Ex-fire chief mural defaced hours after graffiti warning
Hours after NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman called on locals to not graffiti on Sydney streets for Graffiti Removal Day - a seven-metre honorary mural he unveiled has been left vandalised.
Mr Speakman inaugurated the portrait of former Rural Fire Service boss Shane Fitzsimmons yesterday and said the artwork would remove the "temptation" to graffiti.
"Graffiti Removal Day is a reminder of the scourge of graffiti that still faces us here in New South Wales. The bad news is that graffiti clean ups cost us $300m annually, but the good news is that graffiti crime is on the downward trend," he said.
"We know that street art reduces graffiti. We know that if there is an ugly wall, they are just waiting for someone or many people to tag it.
"(We are) designing communities and designing streetscapes in a way to reduce the temptation to graffiti. You can kill two birds with one stone."
But his comments have fallen on deaf ears - with the artwork being defaced just hours later.
The artwork, painted at Erskineville Station to honour Mr Fitzsimmons' efforts in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019, was defaced with words including "Mural Removal Day" and "Mad Aries".
Another large tag in red paint was also on the mural.
The original artwork was painted by street artist Sid Tapia who hit back at the vandals in a lengthy social media video, urging people to not "fight fire with fire".
"If there are people out there who do want to destroy graffiti … I'm not for you," he said.
"Some people have thought it (the mural) was about money and I actually wasn't offered that much money at all … it was about trying to bring honour. And it wasn't about removing graffiti either."
Mr Tapia clarified that he is not against the culture of graffiti and called on fellow artists to educate anyone who is by "reaching out" instead of through conflict.
Mr Speakman said on Tuesday he was "disappointed."
"The mural has had huge support since I had the honour of unveiling it yesterday," he wrote on social media.
Mr Speakman said Sydney Trains and NSW Department of Justice were working on repairing the damage.
The Department said the matter will be referred to the police.
Addressing those who defaced the mural, a spokesman for Graffiti Removal Day said: "We get you're p***ed, but this mural was created to honour former RFS NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons (who is not a police officer) and the RFS volunteers who helped save the lives and homes of thousands of people throughout the 2019 bushfires - and the volunteers who lost their lives in the process.
"We know you hate the idea of tags being removed from people's properties because you feel ownership of your art, but if you could also consider people feel the same sense of ownership over their property being tagged, because they've had to work and pay for it.
"We are clearly not against street art or murals - we want to help celebrate that culture but also support those people who may not want tagging on their own property."
Resilience NSW Chief Fitzsimmons, who was named 2021 NSW Australian of the Year for leading NSW through the devastating Black Summer bushfires, said he was "humbled" by the artwork.
"2020 was a year like no other and many are still dealing with the impacts of drought, bushfires, floods and storms, and COVID-19.
The 51 year-old was nominated for steering the state's response to the deadly 2019/2020 bushfire season, which claimed 5.4 million hectares, 2,439 homes, and the lives of 26 people in NSW, including RFS volunteers Andrew O'Dwyer, Geoffrey Keaton and Samuel McPaul.
Fitzsimmons stepped down after 35 years at the RFS and 12 years in the top job to lead disaster recovery agency Resilience NSW last year.
Illegal graffiti costs NSW more than $300 million in clean-up expenses each year.
Graffiti Removal Day Chairman Bob Aitken said this year up to 3,000 volunteers are expected to remove illegal graffiti from approximately 600 sites around NSW.
"Since we began in 2012, volunteers have removed more than 141,000 sqm of graffiti, saving the community $10.4 million," Mr Aitken said.
Originally published as Ex-fire chief mural defaced hours after graffiti warning