BY ALEC SMART
In the wake of the national Same-Sex Marriage plebiscite results, which on 15 November revealed 61.6 per cent of Australians had voted ‘Yes’ to allow same-sex couples to marry, two ‘gay-friendly’ wall murals in Sydney’s inner-west were vandalised.
A mural on a pub’s exterior wall celebrating the same-sex marriage ‘Yes’ vote, and poking fun at former Prime Minister Tony Abbot, was blacked-out by vandals. A second mural, featuring British pop star and gay icon George Michael as a saint, was also targeted.
Both murals were painted by Sydney artist Scott Marsh, a friend of the late George Michael.
In an apparent act of retaliation to the result of the Yes vote, fundamentalist Christians attacked the murals, one in Newtown, the other in Erskineville, over successive nights. Initially pelting the former with white paint, the religious vandals returned and coated them in back paint applied with a roller on a pole.
Some Christians then assembled at the Newtown site – the Botany View Hotel – to pray to God for divine intervention.
The mural on the rear wall of the Botany View Hotel could be deemed provocative: it featured Catholic leader Cardinal Pell with his hand down the ‘budgie-smuggler’ swimming pants of Tony Abbot.
Yet Cardinal Pell, one of Australia’s highest-ranking Catholics and Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat under Pope Francis, is a controversial and divisive figure. He faces a four-week committal hearing next March, in relation to historic child sexual offences involving multiple complainants.
At 9pm last Thursday, 16 November, four men with a bucket of black paint and rollers arrived to cover up the Cardinal Pell and Tony Abbot mural.
The manager of the Botany View told City Hub that the same four men had pelted the Cardinal Pell side of the mural with white paint the night earlier.
“When the four men returned, our staff tried to intervene and stop them but we were threatened with violence. They shouted at us and were very aggressive. We decided to leave them to it and not exacerbate the situation.”
Police were called but arrived after the vandals departed, although mobile phone footage of the incident later appeared on Facebook.
Fundamentalist group Christian Lives Matter were linked to the incident.
Although the mural was only painted on Wednesday, Christian Lives Matter launched a campaign against the Botany View Hotel, which resulted in 743 one-star reviews posted to the pub’s Facebook page, and a barrage of intimidating phone calls.
Christian Lives Matter’s Facebook page owner, Charlie Bakhos, posted an announcement on the group’s web page declaring the murals were ‘hate speech and offensive’, and, after giving the addresses of the respective murals, declared, ‘We call for you to act on this urgently!’
On Friday 17 November, a 23-year-old man was filmed painting over the George Michael mural, which, facing the main railway line between Erskineville and St Peters Stations, featured Michael as a saint beneath a rainbow and smoking a marijuana joint.
Declaring it ‘sacreligious’, he explained, “It’s not right that people can paint whatever they want and incite religious hatred.”
The man, eventually arrested by police, was wearing his work clothes, including a fluorescent shirt emblazoned with the logo of Azztek Stone in Condell Park.
After angry people contacted his employers, they released a statement, “We at Azztek Stone strongly and vigorously condem [sic] the action taken by one of our employees. His actions in no way reflect on the beliefs held by the company its policy and the belief of all other individuals employed by Azztek Stone. The employee has been stood down and the company is willing to compensate for the damage that has been done and return the art work to its original condition.”
Charlie Bakhos of Christian Lives Matter cheered the sabotage to the two murals with a statement on Instagram, “Now thats what you call a happy ending… God bless these boys who did a great job defending our city, our faith and our children’s freedom of innocence. Politicians, police and our leaders did nothing, yet theres plenty of us ready to fight the good fight.”
Christian Lives Matter supporter, Julie Evripidou, was one of many who supported the defacing of the murals, and her position typically summarized the feelings of resentment within the Christian community opposed to them: “Since when was it ok for the public and especially children to walk in our streets and have pornography in their faces? Is it acceptable to just have sex in the streets, NO! Is it acceptable to walk around butt naked touching each other’s private bits, NO!
So how is it all of a sudden allowed and acceptable to paint pornography on the walls.
I have to give respect to the boys in this video for covering up such a confronting image.”
Pauline Pantsdown, a Sydney Gay Rights campaigner, responded to the acts of vandalism with a public statement. “Christian Lives Matter is a violent, racist, homophobic vigilante FB [Facebook] group, operating a page that is littered with threats to attack and murder LGBTI people. They’re in the news now for defacing a 2nd mural in two days, Erskineville’s ‘St George’, but the danger from this group goes much deeper than that.
“Last year a restaurant posted a joke religious meme. This group bombarded the restaurant with telephone death threats for days; sent a few cars around with baseball bats; showered the Asian owner with racist abuse online; & threatened her husband with photos of his recently-deceased mother, saying that he’d be “joining her soon”.
“Then they moved onto the Dendy Cinema, because of a Christian-themed film, and harassed staff for days. Throughout the postal survey their page has been littered with death threats & threats of violence against LGBTI people, and now they’re coming into the city, threatening people with violence & defacing walls. Police have been informed, & have been passed the contact details of the page owner Charlie Bakhos, who stirs up vigilante hatred & then pretends surprise when people get violent.”