Bill Leak

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Bill Leak
Bill Leak.jpg
Leak in August 2011
Desmond Robert Leak

(1956-01-09)9 January 1956
Adelaide, Australia
Died10 March 2017(2017-03-10) (aged 61)
Gosford, Australia
Known forIllustrations, paintings

Desmond Robert "Bill" Leak (9 January 1956 – 10 March 2017) was an Australian editorial cartoonist, caricaturist and portraitist.

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 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.

Leak 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. Leak's novel Heart Cancer was published in 2005 and in 2008 ABC TV aired his six-part series Face Painting.

Leak's editorial cartoons for The Australian were at the centre of several controversies. Works that received considerable media coverage include a 2006 cartoon drawn during the West Papuan refugee crisis, a series of cartoons in 2007 that featured Kevin Rudd as Tintin, a 2015 cartoon depicting starving Indian people attempting to eat solar panels and two cartoons in 2016, one an illustration of a neglectful Aboriginal father and another that depicted same-sex marriage campaigners wearing rainbow-coloured Nazi uniforms.

Early life and career beginnings[edit]

Desmond Robert Leak was born in Adelaide on 9 January 1956, the second of three children of Doreen and Reg Leak.[1][2] He was brought up in Condobolin from his birth until 1967, when the family moved to Beacon Hill.[3] He attended Beacon Hill High School and Forest High School, forced to leave the former for the latter after drawing caricatures of his teachers.[4][5][6] Remembering what Beacon Hill was like in the early 1970s, Leak described the place as "intellectually barren, culturally hostile and isolated".[7]

After finishing high school, Leak trained for two years at the Julian Ashton Art School, dropping out before his studies were completed.[8] He also spent time working as a postman.[6] In the late 1970s, Leak departed Australia on an art pilgrimage to Europe. In 1978, he was particularly impressed by an exhibition of the paintings of Paul Cézanne at the Grand Palais in Paris.[9] Whilst in Salzburg that same year, Leak met a woman named Astrid and they married soon after. The couple lived together in Bavaria until 1982, when they relocated to Australia. They divorced in the early 1990s.[1]

Leak began drawing cartoons professionally in 1983, first for The Bulletin and then for The Sydney Morning Herald.[10]

News Limited career[edit]

Leak resigned from The Sydney Morning Herald to take up a role at The Daily Telegraph-Mirror, a News Limited newspaper, in 1994.[10] He later moved to The Australian (also a News Limited newspaper).

In April 2006, Leak drew a cartoon captioned "No Offence Intended", depicting an Indonesian person resembling then president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a dog mounting a Papuan native.[11] The drawing was in retaliation to a Jakarta Daily cartoon from the previous week, which had depicted the Australian prime minister and foreign minister as dingoes engaged in sexual intercourse, with the prime minister saying "I want Papua!! Alex! Try to make it happen!". The foreign minister, Alexander Downer, told media that he felt Leak's cartoon was crude, offensive and potentially racist.[12]

In 2007, a Belgian company that controlled the rights to the cartoon character Tintin, issued Leak a copyright complaint for portraying the then-leader of the opposition, Kevin Rudd, as Tintin (accompanied by Snowy).[13] The complaint was resolved when Leak agreed not to profit from sales of the cartoons.[14]

A Leak cartoon published in The Australian in December 2015 depicted starving Indian villagers trying to eat solar panels delivered by the UN, a comment by Leak on the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The academic Amanda Wise, an associate professor of sociology at Macquaire University, told media that it was her view that the cartoon was racist.[15] Social media commentary, including by Tim Watts, agreed with Wise and condemned the cartoon.[16] The Australian Press Council dismissed a complaint about the cartoon, saying that "the cartoon is an example of drawing on exaggeration and absurdity to make its point" "by ridiculing [the UN's] decision to provide solar panels at the expense of more appropriate aid".[17] The Australian Press Council delivered a ruling on the work in November 2016 that it did not breach standards of practice.[18]

In August 2016, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day, a Leak cartoon in The Australian depicted an Aboriginal policeman holding a teenage male and telling the youth's father that he needed to teach his son about personal responsibility. The father, with a can of beer in hand, replies "Yeah, righto, What's his name then?". Muriel Bamblett, head of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, as well as Roy Ah-See, chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, and Nigel Scullion, the minister for Indigenous affairs, all labeled the cartoon racist.[19] Western Australian Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and academic Jeremy Sammut defended Leak's 2016 cartoon, saying it was an appropriate portrayal of some communities and families.[20][21] Leak said the cartoon was not racist, reflecting that if the characters he had drawn were white, he would not have been accused of racially stereotyping all white parents as bad parents.[22] A complaint by a woman who said she had been discriminated against as a result of the cartoon triggered an investigation into Leak and The Australian by the Australian Human Rights Commission.[23][24] The complaint was later withdrawn after the woman behind the complaint was subjected to alleged intimidation and harassment from Leak's employers at News Limited.[25] The investigation was thus terminated.

Waffen-SSM cartoon by Bill Leak.jpg

On 21 September 2016, during a nationwide debate about legalising same-sex marriage (SSM), The Australian published a Leak cartoon depicting a club-carrying, goose-stepping platoon, wearing rainbow-coloured NAZI SS uniforms, captioned "Waffen-SSM", which provoked significant controversy.[26] Comedian Ben McLeay criticized Leak's cartoon, writing that it was harmful and morally repugnant.[27] Peter Wertheim, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director, said that the cartoon was an inversion of history.[28][29][30]

Association with the Archibald[edit]

In 1984, Leak first entered the Archibald Prize, an annual portraiture competition administered by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. That year, he swore that he would never enter again but changed his mind in 1989, entering a portrait of Don Bradman, which was named as one of 24 finalists that year.[1][31] He entered portraits of Malcolm Turnbull in 1994, Graham Richardson in 1995, Tex Perkins in 1997, Gough Whitlam in 1998, Sir Les Patterson in 2000 and Robert Hughes in 2001. He won the Packing Room Prize twice (for portraits of Tex Perkins and Sir Les Patterson) and also won the People's Choice Award for his portrait of Malcolm Turnbull.[32] He was also a subject for People's Choice Award winners Esther Erlich (2000) and Jo Palaitis (1995).[33][34]

Of his long association with the Archibald Prize, News Limited journalist Roger Coombs wrote in 2008 that Leak "is widely regarded by good judges as the best painter never to have won the Archibald prize".[35]


On 18 October 2008, Leak sustained serious head injuries from falling off a balcony while trying to feed African grey parrots and gang-gang cockatoos.[36] Brain surgery was required, after which he was in serious condition.[37] His partner Lo Mong Lau, along with his elder son Johannes and his mother and sister, joined him to be by his side at the Royal North Shore Hospital where he was treated.[38] While the outlook was initially poor, he recovered.[35]


On 10 March 2017, Leak died in hospital following a suspected heart attack. He was 61 years old.[39]


Leak won nine Walkley Awards:

  • 1987 – For best illustration, a picture of then employment and education minister John Dawkins[40]
  • 1989 – For best illustration[41]
  • 1990 – For best illustration[41]
  • 1992 – For best illustration[41]
  • 1993 – For best cartoon[42]
  • 1995 – For best cartoon, "And that's the Truth"[41]
  • 1996 – For best cartoon, "It's our ABC"[41]
  • 1997 – For his artwork "The Big Picture"[43]
  • 2002 – For his cartoon "Brown Nose Day"[44]

Between 1987 and 1998, he was also presented with 20 Stanley Awards - twelve category (bronze) awards and eight gold for Cartoonist of the Year - and was a two-time winner of News Corps' News Award for best cartoonist of the year, in 2015 and 2016.[45][46][47]

Books and TV[edit]

Books published[edit]

In 2005, ABC Books published Leak's first novel, Heart Cancer.[48] The reviewer Gillian Dooley wrote that the book was not a success, labelling the first half "tedious, crude, self-indulgent and melodramatic" and the end "truly nauseating".[49]

Leak also released four books of political cartoons:

  • Drawing Blood. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin. 1998. ISBN 186448845X.
  • Moments of Truth. Carlton North, Vic: Scribe. 2005. ISBN 1920769536.
  • UnAustralian of the Year. Brunswick, Vic: Scribe. 2012. ISBN 9781921844850.
  • Trigger Warning. Melbourne: Wilkinson Publishing. 2017. ISBN 9781925265897.

Face Painting, 2008 TV series[edit]

Leak's TV series, Face Painting, in which he painted portraits of people who have died, went to air on the ABC TV in November 2008.[35] Portraits painted for the show included Australian actor June Salter, musician Bon Scott and Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins.[50]


  1. ^ a b c Waldren, Murray (29 May 2004). "Trading places". Weekend Australian. News Limited., as reproduced online at: "Trading Places", Literary Liaisons, archived from the original on 24 April 2011
  2. ^ Fitzpatrick, Stephen (11 March 2017). "Bill Leak obituary: the people's choice". The Australian. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  3. ^ Bill Leak: Biography, AustLit, retrieved 8 November 2016
  4. ^ "Bill Leak Portraits", Manly Art Gallery & Museum Newsletter: 1, November 2013
  5. ^ Bennett, Rod (29 November 2013). "Leak draws on reality for show: Portrait guru to hit gallery". Manly Daily.
  6. ^ a b Summary of Interview with Bill Leak, painter and cartoonist by interviewer, Ann Turner, 1998
  7. ^ Cliff, Paul, ed. (2000), "The 1970s", The Endless Playground: Celebrating Australian Childhood, National Library of Australia, p. 192, ISBN 0 642 10724 6
  8. ^ Julian Ashton Art School, History, Julian Ashton Art School, archived from the original on 16 July 2010
  9. ^ Leak, Bill (22 August 2015). "Archibald Prize: Bill Leak on winning, losing and hanging offences". The Australian. News Corp. Retrieved 27 November 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Leak, Bill (1956–)", Trove, National Library of Australia, archived from the original on 27 November 2015
  11. ^ "Govt condemns 'tasteless' cartoon". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 1 April 2006. Archived from the original on 28 October 2016.
  12. ^ Hyland, Tom; Debelle, Penelope (2 April 2006). "Cartoon anger fears". The Age. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 2 October 2016.
  13. ^ Squires, Nick (2 June 2007). "Blistering Barnacles! Tintin 'parody' threat". The Daily Telegraph.
  14. ^ Wilson, Peter (4 June 2007). "Leak in the clear over Tintin". Archived from the original on 14 July 2007. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  15. ^ Meade, Amanda; Burke, Jason (13 December 2015). "Australian newspaper cartoon depicting Indians eating solar panels attacked as racist". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 December 2015.
  16. ^ Basu, Indrani (14 December 2015). "This Australian Newspaper Published An Unbelievably Racist Cartoon About Indians". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 4 May 2016.
  17. ^ "Press Council Adjudication". The Australian. News Corp. 7 November 2016.
  18. ^ Dawson, Abigail (8 November 2016). "Bill Leak cartoon cleared of breaching Press Council standards". Mumbrella. Archived from the original on 9 November 2016.
  19. ^ "Bill Leak cartoon an 'attack' on Aboriginal people, Indigenous leader says". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 4 August 2016. Archived from the original on 5 August 2016.
  20. ^ Laschon, Eliza (20 October 2016). "Bill Leak cartoon an appropriate view of what police see in some Aboriginal families: Karl O'Callaghan". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 21 October 2016.
  21. ^ Sammut, Jeremy (4 August 2016). "Bill Leak's cartoon is tragically true". The Spectator Australia. Archived from the original on 26 November 2016.
  22. ^ Duffy, Conor (9 August 2016). "Bill Leak backs #IndigenousDads movement after penning controversial cartoon". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 14 October 2016.
  23. ^ "Bill Leak 'singled out' for racial discrimination investigation after cartoon prompts complaints". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 October 2016. Archived from the original on 8 November 2016.
  24. ^ Hewett, Jennifer (6 November 2016). "Human Rights Commission on wrong wavelength". Australian Financial Review. Fairfax Media.
  25. ^
  26. ^ "WaFFeN-SSM". 21 September 2016. Retrieved 21 September 2016.
  27. ^ McLeay, Ben (21 September 2016). "For Bill Leak's benefit: Why it's not okay to compare gay people to Nazis". SBS. Archived from the original on 22 September 2016.
  28. ^ Brender, Yael (29 September 2016). "Leak's SS-SSM comparison 'repulsive'". The Australian Jewish News. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016.
  29. ^ "ECAJ and Jewish GLBTI community critical of cartoon". J-Wire. 23 September 2016. Archived from the original on 4 November 2016.
  30. ^ "Cartoonist Bill Leak portrays LGBTI lobby as Nazi soldiers". OutInPerth. 21 September 2016. Archived from the original on 3 October 2016.
  31. ^ Art Gallery NSW, Archibald Prize: 1989, archived from the original on 17 June 2016
  32. ^ Art Gallery NSW, Archibald Prize: 1994, archived from the original on 17 June 2016
  33. ^ Art Gallery NSW, Archibald Prize: 2005: Esther Erlich, archived from the original on 20 June 2016
  34. ^ Art Gallery NSW, Archibald Prize: 1995, archived from the original on 3 September 2016
  35. ^ a b c Coombs, Roger (29 November 2008). "Bill Leak ode to fallen". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 August 2016.
  36. ^ Haynes, Rhys (21 October 2008). "Singo tells of horror at Bill Leak's fall". The Daily Telegraph. News Limited.
  37. ^ "Cartoonist Bill Leak seriously injured in balcony fall". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Commission. 19 October 2008. Archived from the original on 22 October 2008.
  38. ^ "Bill Leak has brain surgery after fall". The Age. Fairfax Media. AAP. 20 October 2008. Archived from the original on 23 October 2008.
  39. ^ "Cartoonist Bill Leak dies aged 61". 10 March 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  40. ^ "Journalists win awards". The Canberra Times. 22 October 1987. p. 8.
  41. ^ a b c d e Walkley Winners Archive, The Walkley Foundation.
  42. ^ "1993 AWARD WINNERS". The Canberra Times. 68, (21, 415). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 2 December 1993. p. 5. Retrieved 10 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia.
  43. ^ Best Artwork: Bill Leak The Australian: "The Big Picture", The Walkley Foundation, 1997, archived from the original on 17 June 2005
  44. ^ Pictorial: Cartoon, Winner: Bill Leak, The Australian, "Brown Nose Day", The Walkley Foundation, 2002, archived from the original on 18 December 2002
  45. ^ Bill Leak, b. 1956, National Portrait Gallery, archived from the original on 26 November 2016
  46. ^ Markson, Sharri (12 October 2015). "Journos ride out ISIS threat". The Australian. News Corp.
  47. ^ Clift, Tom (13 August 2016). "Bill Leak Is The Cartoonist Of The Year, Declare Bill Leak's Employers". Junkee. Archived from the original on 14 August 2016.
  48. ^ Leak, Bill (2005). Heart Cancer. Sydney, NSW: ABC Books. ISBN 9780733316319.
  49. ^ Bill Leak. Heart Cancer. ABC Books: Reviewed by Gillian Dooley in The Adelaide Review, October 28, 2005, p. 19. (PDF), Flinders University, 28 October 2005, archived from the original (PDF) on 12 October 2015
  50. ^ "Face Painting with Bill Leak", ABC Content Sales, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2015, archived from the original on 9 November 2016

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jennifer Little
People's Choice Award
for Malcolm Turnbull
Succeeded by
Josonia Palaitis
Preceded by
Paul Newton
Packing Room Prize
for Tex Perkins
Succeeded by
Kerrie Lester
Preceded by
Deny Christian
Packing Room Prize
for Are you with me?
(Sir Les Patterson)
Succeeded by
Paul Newton