by ALEC SMART
A controversial Scott Marsh wall mural in central Sydney has been covered over by City of Sydney Council authorities, following a NSW Police request, only 19 hours after it was painted.
Marsh, an internationally-respected artist, is renowned for his detailed and humorous wall murals in central Sydney that typically satirise prominent politicians and topical events.
The mural, of a burning NSW police van, was painted in Glover Lane, Redfern, on Monday 22 June. Marsh confirmed to City Hub that it was an extension of another piece he painted at the start of June featuring two New York Police Department (NYPD) vans on fire.
The latter was created in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests across the USA that condemned police racist violence after a black man, George Floyd, was suffocated to death by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
The Redfern burning van mural referenced TJ Hickey, a 17-year-old Kamilaroi Aboriginal boy who died on 14 Feb 2004 after he was impaled on a spiked fence at the nearby Waterloo Towers housing estate.
TJ (Thomas Junior) Hickey was riding his bicycle when he was pursued and, according to some accounts, hit by one of two police vehicles following him.
Although Redfern Police, TJ’s pursuers, deny that Hickey was chased or even hit, the boy suddenly lost control by the Waterloo Towers, catapulting off his bike and onto his back on the spiked steel fence.
Coincidentally, Roy Hickey, TJ’s cousin, happened to be driving past immediately after the incident in a community health bus. He told lawyers from the Aboriginal Legal Team that when he stopped and recognised it was young TJ the police were attempting to revive, six Redfern Police officers in attendance refused to let him near the bloody scene.
TJ’s family are still seeking an independent public inquiry, because the principle officers pursuing TJ at the time refused to testify at a coronial inquiry into the boy’s death. The four officers in two vehicles directly linked to TJ’s death were initially looking for a suspect in a handbag snatch at Redfern Station but went after TJ instead, even though they discounted him as a suspect.
In his Instagram post featuring a photo of his burning van mural, Marsh said “I have placed a link in my bio with information about TJ Hickey’s passing & subsequent coronial inquest.”
In its short existence the provocative burning van mural aroused a lot of comments across social media, most supportive, some condemnatory, the latter by those who interpreted it as inciting the burning of police vehicles.
It also apparently fell afoul of Redfern Police.
On 23 June the burning van was painted over with grey paint by a City of Sydney Council employee using a roller on a long pole and overseen by two smiling police officers – the cover-up recorded on the mobile phone of a passer-by.
When Marsh learned soon afterwards that the burning van was censored he took to social media again.
“Pretty disappointing to be sent a video of NSW Police Force & City of Sydney council painting over my mural this morning less than 24hrs after its completion.
“It’s a confronting image, it is supposed to be. It was also painted with permission from the property owner and intentionally tucked away in a laneway where you wouldn’t see it unless it found you.
“In a time when anti police sentiment is high I don’t see what’s to be gained by censoring public artwork that you don’t agree with , other than re-enforcing #ftp #acab sentiment… #redfern #blacklivesmatter”
Marsh told City Hub “Police should stick to policing. They are not our cultural curators, no matter how inconvenient the message of that culture may be for them.”
City Hub contacted NSW Police for a comment, and received the following statement from a spokesperson:
“Just to clarify, NSW police have not painted over a mural… South Sydney Police Area Command were made aware of an anti-police mural painted on a Redfern building after receiving several complaints from the community.
“The mural is believed to have been painted over the weekend in Glover Lane. Police have spoken with the building owner and referred the matter to local council.”
Marsh disputed the claim that police “responded to complaints.” He believes that his mural came to their attention through Facebook and Instagram. It’s quite likely Redfern officers were embarrassed by it.
“Within 1 hr of me finishing it and posting it on socials, 3 officers were at the Lord Gladstone Hotel asking where the mural was (they thought it was there). If there were complaints would they have asked where the mural in question was? They were actively hunting it.”
One of Marsh’s recent murals, featuring a grey milk crate, was painted on the rear wall of the Lord Gladstone Hotel. It was created to praise the young man, Luke O’Shaughnessy, who saved lives in Sydney CBD in Aug 2019 by pinning down a knife-wielding would-be assassin with a plastic milk crate. The knifeman slashed the throat of an innocent woman and lunged at others but those who restrained him were praised for their quick-thinking citizen’s arrest.
A City of Sydney spokesperson confirmed to City Hub that Marsh’s burning van mural was covered over following a police demand. “At the request of the NSW Police, the City of Sydney this morning removed a mural from a wall in Glover Lane, Redfern.”
It’s not the first time Marsh has had his murals censored by opponents. In Nov 2017 religious fundamentalists from Christian Lives Matter blacked-out two of his murals, as a protest against the national Same-Sex Marriage Plebiscite that legalised gay marriage the week before.
The first mural in Newtown featured disgraced Catholic leader and convicted paedophile Cardinal George Pell with his hand down the swimming pants of his friend, former Prime Minister Tony Abbot. The second mural in Erskineville featured British pop star and gay icon George Michael portrayed as a saint.
Although the burning police van mural is censored forever, Marsh is selling T-shirts of the same image via his website (scottmarsh.com.au) with all profits going to a local charity.
City Hub’s report on TJ Hickey: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/2019/06/15-years-awaiting-justice/
City Hub’s previous reporting on Scott Marsh: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=scott+marsh