Considered the home of Sydney’s Bohemian community, Newtown in the city’s inner-west, boasts soaring real estate prices, more cafes and restaurants than you could eat at in a year, and a mural that’s divided some sections of the community.
In September of this year, business owner Sergio Redegalli painted it outside his shop.
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The original mural featured a woman in a niqab or Islamic face veil, with a red cross through it, and the words ‘Ban the Burqa’.
Although it has been modified, the mural is still there. It’s prompted some locals to organise a community meeting to debate its presence.
Local activist Pip Hinman was one of the organisers of the meeting, and described some of the local community’s initial reactions.
“Immediately a number of locals “creatively rearranged” it, and then immediately he put a CCTV camera so that it couldn’t be done again. But it did provoke discussion about what is this guy doing, why is he saying this? Why is it so public you can see it from the railway line. A lot people reacted by saying why is he putting this on his wall in such a provocative manner? Others said well ok, he’s able to put it on his wall, it’s his wall but we’re also allowed to say what we think about it.”
The original mural was vandalised, with the word ‘bogan’ splashed across the image.
It’s now been replaced by another figure, this one wearing a white burqa with the words ‘Say no to the burqa’.
Marrickville Council received some complaints about the mural, but the council responded by saying it does not have a legal right under the Graffiti Control Act of 2008 to remove it, as it has not been created by a third party, but by the property owner.
Despite this, the Mayor at the time the image first appeared, Councillor Mr Sam Iskander, said he strongly condemned the image, which goes against the values of the local community.
Amanda Perkins is also involved in organising the meeting.
She questions the artist’s motive in painting the mural, saying he has no previous involvement in the women’s rights movement.
“If you really care about improving, or helping to improve, the lives of our women, helping them in their struggle against oppression, then making them an object of hatred and suspicion in Australia is not the way to reach out to that community. “
Owner supports debate
As for the artist, Sergio Redegalli, thinks a town-hall meeting is a fantastic idea.
He says his views are anti-extremist, rather than anti-Muslim.
“We’ve had our own taste of the Cronulla riots. It may not have been fundamentally religious-based, it may have been more cultural- based, but there is tension in Australia and what I wanted to do was start a debate, rather than just leave it alone and then in five years’ time or ten years’ time have a problem occurring.”
Redegalli claims not to be aligned to any political party and believes Newtown, with it’s reputation as an open-minded suburb, is the best place to debate such an issue.
Along with his concerns about extremism, he says he wants to make a statement about freedom of speech.
When asked, he denies claims by some locals that the mural is simply a publicity stunt to attract attention to himself and his business.
“They’re crazy. It’s not a money-making venture in anyway – it is purely something that I believe in and it’s something that I believe Newtonian people really are able to stand up and speak. It’s off my own bat and that’s the irony, because I thought by actually doing this in Newtown, the Bohemian centre of Australia you could say, that people would see that hey, there must be a topic here if someone in Newtown wants to talk about it that is not aligned with anything, because we’re not rednecks. We’re not this, we’re not that. We’re basically a mixing pot.”
As for the locals, views are varied.
Some say the mural should be permitted for freedom of speech reasons, but by the same token, others say a woman should have the the freedom to wear what she wants.
Meeting organiser Amanda Perkins says she favours the format of a town hall meeting for community debates of all kinds and hopes to hear a wide range of opinions on the mural in Newtown
“We’re not asking for it to be taken down. What we are saying is that he’s going to have to expect that there is going to be reaction and people are going to have a view, about what we see as a racist act. And people may come to a town-hall meeting and make their view very strongly known to council and the state government about what other people in Newtown think.”
The debate will be held at Erskineville Town Hall on Wednesday evening, from 6 to 9pm.