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May 29, 2015
Culture

Real Australians Say Welcome

Street artist Peter Drew’s latest project, which sees him traveling the country to paste-up 1000 posters emblazoned with the words ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’, has resonated deeply with Australians. Here, he writes about why he thinks the message needs to be heard.

  • Words: Peter Drew
  • Picture: Rebecca Mansell

I think it’s okay to be afraid of people that seem different, it doesn’t make you a bigot or a racist. When confronted with an unfamiliar culture it’s natural to feel fear. How we choose to respond to that fear is where people, and nations, find their character.

Remarks

Peter’s project has prompted other artists to make their own works that carry the “Real Australians Say Welcome” slogan, and has attracted attention across the world, including a spot on a Russian news program.

I’m currently in the middle of a campaign to put up 1000 posters around the country that carry the slogan “Real Australians Say Welcome”. It’s inspired by the often forgotten second verse of the National Anthem that calls upon our “courage to combine”. That ‘courage’ seems strangely absent from Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

Currently, anyone who arrives here without permission has no chance of making Australia their home, regardless of whether their claims to asylum are genuine or not. Instead they’re imprisoned until they agree to resettle in Papua New Guinea, a country that’s set to take $577 million in aid from Australia, up from $502 million last year.

If the Australian Government is genuinely determined to break the people smuggling business model, as it says it is, why aren’t the enormous costs associated with the “Pacific Solution” being used to create better legal avenues for asylum seekers to reach Australia? The short answer to that question is “Islam”.

Since starting this campaign I’ve been overwhelmed by support, but I’ve also spoken to plenty of people who are openly afraid of Muslims. Most of these people aren’t bigots and they’re not racists, they’re just ordinary Australians whose idea of Islam is based entirely upon the 6 o’clock news. They have no Islamic friends so they feel comfortable saying things like “they don’t intergrate”. Isolated within a media bubble, their fears only grow.

Then along comes the Government to service those fears by offering so-called safety to Australians by disregarding the human rights of a few asylum seekers, whose faces we’ll never see. The final irony is that, in the long run, this policy is anything but safe because it only widens the gap between Muslims and those that fear them.

The truth is that Islamic migration to Australia began 150 years ago. Starting with the Cameleers of the Burke and Wills expedition and the thousands more who followed them to create outback trade routes that would have been impossible without camels. Islamic Cameleers were such an essential part of the Australian economy that Muslims were even granted exemptions to the White Australia Policy. They could come and go from Australia as they pleased.

The point is that Muslims have a long history in this country. To further disregard and damage that connection for political gain is not only irresponsible, it’s also cowardly. But as long as politicians are willing to exploit the base fears of the electorate it’ll be up to us rise above the fear and isolation that politicians exploit. I don’t blame ordinary Australians for feeling isolated and fearful but at some point we each need to make a simple choice and ask ourselves whether we have the courage to combine.

Personally, I’m sick of Australia’s identity being hijacked by cowards. Since starting this campaign I’ve received a mountain of support from people who seem to feel the same way. ‘Real Australians Say Welcome’ is a simple message and I’m looking forward to bringing it to Perth, Brisbane, Tasmania but especially Canberra. If you’re in the capital for Refugee Week in June, I’ll see you there.

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