Desmond Robert “Bill” Leak (9th January 1956 – 10th March 2017)
By Marcus Honesta.
Humour is one of the most difficult of things to master. It is difficult to write, and even more difficult to draw. Satirists, good ones that is, are few and far between, Bill was amongst the best. In a world that demands that political correctness be slavishly obeyed, Bill would have none of it. He courageously took his principles and views, expressed them and stood courageously behind them, often in the face of furious condemnation. Bill commented on the way he saw things with out fear or favor. It speaks volumes about the man and his courage. Winston Churchill wrote in a note to Field Marshall Montgomery during World War II.
“Dear Monty, never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. And never yield to force.
And never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy”. Bill empathized this warrior spirit.
The 61-year-old cartoonist died on Friday morning in Gosford Hospital less than two days after he launched his latest book at a public event on Wednesday night.
Paul Whittaker, The Australian’s editor-in-chief, announced the news to staff on Friday morning, describing the cartoonist as “a giant in his field of cartooning and portraiture”.
“We will miss him dreadfully and our hearts go out to his wife Goong, his stepdaughter Tasha and his sons, Johannes and Jasper,” Whittaker said.
At his book launch on Wednesday night, Leak called political correctness “a poison that attacks the sense of humour” that “infects an awful lot of precious little snowflakes”.
Bill won nine Walkley Awards and 19 Stanley awards for his work.
Desmond Robert “Bill” Leak was born on the 9thJanuary 1956. Brought up in Condobolin and Beacon Hill, Sydney, Leak attended the Julian Ashton Art School in the 1970s. His cartoons were first published in 1983 in The Bulletin and after that he drew for The Sydney Morning Herald until 1994, when he was recruited by News Limited to contribute to The Daily-Telegraph-Mirror and later to The Australian.
Bill entered paintings into the Archibald on several occasions, having won the People’s Choice Award in 1994 for his portrait of Malcolm Turnbull, and the Packing Room Prize twice, in 1997 and 2000 for his portraits of Tex Perkins and Sir Les Patterson respectively. Bill’s novel Heart Cancer was published in 2005 and in 2008 ABC TV aired his six-part series Face Painting.
Never far from a controversy, Bill ‘called it as he saw it’. His rapier wit and extraordinary insight into human nature and social injustice often saw him on the wrong side of political correctness. A recent cartoon about the plight of aboriginal people caused him enormous personal grief and unjustifiable criticism with the final indignation being prosecution under section 18 C of the racial discrimination act.
His response was predictable and very Bill. “I think 18C is an abomination. Look, I can only assume that a lot of people genuinely believe that freedom of speech means the legal right to hurl abuse. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth,”
“Freedom of speech is what created our civil and free society. It is all about the exchange of ideas, about letting people express their views in the marketplace of ideas.”
Bill said he was “bewildered” when he was accused of being racist.
“I have been hammered with this ever since the cartoon was published. But I honestly say to you that when the accusations of racism were directed at me, the only word I can use to express how I felt was just totally bewildered,”
The case was eventually dropped but one can only wonder what the real effect was on him and his family.
Goodbye, Bill. Your insight, wit and rapier talents will be sorely missed. Below are just a few samples of his genius.
“Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing”