Australia’s First Free-Speech Martyr

leak mug III do not ask, how he died, for medical opinion tells us it was a heart attack. I do ask why he had to die as he did, weary and stressed after months of unconscionable official harassment. Bill Leak, cartoonist extraordinaire is lost to us. No more of that sardonic wit. Gone forever the sharpshooting sniper whose targets were the pompous and the self-righteous and the lies they tell each other and will use any means at their disposal to make the rest of us bow before them too.

And if we don’t, if we refuse to genuflect before their lies? They’ll persecute us and make us pay, in Bill’s case with his life.

The Inquisition hated to spill blood, it preferred that heretics be racked and broken then quietly expire. Bill’s heart exploded, that is what the death certificate says. Yet still he died as countless heretics have died — those who dared to think differently, who dared to speak their heretic thoughts aloud. They died lest they contaminate others with their heresies. What did they accuse you of, Bill, what was your crime? Of telling the truth as you saw it? Of ruffling feathers by whipping idiots into lathers of froth and turmoil?

My hands are trembling as I write. My eyes are full of tears. My heart is heavy with foreboding. When an artist, a writer, a poet, a satirist is persecuted, the country that lets it happen slides toward totalitarianism. No, that’s wrong. A country that funds a spiteful bureaucracy to punish those of whose words it disapproves is already there. It’s just a question of degree. To tolerate that is worse than simply being stripped of the freedom millions died to win and defend. Rather, it is to throw away freedom and liberty like so much worthless rubbish. Today they pick off a cartoonist and a laughing, joyful mob dips its hankies in the blood for souvenirs. Tomorrow? It could be any door — your door, my door, any door — on which the enforcer’s fist bangs in the darkness.

I state it plainly, people, in the USSR, where I lived and grew up. Like Bill Leak, I was hauled in front of the unsmiling, self-righteous, angry, shouting  komsomoltsy of the Young Communist League for my desire to emigrate to the West. My wife and I, two thought-criminals together. We were denounced as Western spies and Zionist traitors, criminals who deserved to be shot. We did not know at the time if we would have to find someone prepared to care for our four-year old daughter if we were taken away. In the USSR that was the fate of  those who declined to submit to their tormentors. I saw people being accused in front of many of anti-Communist thoughts or deeds or words. I knew people, like Bill, who were taken to hospital with heart attacks. Their friends stayed silent or publicly turned against them. I saw all this and worse.

I lived it and survived it. I escaped it. Or so I thought.

I am calling on all sane people: do not let it go any further here, do not let it go any further than it has already. Do not shut the dissenting mouth and protect that same mouth if anyone tries to gag it, whether you like what it says or or not. Do not let totalitarianism’s stealthy creep into the public discourse destroy the precious tree of freedom.

I know exactly how Bill felt. How exposed, frightened and defenseless he felt in front of his relentless accusers. I can’t imagine, however, how much worse it must have been for him to have not only the authorities on his back but Muslim fanatics as well. This is the depths we have reached: a relentless, speech-enforcing bureaucracy making common cause with head-loppers.

And, oh, how his persecutors gloried in their righteous omnipotence to punish him with all the extra-judicial power at their disposal. He knew the punishment of the process would never end. He knew that when one complaint had run its course there would be another. I was 27 when I made myself a target of official harassment by daring to disagree. I was younger than Bill, and my heart was younger too.  I lived with the stress and escaped here, to Australia. Bill’s heart was older and he did not survive.

Rest in peace, Bill Leak, Australia’s first martyr for the free speech.

Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978

5 thoughts on “Australia’s First Free-Speech Martyr

  • en passant says:

    Well said Michael, your warning is indeed a dire one.
    When the persecutor Tim Il Kim Tam goes touting for fake complainants about a superbly insightful cartoon we should all know we have a problem. Many people do, but the totalitarians frighten our politicians with invective and relentless attacks, so 18C will stay. Note the trials and tribulations of Bernard Gaynor as a case in point.
    Gillian and her hitmen will no doubt stay quiet for a while as they never want to have to face the same opprobrium they inflict on the accused. Laura Tingle has shown the way with her fake eulogy of her ‘friend’, noting that er, some people might miss Bill. Said the nice words but hedged her bets with the in-crowd.
    We need the courage in Oz to individually confront these oppressors.
    I note that PRESIDENT Trump has announced that the UN HRC either reforms or the US defunds and withdraws from it. To our very own $300K a year Inquisitors this is a far greater threat than any heretical truth they seek to suppress.
    Question: what would Oz be like without 18C and the whole AHRC?
    Answer: a better place.

  • Egil Nordang says:

    Sadly very little, if anything, is taught in our schools about the horrors of the old totalitarian/brutal Soviet Union.
    Curriculum much rather focuses on flaws in Western culture/history.
    No surprise then to observe that history is in the process of repeating itself.
    Power obsessed totalitarians are always on the lookout for ground troops in the ignorant, but very useful idiots.
    And Bill Leak is no longer here to expose and ridicule these totalitarian bastards.
    Replacing the genius Bill Leak?

    • Doc S says:

      Its worse than that Egil – history is subsumed into the catch-all ‘Social Studies’ (or Sose as they young folk like to call it) i.e. not taught. ‘History’ does not exist as a discrete subject but only as an extremely truncated and sanitised version in the modern Australian school curriculum. This has been the sad case for some time. As the saying goes, those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. This particular blight emanating from our universities has in the end resulted in things like Tim Southpossum’s (to use Bill Leak’s nickname for him) AHRC and abominations like 18c. I think it is in some measure because our freedoms have long been taken for granted as the sacrifice of our forefathers in establishing and protecting them is no longer taught to the current generation. Bill Leak did a terrific cartoon on that too.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    … and Faole – the last of the Fussy Wuzzy Angels – died on the same day as Bill Leak. It was him and his mates who kept my father safe behind Japanese lines during the years he spent as a Coastwatcher – up a tree with a radio … keeping Oz safe from the Japanese Imperialists – so that we might continue on our path toward a free liberal democracy. My father saw free speech as the cornerstone of this fight. Our family (my mother who nursed the freed Changi prisoners in Borneo) – certainly payed the price of keeping the freedom of speech in which Bill Leak blossomed his genius. They thought it was all worth it … yet there are those who treat their existential contribution (my fathers and mothers, Faole’s, and Leaks) as if it never existed. We have forgotten our history and replaced it with historical narratives that have erased the courage and commitment of our ancestors.

  • Jody says:

    I’m posting this in honour of Bill and I know he’d have howled with laughter!!


Leave a Reply