On August 4, cartoonist Bill Leak published a comic in The Australian that's since dominated the Australian media. If you want, you can see it here. If you'd rather not, here's some context: the image shows an Aboriginal cop handing a young Aboriginal boy over to his father. The man is drunk, holding a beer can, and he can't remember his son's name.
After the comic's release, people were quick to label Leak a racist. VICE asked artists to respond with their own cartoons. Many other media outlets pointed out that this wasn't the first time Leak has published racially incendiary comics: there was one depicting Indian people eating solar panels donated by the UN, another of a Palestinian insurgent sending his own son out to "fight the PR war for Daddy."
Today, Leak published an op-ed, defending his controversial image. In it The Australian is at pains to highlight how many Walkley awards the comic artist has won (it's nine, if you were wondering). They also go to some lengths to frame Leak as a sort of brave ambassador for painful truths.
At one point in the piece, Leak accuses his critics of suffering from "Chronic Truth Aversion Disorder" or CTAD, which he sees as an "epidemic that is raging unchecked through Australia's social media population is rendering impossible any intelligent debate on serious social issues, such as the rampant violence, abuse and neglect of children in remote indigenous [sic] communities."
There's another cartoon accompanying the article, mirroring yesterday's. Except this time, rather than featuring an unidentified Aboriginal boy, Leak has drawn himself hauled up by a cop, who is white this time. In place of the father, there's another very specific caricature: a white, bald, bearded man—wearing thick glasses and a Twitter shirt—who definitely was on my tram this morning. Rather than a VB tinnie though, this man is wielding a baseball bat and a noose.
If people were confused about yesterday's cartoon, the meaning of this one is clear: Leak sees himself as the victim. He thinks he's at risk of being lynched by "sanctimonious Tweety Birds" for telling it like it is. He's incredulous that The Guardian's Amanda Meade ever dared ask him what his comic meant.
But, in the spirit of telling it like it is, let's be real about something else. That is that Leak's comic is tackling a range of issues that are real, but in a way that will contribute absolutely nothing. There's not one Indigenous child held in any juvenile detention centre in Australia whose life will be improved because of this.
It seems like Leak sees himself as a sort of Australian Charlie Hebdo, a controversial satirist suppressed by PC culture. And therein lies Bill Leak's problem. He's representative a powerful swathe of white Australia who thinks they can insert themselves into a problem, and offer a "stinging critique" in the hope it will wake up those standing in the way of solutions.
"I'm a realist, I'm inspired by what I see," he told the ABC in 2010. "What you're really trying to do is see the truth."
Why does Leak think that from his privileged position—hundreds of kilometres away from the communities he's shitting on—he somehow has a better perspective of what's going on? Why does he think he's the only one who can see the truth? His is the kind of arrogance that fuelled the Northern Territory intervention, the Stolen Generation.
In his defence, Leak cites the support he received from Anthony Dillon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Catholic University, whose father was Australia's first Aboriginal police officer. The Australian also published an op-ed from Dillon, which argues that "Leak was communicating a message that many Australians would like to express but are afraid to do so for fear of being labelled a racist."
Are white Australians afraid of talking about issues of race for fear of being labelled racists? I'm sure sometimes they are. But that doesn't mean there isn't a way white Australia can talk about issues that affect a particular race or community without being bigoted and utterly counterproductive. Case in point would be Caro Meldrum-Hanna.
In her Four Corners report, Meldrum-Hanna revealed the systemic injustices and abuse perpetrated against a largely Aboriginal juvenile population inside Don Dale. Like Leak, her medium was also images you couldn't look away from.
But Meldrum-Hanna sparked a royal commission into Don Dale. She turned the entire country's consciousness to the treatment of young people in detention, and the problems plaguing our prison system more broadly. All Leak achieved was making a few people angry on Twitter.
Oh, and Meldrum-Hanna has won a few Walkleys too, Bill.
Go yell at Maddison on Twitter.