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Artist brings refugee message home to Adelaide

Arts & Culture

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Adelaide artist Peter Drew is pasting up around 150 posters in his home city this week as part of his national odyssey seeking to influence the way Australians think about asylum seekers.

Drew, whose work has been exhibited in the Art Gallery of South Australia and internationally, has also put up hundreds of the Real Australians Say Welcome posters in Sydney, Melbourne and the Northern Territory in recent weeks and says he’s been surprised by the largely positive response.

“In the beginning, I thought this was a good way to provoke moderate voters into thinking about how we treat asylum seekers, how they intersect with us and our identity,” he tells InDaily.

“But as it’s gone on, I think probably the most important audience is asylum seekers themselves who are living in Australia and feeling increasingly isolated because of vocal groups like Reclaim Australia.

“I think ordinary Australians feel embarrassed by our national identity being hijacked by right-wing nationalists.”

Drew designed the Real Australians Say Welcome posters himself and raised more than $6000 through crowdfunding to pay for printing and the cost of travelling to different places to post them up.

In a video accompanying the project, he explains that it had its genesis when he was just 16, listening to Julie Anthony singing the Australian National Anthem at the opening of the Sydney Olympics. The words that particularly resonated were: “For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share, With courage let us all combine, To Advance Australia Fair.”

“That’s why I made this poster, to see if we really have the courage to welcome people who’ve come here from across the seas.”

Real Australians Say Welcome from Peter Drew on Vimeo.

Later, Drew’s views were galvanised by federal political parties’ policies aimed at “stopping the boats”.

His poster campaign has generated a largely positive response. One Facebook supporter even posted a photo this week of a pair of socks with “Real Australians Say Welcome” knitted into them, while another shared a cross-stitch pattern using the words.

However, there has been some negativity both online and in person. On his first day putting up his posters in Sydney, in the multicultural suburb of Auburn, Drew was approached by a man who was incensed both by the fact that he was pasting up a poster and also by the message it conveyed. After trying to talk to him, the artist decided it was time to leave.

“He started chasing me and shouting.

“I started laughing and bystanders were laughing and I thought that was like a metaphor for what’s going on … there’s wider Australia [which is generally supportive of refugees] and then there’s these town idiots who think they are the real Australians.”

Peter Drew with one of his posters in Sydney.

Peter Drew with one of his posters in Sydney.

In Adelaide, Drew’s posters can now be found around the CBD in places such as Rundle Mall, Rundle Street and Hindley Street. He also plans to paste more up this week in places such as Gouger Street, Norwood and Prospect.

But it doesn’t end there. Next he will be heading to Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Launceston and Canberra.

“The whole idea is to put up 1000 posters around the country, but I think I’m going to go over that.”

He admits it’s an exhausting project – he’s putting up most of the posters himself, and the ultimate cost is likely to exceed the amount raised through crowdfunding. But as well as his political views, he’s spurred on by his friendships with a number of asylum seekers.

“I think that’s the ultimate thing in terms of people getting along; that’s the bread and butter of multiculturalism – being friends with people from different groups.”

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