In March 2013, an account with the username @Struthless69 posted its first picture to Instagram. A blurry shot of a T-shirt with the word 'BONG' on it accompanied by a caption, "My greatest regret will forever be not buying this shirt. #nofilter." It generated a modest 10 likes. Fast forward six years, and that same account now has more than 70,000 followers, and each post is drowned in likes and comments. "I'll tell you what hasn't changed though," says Campbell Walker, the man behind Struthless. "I still regret not buying that T-shirt."
Part-time artist, political agitator, piss taker, social commentator: it's difficult to explain precisely what Walker does. "That's the exact reason I don't have a LinkedIn profile," he offers - but it's not hard to see why he's so popular. Log on to his brilliantly colourful Instagram feed, and you'll see a mishmash of finger-on-the-pulse cartoons, covering everything from Australian identity to internet culture, generational political apathy and our appetite for nostalgia.
Instagram is dying, it's increasingly a graveyard for old memes, people selling you stuff and targeted ads.
There's the 12-step explainer on how best to pronounce Vietnamese pho (is it fur, far, f'oh?), and a poem paying homage to the millennial obsession with house plants. Scroll a little further and be treated to a line graph comparing the urge to defend Kerri-Anne Kennerley online with an inability to use commas correctly. No matter his chosen target, the appeal lies in the familiarity – Struthless is holding up a mirror, and we're laughing at ourselves. It's the same tactic employed by the likes of Brown Cardigan and The Betoota Advocate - the "OMG that's so us!" factor that sees friends tagging one another in posts that hit too close to home.
In a world where genuine connection is rare, audiences gravitate to content that spotlights our similarities. "It makes people feel a little less alone," says Walker. "I include myself in that too, I used to feel quite "fringey", and I still do, but when I draw something that resonates with people, it means that I must not be an outcast either, I must be pretty friggin' normal, and that's a nice feeling." Not to mention all those sweet, sweet likes. "A true dopamine hit," he laughs. "Who doesn't love that?"
Meeting up with Campbell Walker at a cafe in Sydney's inner west, he's stopped by fellow patrons twice before we make it to the table. With a head shaved razor clean, a thick moustache and a tattooed torso, he's hardly inconspicuous. "That was so weird," Campbell says as he takes a seat opposite me. "I don't know that girl I was chatting with, but she just pulled me up and asked me how I first fell in love with drawing, so intense!" It seems this stranger has beaten me to the punch. "Wait, were you just about to ask me that?"
As it turns out, Walker's career as a cartoonist was nearly crushed out of him by a bored school teacher. "In year 7 I was obsessed with illustrating, and I went to show my art teacher some drawings I'd been working on," he explains. "I thought he was going to say something supportive, like 'these are amazing, keep at it!'" Instead, Walker was met with muted disinterest. "He scanned over them and just gave me this look which made me feel like I was wasting his time and my time." More dead end than Dead Poets Society. "I didn't draw for a long while after that."
With his creative fire extinguished, Walker did what any self-respecting former free thinker does: he studied advertising. After graduating from Charles Sturt University in 2013 (alongside Archer Hamilton, one half of the The Betoota Advocate, as it happens), Walker started agency hopping. On the side, he was still nursing a desire to create but avoided drawing in favour of anything else. "I was making short films, playing in bands, I was that annoying guy that would say, "I just want to do my own thing!", but never actually do it."
Blood is on Scott Morrison's hands and he goes to Hawaii for a holiday. Christ, be a leader, even if it's just symbolic. Even if other people can do your job while you're gone at least understand what it does to morale... or at the VERY LEAST have the foresight and experience to avoid a "PR nightmare". Surely "old mate Scomo from the shire" with a beer in every public photo has gotta know that this is nails in a coffin for the rest of his life. Anyway, here's how you can help with the categories mentioned in this pic: DONATE TO THE FIREYS: Account Name: NSW Rural Fire Service Bank: Westpac BSB: 032-001 Account No: 171051 DONATE DIRECTLY to the families of Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O'Dwyer, 36 (both young dads who died fighting the fires): Account Name: NSW Rural Fire Service Bank: Westpac BSB: 032-001 Account No: 183546 HELP THE KOALAS: Donate to the Port Macquaire Koala Hospital GoFundMe Page, or for all wildlife donate to WIRES. HELP AUSTRALIA'S FAITH IN SCOTT MORRISON: Lmaooo
But then some sage advice from a colleague – sculptor Marc Schattner – taught Walker a critical lesson about the rule of constraints. "Marc sat me down and said, "you'll draw something one week, write a song the next, and you expect people to care"," recalls Walker. "He knew illustrating was my first love, so he told me, "That's your medium, stick to it and just draw one thing"." Initially, his one thing was the Ibis; the humble bin chicken proving the perfect muse for early-era Struthless in 2016. "I worked near a park that was full of them," says Walker, laughing. "Then I started adding jokes, then the jokes started to outgrow the imagery, and then I realised I had more to say than just drawing Ibises."
Far from posting without pause, there is a strategy to the Struthless style. "There are a lot of followers who might not have made up their mind about politics," he explains. "But if you laugh with me on nine topics out of 10, then I hit you with something heavy on the tenth topic, maybe you'll trust me." Much like an exasperated parent tricks their child into eating vegetables by hiding them in something tastier, Walker mixes his messages with a little lightness. "Never underestimate the power of "this guy gets me", that can be a gateway into getting people thinking."
As someone who trades on the immediacy of the internet, he's already preparing for life-after-Insta. "Instagram is dying, it's increasingly a graveyard for old memes, people selling you stuff and targeted ads," laughs Walker. "I also think the fear of screen addiction is genuine, and Instagram is the biggest perpetrator of that."
At the start of the year, in a YouTube clip titled "I am making videos instead of doing drugs", Walker declared he was going to be spending more time on the video sharing website. "This is the platform where I have almost no followers, which makes it fun," he said in the eight-minute clip. Is this shift a way of resetting to zero and figuring out what Struthless looks like next? "You can say a lot more [on YouTube], I am getting tired of trying to compact everything into a single Instagram frame," he says.
That's not to say his followers should worry they won't get their weekly fix – whatever comes next will be an extension, not extinction, of Struthless. Having been told once before to stop drawing, Walker is not about to make the same mistake twice. "I really should look my old teacher up on Facebook, send him a message; Look at me now!'"