I haven’t been a Michael Leunig fan for some years now. I write this in full knowledge that a hit elf from the Michael Leunig Appreciation Society may shortly arrive in a goat-drawn curly wagon attended by ducks. He will proceed to recite relentless whimsy while the ducks flog me with daffodils. I can’t run, I can’t hide. They know where I live, as I have the the weekend Age home delivered.
To tell the truth, way back in the 1970s I did fall in love – like most people I knew – with Leunig’s quirky visions in the Nation Review, ‘lean and nosy like a ferret’. I treasure some of those early cartoons. And yeah, OK, I admit it; I do occasionally rejoice at the way he can still hit the spot for poignancy or damning political insight.
It’s really his columns. Can’t stand them. Don’t read them. Call me a cynic, but the whole ‘holy fool’ schtick sticks in my craw. So it’s unusual that I even skimmed Moon Eclipsed By a Memory, in last weekend’s Age. Skimmed, and then stunned myself by actually reading it. By loving it. How can this be?
The column was about the recent super moon – and how it wasn’t all that super, after all. However, it reminded Leunig of an eclipse he’d once witnessed. The memory of this amazing natural event has never left him. His description was magical.
Many years ago I was near Whitfield in the King Valley in north-east Victoria, standing by the car at a lookout and gazing at the steep green bush-crowned hillsides. A murmuring creek was hidden by the undergrowth in a deep valley. It was peaceful and lovely. And then, there was an eclipse. Perhaps it was the same eclipse. Like Leunig, I heard the eerie sound of hundreds of cattle bellowing. Birds – flocks and solitaries – streamed through the air in the descending darkness, calling, calling. I knew that it was only (only?) the moon passing in front of the sun, and yet my heart thumped in my chest. Fear? Awe? I held my breath. For a short time, as the daylight dimmed and then returned, I changed perspective. I could put myself in the place of my distant ancestors, a place of deepest wonder. It was powerful, mystical, natural magic and I have never forgotten it, either.
This time Leunig, in words not pictures, hit the spot for me. Dark and light. He wrote:
It’s as simple as this: disillusionment precedes creativity.
Currently I’m feeling disillusioned, disappointed, melancholy and futile. Not quite despairing, but certainly in a dark funk. This column was a graceful and timely reminder about the cycle of descent and return.
Thank you, Michael. I’m sorry I said those bad things about you. And now, can you call off the ducks?