He was our very own rock ‘n roll star of the printed page. An Aussie Keith Richards and John Lennon wrapped up into one charismatic, enigmatic, hugely entertaining, talented, provocative, insightful and much adored larrikin artist. Much like John Lennon’s death in 1980, the death of this creative genius leaves a tragic void of all the wonderful ideas that will now never exist. The cast of his extraordinary characters, who fought for the truth and taught us so much, now await their creator, in vain.
The hole left by Leak’s talent, courage and personality is the theme of this week’s issue, as we, along with so many, struggle to come to terms with his sudden disappearance from our daily lives. The tears have flowed, but so has the anger. It is almost impossible – but we’ll try – to separate the cartoonist from the artist from the satirist from the bogeyman of the demented Left from the political icon of the Right from the gentle man himself.
We were inundated with heart-felt contributions from so many different writers, all desperate to honour Bill by detailing the myriad ways in which he had inspired or helped them. Some of them are within these pages, others are on our Flat White blog at spectator.com.au. More are yet to come.
Above all, thanks to his daily presence in the pages of the Australian, Bill was a political and cultural phenomenon, representing a range of attitudes, convictions and principles that turned his life, his ideas, his cartoons, and even his death into political milestones.
For many people, the wit and wisdom of Bill Leak was a critical part of their processing, understanding and ability to cope with the absurdities of today’s alien political and cultural world. A world so very, very different from the one that Bill’s generation inherited; of Aussie self-deprecation, gleeful larrikin humour, kindness and generosity of spirit. That world is fast being driven from Australia’s contemporary landscape. If it is ever to return, it will be thanks to those like Bill Leak who refused to let it go.
Unblinkered by political correctness, unafraid of opprobrium or abuse, disinterested in the opinions of the bien pensants, Bill strove to find the real truth hidden behind the spin, the obfuscation, the lies and the smug self-delusions of so many of those who control, or attempt to control, the lives of ordinary Australians. Bill understood the aspirations, hopes and beliefs of ordinary people because he was himself an ordinary person – only one blessed with an extraordinary gift. A man utterly devoid of pretension, he toiled away at his desk in his black singlet and jeans, fag and muddy coffee in hand, indistinguishable in appearance from the brickies and tradies who populate his beloved Central Coast.
Of course, like Keith Richards, Bill had already pushed his life to the brink. The rock ‘n roll lifestyle of his youth came to a crashing end when he fell off a balcony in 2008 and almost died. Overcoming the threat of brain damage, his determination to survive saw him reach even greater prowess as a political cartoonist and insightful commentator. By the time of his death he was at the very height of his powers. His new book, Trigger Warnings, had been launched only two days earlier by Sir Les Patterson. Only a fortnight before that, Tony Abbott launched Making it Right, to which Bill had contributed. Last year, he wrote this magazine’s cover story – A Thousand Words – for the Christmas bumper edition, our biggest issue of the year, in which he told of his battles with the insidious Human Rights Commission and 18C.
Last year alone, Bill’s travails were the subject of four different Speccie cover stories.
The irony is that ‘Bill Leak’ has himself been turned into some bizarre cartoon character of the Left – with idiots spewing their bile on Q&A and Twitter about this monster of their deranged imaginings. But where Bill’s genius lay in creating the perfect cartoon because it was based on the truth, the Left’s caricature of Mr Leak is a grotesque and foolish lie.
‘You don’t fix a problem by closing your eyes and imagining it has gone away,’ Bill wrote in our Christmas edition. Now, it is we who must close our eyes to imagine that Bill is still with us.
Look out, heaven!