Editorial cartoonist for The Australian, Bill Leak, will be honoured at a memorial service at Sydney Town Hall today following his death from a heart attack last Friday.
His death triggered a massive outpouring of grief from media and the public alike – as well as the political targets of some of his cartoons. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be one of the speakers at the service today, which begins at 2.30pm.
Paul Whittaker, editor-in-chief of The Australian, described the cartoonist as “simply irreplaceable”.
“[He was] a giant in his field of cartooning and portraiture and a towering figure for more than two decades.
“I know that many people at The Australian will be inconsolable over this tragic loss of such a good man.”
Leak, 61, had a long and acclaimed career. He won nine Walkley Awards and 19 Stanley awards for his work. He was also twice awarded News Corp Australia’s Cartoonist of the Year.
Skilled across many mediums, Leak was also an accomplished artist. His portrait of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke hangs in the halls of Parliament House, while several of his artworks hang in the National Portrait Gallery. He also entered the Archibald Prize six times, with portraits of Malcolm Turnbull, Gough Whitlam and Robert Hughes.
His cartoon series, titled ‘Bleak view’, was no stranger to controversy. Last year, Leak was brought before the Australian Human Rights Commission for the violation of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for a cartoon depicting Indigenous disadvantage. The case was later dropped.
Free speech was an issue Leak was passionate about. Only two days before his death he launched his new book ‘Trigger Warning’, a collection of his most popular cartoons published in The Australian last year. He has vehemently supported the repeal of 18C, appalled at how government bureaucracy was undermining one of the freedoms of democracy.
Leak is survived by his wife Goong, his sons Johannes and Jasper, and stepdaughter Tasha.
A private function hosted by Johannes and Jasper was held at Walsh bay last night at which 250 friends and workmates shared their memories.
Condolences role in to honour Bill Leak’s legacy
News Corp Australiasia chairman Michael Miller wrote a letter to staff, describing Mr Leak’s character, saying he will never forget his wit or laugh.
“Bill was a man of extraordinary talent – one of the premier cartoonists of his generation but also a highly accomplished portrait painter and writer
“For more than two decades, Bill had been part of the News Corp family. I regard him as a friend and I know that many of you do also.
“What really set Bill apart and made him an industry legend was that he was incredibly funny. We will never forget the humour in his work and his wit and laughter as a person,” Mr Miller said.
Bill Leak, a cartoonist, painter and writer with unique talent, was at the pinnacle of his career. Few can match his achievements. pic.twitter.com/phhkBykZzU
— Michael Miller (@mm_newscorpaus) March 10, 2017
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull honoured Mr Leak on Facebook. In the post, Mr Turnbull describes the first time he and his wife meet the cartoonist thirty years ago when Mr Leak was a court room illustrator. He described his friend as a “good humoured sceptic of anybody and anything in authority” and “a superb satirist”.
“Yes, art is long and life is short, but it shouldn’t be this short. Bill should have grown old and even more wiry, like Norman Lindsay, and kept painting into his 80s and beyond as Lloyd Rees did and John Olsen is doing today,” Mr Turnbull said.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “we are all aesthetically, culturally and even spiritually impoverished to lose this wonderful man.”
Trent Dalton of The Australian described Mr Leak as having “a mind as rich and colourful as his paint palette”.
The sky is a bleak and featureless grey over Sydney today. That sky matches the mood of the place for those who know a little colour has just been lost from Bill Leak’s home town,” Mr Dalton said.
Colleagues, journalists and readers took to social media to honour his legacy.
Bill Leak was a man of extraordinary talent. One of our premier cartoonists. A friend, brilliant artist, clever, insightful, passionate pic.twitter.com/WuQID3PYED
— Michael Miller (@mm_newscorpaus) March 10, 2017
— Daniel Sankey (@Daniel_Sankey) March 10, 2017
— Jacqui Lambie (@JacquiLambie) March 10, 2017
Bill was a lovely guy to work with, no-one who worked with him didn’t like him. https://t.co/MEU6IOugN7
— amanda meade (@meadea) March 10, 2017
So sorry to hear of Bill Leak’s death. He was an extraordinary artist. And a newspaper legend even in life.
— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) March 10, 2017
Awfully sad news. Bill Leak leaves a remarkable legacy in Australian art and news. Thinking of his family and mates
— Cam Reddin (@CamReddin) March 10, 2017
Of course I didn’t always agree with Bill Leak. But every day he challenged what I thought – which was the whole damn point. And his job.
— Kevin Framp (@BigKev67) March 10, 2017