogs wandering the streets, and kids playing footy on the beach (rugby league is almost the national religion of PNG!)
Cartoon drawing of kids playing rugby league footy on a beach.

Showing the damage of natural hazards

I was determined not to shy away from the risky reality of natural hazards. Too often government agencies sanitise their publications, and only show images of “happy citizens doing exactly what they have been told to do” in emergencies.

This is the deluded work of public servants who have forgotten that real people don’t always behave as they ought to. Sanitised booklets with ‘everything going to plan’ during evacuations is a sure-fire way to make your readers disengage from your publication.

By contrast, I included images of people at risk of being crushed by falling debris…
Cartoon woman in earthquake at risk of being crushed by debris. Sheltering children from falling fence.
…a sister having to drag her curious brother away from the beach, as a drawback drains away the water…
Cartoon older sister dragging younger brother from beach drawback prior to a tsunami.
…and a lingering beach-goer at risk of being swept up by the tsunami.
Cartoon man running away from tsuami. Drawing of tidal wave carrying debris.
My belief is that dramatic, eye-catching scenes like these are more likely to attract readers’ attention. Readers will read the information to learn how to avoid being the people at risk of being harmed.

The final products

I supplied uncoloured line art drawings to Geoscience Australia, whose in-house graphics team completed the colouring. (See below for comparisons between the black and white and coloured illustrations).

Geoscience Australia did a great job with the design of the booklets, which are extremely attractive and easy to read. A combination of short, clear sentences, as well as good typographic design. See the PDFs.
Natural Hazards by Geoscience Australia booklets featuring cartoons by Stuart McMillen.
I was glad to see that my illustrations were given full-pages within the booklets. Rather than tucked away as small ‘figures’ inside a text-heavy booklet. I think the cartoons really accentuate the message of the text, and should make the concepts easy to understand.

The booklets have been sent to Papua New Guinea. Hopefully the locals can use them to formulate plans to survive earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis.
Natural Hazards by Geoscience Australia booklets about earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami.

Testimonial from Geoscience Australia project member

Stuart McMillen is organised, professional, and easy to work with. While working on our project, he completed all the tasks before deadline and I never had to worry about the job getting done. He had very good communication and kept me informed every step of the way. His illustrations well exceeded my expectations and our stakeholders are impressed by how the images are fun, interesting and factually correct.Libby Metz, Landslide Scientist, Geoscience Australia

Colour cartoon isometric earthquake, tsunami, landslide. High angle of village affected by earthquake.

Black and white cartoon isometric earthquake, tsunami, landslide. High angle of village affected by earthquake.

Cartoon street affected by earthquake. Worried people, falling fence, fault line.

Black and white drawing. Cartoon street affected by earthquake. Worried people, falling fence, fault line.

Cartoon classroom in earthquake. Student under desk drawing. Falling ceiling fans.

High angle cartoon school classroom earthquake. Drawing of teaching telling students to evacuate the classroom.

Cartoon cross-section of tsunami. Difference between tsunami and normal waves.

Cartoon tropical beach. Deciding an evacuation plan for earthquakes and tsunami.

Cartoon tsunami coming towards tropical beach. Trees being carried in waves.

Cartoon kids playing footy on beach. Papua New Guinea drawing.

Cartoon people evacuating beach. Drawing of beach drawback before tsunami. Receded water reveals sand.

Tsunami drawing. Breaking wave onto drawback beach cartoon.

Cartoon tsunami debris on beach after wave. Destruction trees, corrugated iron.

Cartoon high-angle volcano. Lava flow, mud slide, pyroclastic flow, ash cloud. Tropical beach.

Low angle family listening to radio during volcano. Covering mouths with moist rags.

Cartoon cleaning up after volcano. Drawing of people sweeping ash from house roof after volcano. Tropical island illustration.

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