Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. Bill Leak’s last speech
The loss of giants in the art
Story Roger Childs. Cartoons and other visuals courtesy of the late Bill Leak and The Australian.
New Zealand has sadly lost the incomparable Murray Ball recently, and across the Tasman the amazing Bill Leak has also moved on.
Bill was for many years cartoonist for The Australian, and was probably the country’s best known visual analyst of the national and international scene.
Many Australian readers would first check to see who Bill was lampooning and upsetting that day, before looking at anything else. Cartoonists often “sell’ the papers.
A fearless believer in free expression
Bill Leak is the bravest man I know. Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor for The Australian
Bill Leak ranks with the likes of Nicholas Garland, Herblock, Pat Oliphant, Peter Brooke, David Lowe, Tom Scott and Sharon Murdoch, to name but a few, in not giving a damn who they offended.
Tom Scott once said, that if the editor won’t print my cartoon, I’m off because I earn more than he does.
One of Bill’s cartoons about an Aboriginal father not knowing the name of his son, had him hauled before the Human Rights Commission, but the case was eventually dropped.
More seriously a brilliant cartoon showing the prophet Muhammad arguing with God resulted in jihadist threats and forced Bill and the family to go to a safe house.
No one was safe from is pen!
The best cartoonists make us laugh with a combination of clever sketching and appropriate words. However, sometimes the words aren’t necessary.
Needless to say, Bill Leak’s main targets were Ozzie politicians: a mixed bunch at the best of times. (See the send up of Kevin Rudd alongside.) Some examples of the words:
- Pauline Hanson on a soap box: This country has been swamped by Caucasians.
- Labor leader Bill Shorten on television: I have no idea what I said yesterday, but I fully support whatever I said.
- Former prime minister, Tony Abbott leaning on a podium: By the year 2005 Australian kiddies will never ever come down with illnesses that their parents can’t afford.
- Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull in a triptych, having bricks dropped on him from behind : Together we will rebuild …. brick …. by brick…
All of these victims had warm tributes. This from Malcolm Turnbull:
Who had more life, more energy than him? So many more cartoons to draw; painting to paint, politicians to satirise… so many more lives to enhance with his wit, his brilliance, his good friendship.
Multi-talented and held in high esteem
As well as being an outstanding cartoonist, Bill Leak was also a fine writer and an accomplished artist.
He painted portraits of many famous Australians such as Don Bradman, Robert Hughes, Malcolm Turnbull and Gough Whitlam.
Whenever he spoke, he would fill the hall and have the audience rolling in the aisles.
The Weekend Australian of March 11-12 devoted seven pages! to tributes to the great man. There were articles from politicians, cartoonists, fellow journalists, entertainers and the public.
There were well over forty letters to the editor paying tribute.
One example: Bill Leak was not only a brilliant artist but also a fearless and fair political commentator. His work exposed hypocrisy and self interest, but did so with irreverent humour and intelligence. A fierce defender of free speech, he could articulate his point in a way that was a challenging and thought provoking. Andrew Weeks
In the March 11-12 Australian, Bill Leak’s cartoon spot at the top of page 22 was still there, but it was blank.