Writing's on the wall for political graffiti as protesters move online
Political graffiti in Thornbury. Photo: Lachlan MacDowall
As a slogan for the national day of celebration, the spirit seems all wrong.
F--- Aussie Pride.
But these words, disturbing and confronting, are painted in bold letters on a wall in Melbourne's north - at least, that's how it read until a few days ago, when some other berk altered the message entirely by changing the A into an M and scrubbing out the R.
The defaced property hints at deeper community tensions in the suburbs, a rejection of flag-waving jingoism and then disparaging the Muslim community in turn. Yet graffiti of this kind, with a political edge, offensive or tame, has largely disappeared from Melbourne's streetscapes, overrun by the tedious sameness of vandals' tags.
Where once a ''Menzies the warmonger'' or ''Howard Australian workplace terrorist'' adorned bridges or rooftops, nowadays even in an election year people prefer a Facebook wall to scrawl an angry message across or turn to Twitter to spray an outburst at digital passersby.
Political graffiti - in the sense of a comment on big social issues of the moment - is rare and harder to find. ''In the '70s and '80s, a lot of graffiti was politically based,'' said Andrew Bourke, now a professional artist with a background in graffiti.
''I don't really think politics has that great an impact now, not as an expression of interest or even disinterest.''
Compared to a decade ago, when inflamed passions before the Iraq invasion led protesters to scale the Sydney Opera House and paint ''No War'' in giant red letters, the general malaise about the quality of Australian politics has also led to a sparsity of graffiti.
On a steel fence in Tullamarine, ''Tony Abbott is a misogynist'' is a vestige of the gender wars in Federal Parliament last year, as is a Julia Gillard likeness to the American wartime propaganda poster, Rosie the Riveter, pasted above a waffle cafe in Degraves Street in the city.
Amusingly, perhaps coincidentally, a stencilled Kevin Rudd hovers nearby.
But mostly, politics doesn't make it to the streets. ''Everyone just wants to get their name out,'' said Jordan Todero, 16, as he spray-painted a wall in Hosier Lane in the CBD.
''Australia is not really important, you know. It's America that's always in the news.''
Expert Lachlan MacDowall from the University of Melbourne has studied street graffiti and sees a growing difference between the often angry or overtly political slogans found in the outer suburbs and the hipster street art of the inner city. ''It's partly to do with the way street art has evolved, experimenting with different mediums, and a focus on the visual means the political message is often found in images rather than words.''
Victoria Police statistics show graffiti crime on public transport doubled in the past year, though it is unclear whether this is a result of more instances or better detection. In damage to private property, graffiti rose by 10 per cent.
''We certainly have spates of it,'' Sergeant Duncan Browne from Victoria Police said. But while police don't keep a database of graffiti content, he agrees anecdotally there is less of the politic type.
''There are other avenues to vent your spleen,'' he said, with social media offering a platform where others can respond.
''How do you do that with something written on a wall that just says 'Gillard sucks' . . . or 'Free the refugees'. You lose the chance to engage.''