Flat White

The bleakest death of the year

12 March 2017

4:18 PM

12 March 2017

4:18 PM

Once in lower primary school I foolishly played keepies with my favourite marble, a large, sapphire coloured “Tom Bowler”, the pride and joy of the pack. I lost. My heart was torn at the thought of giving it up. So I did something stupid. Stupid at least in the eyes of my vanquisher; I traded all my other marbles to keep that one swirly coloured giant. Her eyes lit up, she didn’t have to think about it, and off she sauntered with my plastic sandwich bag full of grunts, chipped pieces of glass and the peewees I cared nothing for.

That is how I feel about the death of Bill Leak, the portraitist, cartoonist for The Australian, and general iconoclast of all things pompous in Australia. He stood out like a Tom Bowler, gigantic and colourful, a creature of rare philosophical beauty among the intellectual peewees of our ruling elite.

I would trade every celebrity death this past twelve months to have him back. Every celebrity with his or her glass chins and chipped shoulders. Every celebrity accompanied by the gushy tributes about how they were “brave”, or “forged new paths”, or “spoke out against the system”, when in actual fact all they did was confirm the system’s own biases.


Leak’s death is untimely in so many ways, not least of all because he was sixty-one. He had just launched a new book, which true to form poked fun at the self-righteous blandishments of the politically correct. He was just coming out of a perfect storm of criticism and attempts to shut him down for doing what cartoonists are supposed to do; expose the lack of attire on the regent.

The Leaks of this world are the court jesters of the past, speaking truth to the king when no one else in the court dares to do so. That he did so so vividly, wickedly, incisively, fearlessly and relentlessly is half of his appeal. The other half of his appeal is that he did it to all and sundry, and the reactions of those who were speared by his paintbrush revealed just how much they clung to their shibboleths.

And how much they were determined to make you cling to them also. And in that regard the progressive Left was most recently in his firing line because he perceived, rightly, in them a hostility towards ideas other than their own that sprang from a rigidity about thought and philosophy they would claim to have left behind in the old world of ritual and dogma. Bill understood more than most that a self-proclaimed Festival of Dangerous Ideas is more a festival of domesticated idolatry; a back-slapping festschrift in which no idea is so dangerous that it doesn’t have a government grant attached to it.

What’s more, Leak realised, more than many in my own realm of the church or in the public square seemed to, that the battle for ideas is best fought out in the open. He believed in the superiority of a good idea, and that such ideas last. Bill also believed that bad ideas need to be propped up, fertilised and protected from reality, otherwise they fall by the wayside. And he was there to show just how bad those ideas were, pulling away the props and exposing the bullshit at their roots.

And now Bill has himself fallen by the wayside. I note the sneering social media comments by those whose mantra of love and tolerance does not extend to anything they do not love or tolerate, and I sincerely hope there is another Bill Leak waiting in the wings to upset them. Another Bill Leak who may not have the shine and magnitude of a Tom Bowler just yet, who may still be something of a peewee, but who can grasp paintbrush by the handle and bravely expose the nudity of the kaisers, czars and supreme leaders and their brittle egos and shrunken imaginations.

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