By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
If you’ve ever been to Melbourne before, or simply searched the city online, you’ll likely be familiar with the iconic Hosier Lane.
Painted with vibrant swirls of colour and showcasing striking, ephemeral designs, the passageway is recognised as a time-honoured site for expressive street art, with layer upon layer of paint sprayed on its walls over many years.
It is accordingly a go-to photography destination for tourists who visit the city.
Nevertheless, last month, the respected lane fell victim to a graffiti vandalism attack in which almost a dozen people wearing masks descended on the passageway, armed with bulky canisters roughly the size of fire extinguishers and abundantly filled with paint, which they then used to spray all over the renowned street.
Hosier Lane was left splattered with murky streaks of dye, no longer the charming art site it is recognised for.
Melbourne Mayor Reports Spray-Paint Attack as Drones Capture Footage of Masked Group Obliterating Lane’s Walls
In February 2020, Melbourne lord mayor, Sally Capp, was forced to report the incident of graffiti vandalism on Hosier Lane to police after concluding that what was done was not merely street art and hence unacceptable.
While the lane, which is situated around the corner from Federation Square and just off Flinders Street, is normally festooned with a great diversity of street art, the lord mayor asserted that the masked group with their paint guns had evidently vandalised the site, particularly in light of the destruction they caused to the footpath in the laneway.
Speaking to Guardian Australia, the mayor established that the conduct was not keeping with the spirit of the celebrated art site.
“This is unacceptable and is not in keeping with the spirit of Hosier Lane,” Ms Capp said.
“We see this act as vandalism, particularly given the damage they’ve done to the pavement and cobblestones.”
Footage of the incident was captured by drones flying overhead and posted to Instagram.
In the footage, people in masks can be seen spraying multi-coloured dye onto the walls of the lane.
Lines Blurred Between Street Art and Graffiti: Melbourne Artist Argues Hosier Lane “Free-For-All”
The street art on Hosier Lane is legally in a grey area, meaning the City of Melbourne has attempted to differentiate between street art – which is allowed so long as the owner of the wall has given permission – and vandalism, which is not permitted.
Nevertheless, well-known Melbourne artist, Rone, has advocated that Hosier Lane is a “free-for-all” area and hence that the spray-paint attack was merely an overstatement.
Speaking to ABC News, Rone said the incident was “an exaggeration of what’s already happening”.
“Nothing is respected down there anyway,” he said.
“There is a view held by some artists that Hosier Lane is trash already. It’s a tourist trap.
“There have been artists selling wares down there. It’s becoming like an extension of Vic market.”
But this did not reflect the opinion of the lord mayor, who felt the incident blurred the lines between street art and graffiti.
“That balance between street art and graffiti is sometimes difficult to define,” she said.
“We see this as vandalism and intend to pursue the people who have perpetrated this crime.”
Following the attack, council contractors were sent to the site to clean the cobblestones and pavement.
The Costs of Graffiti Vandalism to The Community At Large
If you were to ask the average person what they thought the financial impact of graffiti vandalism is upon their community, they would probably not answer that it stands at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Nevertheless, the costs stretch way beyond those simply financial.
The City of Sydney in their Graffiti Management Policy, for example, advises that graffiti can have a negative impact on community amenity including perceptions of poor safety and increased crime.
Equally, graffiti can have a detrimental impact on the environment through pollution (including chemical runoff into waterways) and atmospheric impacts resulting from aerosol sprays.
Moreover, graffiti costs time and effort from those who work to remove it, all the while, property decreases in value.
In light of these outlays, while graffiti has come to be widely recognised and even accepted as a form of street art to many, given the calamitous costs it can entail, it is certainly not without its critics.
In NSW, graffiti vandalism is regulated by the Graffiti Control Act 2008 (NSW).
The Graffiti Control Act 2008 makes clear that in NSW, it is a criminal offence to intentionally mark any premises or other property without consent, where the mark (from a graffiti implement) isn’t readily removable by wiping it or where the marking was done in a manner that isn’t readily removable by wiping it.
This offence carries a criminal conviction with up to $2,200 fine or 12-months jail, or both.
If the mark used to do the graffiti is readily removable by wiping, or if the mark was done without using a graffiti implement, then the above penalties do not apply, instead, it attracts a $440 fine without an jail sentence.
The court cannot impose an imprisonment sentence in any event unless the offender has a prior conviction of the same offence and where the Judge or Magistrate considers the offender a serious and persistent offender who’s likely to re-offend.
Click here for an outline on the defences to graffiti charges in NSW Court.
The offence of graffiti can also amount to damaging property charges in NSW as an alternative charge. This charge is considered a more serious charge attracting heavier penalties.
Significantly, a person who commits the above offence under section 4 or the offence under section 5 will also face a 6-months extension to the offender’s Learner or Provisional driver licence (section 13C Graffiti Control Act 2008 (NSW)).
Have a question? Speak to one of our specialist criminal lawyers from Parramatta today.