Art

Do Real Australians Say Welcome?

1 Comment 06 June 2015

“For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share, with courage, let us all combine to advance Australia fair.”

Hey, that sounds familiar. Oh right, it’s a line from our national anthem! It also happens to be the inspiration for an artist and film maker from Adelaide, Peter Drew, whose latest project has involved a lot of travelling, a lot of poster-application and a lot of debate. The outcome has been simple and concise: a four-word phrase that has started a lively public discussion. A bold, black-on-beige statement that reads “Real Australians Say Welcome”. Seen them around? I certainly have. The posters were put up in April to make Australians think about the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees who are trying to come to the country to save their own lives.

Part of Drew’s inspiration for the project lies in the last line of the second verse of our national anthem. In his promotional video for the project, Drew explains that the project is to highlight the lesser known lines of our anthem and make the community think about its relevance. Do we sing ‘with courage let us all combine’ just because Peter Dodds McCormick (who wrote it) had a vision for courage and diversity? Perhaps we should actually be thinking about the words and using them to empower our community to stand up  for others, instead of just mumbling along quietly and hoping no one notices that we have strayed – both from courage and from being welcoming.

What is it about  these posters that have captured the public’s eye? Is it the raw implication that Australians are not displaying generosity to outsiders that gets people thinking? Or the challenge that disagreeing with the poster makes one un-Australian? After scrolling through my Instagram feed I discovered several of the posters that have been photographed by supportersaround the country, each accompanied by positive captions and hashtags. It’s really heart-warming to see that despite it sometimes seeming that our country’s collective outlook on things is somewhat unwelcoming, there are projects like this one that bring like-minded people together through visual art.

On the opposite side, ABC Lateline’s interview with Drew showed that not everyone is so happy about the project. His answer to the question ‘“Do you ever get scared?” was “Yeah, but that’s fine, that’s part of it.” Drew stands out because despite people yelling at him, chasing him down the street and vandalizing his posters, he welcomes this as an opportunity for a discussion.

What makes a person Australian or un-Australian is completely subjective. While some may believe it’s the barbeques and booze, others may look at our roots and core values as the defining feature. Drew is challenging the idea that generosity and being welcoming to foreign people should be an important part of the Australian identity. He also made the point on Lateline that welcoming asylum seekers makes one un-Australian is “…the argument put forward by the other side, by the … ultranationalists and I wanted to …make them see how it feels.”

It’s a great project and has sparked a lot of people to get their creative on. Instagram and Twitter feeds around the country are full of people combining their passion for art with their passion for justice, and it’s truly inspiring.

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It’s interesting to see just how much visual arts influences topical and political issues such as asylum seekers. According to Drew’s series Art vs. Reality created in June 2014, historically art’s purpose was to aid the worshiping of gods and royalty. When these lost some of their power, art was created more on skill and creativity. Drew believes that today, all four of these stimuli have diminished and artists are left with little to put their artistic flair into. But in fact, there may be a fifth motive for artists, and that is politics. Political issues give artists an opportunity to express their views and find like-minded and opposing people to discuss with.

Art such as Banksy’s West Bank Wall (2005) and Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster (2008) highlight the impact art can have on the political world. All of Banksy’s work has a symbolic message, whether it be focusing on gay marriage, peace, or simply hope for the future.  When anyone sees the distinctive blue and red poster of Barack Obama they instantly associate it with his win in the 2008 American election. It is quite amazing that art plays such a large role in political issues and swaying people’s views.

Art really does influence politics, whether it’s graffiti art, paintings or posters. Like our anthem says, “with courage, let us all combine”. Perhaps we as a society should think about this a little more and also think about what is when we stray from our own national anthem. Peter Drew’s Project is acting as a great stimulus for debate and discussion, which proves that Australia is home to many open-minded and modern thinkers. Visual art plays a massive part in politics and society’s views, and it important to use it to inspire us, empower the weak and to make better change for all.

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Guy says:

    What a great article on a great project. I’ve seen these posters around town and they make me feel good to see this simple but powerful message out in the public space.


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