THE celebrated cartoonist Bill Leak underwent something of a political shift in his later years, moving from Left to Right. I’d been his friend during both phases — he was exactly the same person, after all — but Bill lost many leftist mates after becoming politically sensible.
Many of those former mates also took to speculating darkly over why Bill had changed his views. Had he become seduced by the wicked Murdoch media machine? Was it something to do with his near-fatal 2008 accident? Did Bill just one day wake up evil?
The man himself had a straightforward explanation. He’d moved from Sydney to the New South Wales Central Coast and begun working from home. Instead of being surrounded by journalists in the office and inner-city types in bars, he was left to his own thoughts and the delightful company of his wife, Goong. As well, he was in daily contact with normal people who were not obsessed with Canberra or politics.
In that more contemplative environment, Bill’s mind thrived. Various assumptions that he’d lived by for decades were reconsidered and discarded. This was not a painless process, because besides the friendships involved it also required Bill acknowledging he’d simply been wrong about many things for a great deal of his life.
Yet, at the end of all that, Bill was an extremely happy fellow. If anything, the Bill Leak of his final years was more Bill than any previous Bill.
Away from the inner city:
A few years ago, after often visiting Bill at his Central Coast house, the wife and I left inner Sydney where we’d lived for more than two decades and moved here too. …
Just one hour or so away from inner Sydney, the people are normal.
You know how every Australia Day is an ideological brawl over invasion, colonialism and oppression? Well, that may be the case in the media and certain urban zones, but out here — just one hour away, mind — it’s just Australia Day. People put out flags and have barbecues. Our first Australia Day here was at a neighbour’s place, and we counted five flags even before we reached the backyard.
The whole day was wonderful. As we walked home, the missus said: “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more Australian.”
Politics is not a matter of daily discussion here. Nor is climate change, although the coast is more exposed to weather extremes. Priorities are different.
If you ever doubt Mark Latham’s observations on the cultural gap between inner-city elites and Australians living in the outer suburbs and regional areas, just go to these places. They’re revelatory.
When Bill drew his cartoon depicting dysfunction in Aboriginal communities, he expected none of the backlash he received. In part, this was because free and open discussion of such issues is not forbidden beyond inner-city bubbles.
He’d become used to a real Australia. No wonder Bill was always smiling.