by ALEC SMART
An Aboriginal flag mural in Camperdown Park, in Sydney’s inner west suburb of Newtown, was defaced with a swastika, prompting quick community action to cover the offensive graffiti.
On 24 April, DiegoAndres Barberini RothseyRodriguez was walking through the park when he caught sight of the racist graffiti, and took a photo with his phone. He uploaded the image to Newtown 2042 Facebook page, a community webpage for people who live and work in and around Newtown area, with the message: “Just found this at Camperdown Park. Anyone have any yellow paint? I can take care of it tomorrow/tonight if no one else can.”
The offensive graffiti provoked over 120 comments and a surplus of volunteers keen to cover it up.
DiegoAndres told City Hub, “I was just walking through the park with the boys about 10 o’clock in the morning when I saw it and I thought, ‘That’s not right!’ I needed to head off to work, so I took a photo and put it on the Newtown community page on Facebook, knowing that someone would do the right thing.”
Swastika removal squad
Someone did. Aimee, a nearby resident, saw the post and rushed out to cover it up with some yellow paint she had handy. She then posted a mobile phone photo of the rectified flag with her thumb up in the foreground.
However, the paint she had was thin and the Nazi symbol was still visible beneath. Nevertheless, some other community-minded folk also arrived, armed with yellow paint, and, as Aimee explained, “cool locals with more paint came in and finished the job. Sorted-ish. Turns out the paint I had wasn’t as thick as I thought it was.”
Inner West Councillor Pauline Lockie was also monitoring the situation. Beneath DiegoAndres’ original post she announced “Hi all, I’ve just spoken to Inner West Council’s CEO and we have a ranger heading out there. Thanks Aimee and others for covering it up for now – our staff should be able to get it properly scrubbed off soon (if that’s still needed).”
Aimee told City Hub, “There have been several Aboriginal flags painted on that wall in Camperdown for a few years; this isn’t the first time it’s happened, unfortunately.
“I think it’s important to not tolerate seeing that sort of symbolism in our community. Things are harder than usual for a lot of folks at the moment; there’s a lot of bad going on in the world right now and I don’t think seeing racist symbolism when you’re out and about is going to do anyone much good.”
When some queried the nature of this vandalism, and whether the murals on the wall were council-managed, Ms Lockie explained, “It’s a community wall that’s used by local artists. It’s designed to help reduce graffiti elsewhere as well as producing art that our local community enjoys.”
Obviously the community is overwhelmingly opposed to Aboriginal flags being defaced by racist logos.
Swastikas (derived from a Sanskrit word) are an ancient symbol that resembles four running legs in a geometric shape that historically faces left or right. Prior to its contemporary association with racism and hatred, the swastika was a spiritual symbol meaning harmony and good fortune. It has been used in India since 500 BCE by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and is prevalent today throughout Asia, where it is often scribed on sacred objects as part of a blessing.
However, in the 1920s the clockwise version of the swastika was co-opted by the far-right German Nationalsozialist Deutsche Workers Party – aka Nazi Party – as their official symbol. When they ascended to power in 1933 and, under leader Adolf Hitler, began violently enforcing their virulent anti-Semitism and pseudo-scientific politics of eugenics, the swastika came to symbolize terror and racism.
The German Nazis and their collaborators were responsible for the death of an estimated six million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – between 1941-1945 in what came to be known as the Holocaust. They achieved this through systematic persecution of Semitic peoples, including confiscation of their possessions and property and isolation from society.
This intensified to mass executions when Germany invaded neighbouring countries in World War Two, and deportations of thousands of Jewry to concentration camps where most of them were worked to death or gassed in specially-built chambers.
Nazi flag in Newtown
Prior to the Aboriginal mural’s defacing in Newtown, another incident involving a swastika occurred a week earlier close by. A Nazi flag, featuring the black swastika in a white circle on a red background, was photographed in the window of a house just 350 metres from the Newtown Jewish synagogue. It was also posted to the Newtown 2042 Facebook page when Daily Telegraph journalist Jonathon Moran published its whereabouts.
On that occasion Inner West Council Mayor Darcy Byrne responded, and in a Facebook post on 18 April said, “After receiving notice yesterday that this Nazi flag was being displayed at a house in Newtown, I contacted the Inner West Police, who have helped to ensure that it has now been removed.
“There’s no place for racist extremism at any time but we must especially guard against xenophobia during the crisis – we will beat Covid-19 through solidarity, not division.”
On 24 April Mayor Byrne posted an update on the Nazi flag, saying “Following our objection and action against this Nazi flag in Newtown on the weekend, the NSW Attorney General is now getting advice about banning this symbol of hate. That would be a good thing.”
After the Aboriginal mural was returned to its familiar tricolour of a yellow moon in a black sky above a red Earth, Councillor Pauline Lockie posted an update on Facebook: “Shout out to the awesome Newtown folks who swung into action when a resident saw that some idiot had painted a swastika on this Aboriginal flag at Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. Within an hour of the post going up on Newtown 2042, some local heroes went down to the park armed with yellow paint and covered it up 💛
“Naturally I’ve reported it to Inner West Council staff, and rangers will be checking it out to see if more work is needed. Council staff are in daily contact with local police about all coronavirus measures, including racist attacks such as these, and the need for further action on this issue was raised during the debate on my motion on the Religious Discrimination Bill.
“I’ll keep you posted on this, and a huge THANK YOU 🙏🏾 to everyone in the Inner West who continues to speak out against these disgusting attacks.”