AUSSIE: An artist profile and reflection on what it means to be Australian

A time-worn piece of paper remains firmly plastered on a harsh brick wall, its scars are a symbolic reminder of its opposition.

The artwork features the side profile of a man with sharp features whom carries a noble air about him.

Below him one word is plastered: “Aussie”.

He also wears a suit and a turban.

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This poster is the latest work from Adelaide born street artist Peter Drew. While Drew’s art has been exhibited in several galleries across Australia, his most important pieces are found in the urban centres of Australia’s capital cities.

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At age 32, Drew’s art remained apolitical until 2013, when the pre-election debates in Australia centred around “stopping the boats”[hyperlink]. Drew realised the irony and futileness of the situation, believing it was hypocritical for a country colonised by immigrants to be so hostile [hyperlink] towards refugees. He has since sparked significant controversy and fueled heated debates with his most recent works[hyperlink], setting his focus on the plight of migrant communities in Australia.

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In taking a stand against this self-righteous authority, Drew began questioning Australia’s national identity and what it means to be a “real” Australian. This is the intention behind his latest work titled “Aussie”, which features a portrait of an Indian-born Pashtun man named Monga Khan. Travelling Victoria as a hawker during the early twentieth century, Khan was one of the many Muslims who migrated to Australia between the mid nineteenth and early twentieth century. Muslims were most often hawkers and cameleers who played an important part in forming Australia’s national identity. The Afghan cameleers provided their knowledge and understanding of handling camels to help establish important trade routes, as well as the Overland Telegraph and Ghan (short for Afghan) railway throughout Australia’s harsh desert terrains. Drew aims to highlight the story of Khan and those like him, who played an integral part in the foundation of modern Australian society, but are so often forgotten. Drew’s goal is to transform Khan’s story from one of insignificance to one of Australian folklore. The video below presents Drew’s intentions behind his work.

Following Pauline Hanson’s re-emergence into Australian politics and Peter Dutton’s recent labelling of asylum seekers as “illiterate and innumerate”, this campaign comes at a crucial time in Australia’s history. Additionally, the results of the recent American election which have allowed a figure such as Donald Trump to become the President of the United States highlights how we live in a global political climate that is currently dominated by fear. Despite the irrationality of this fear, it is understandable given recent global events that typify a time of uncertainty. However, it is how we respond to this fear that truly defines us as individual “Australians” and our collective identity as a nation.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to this complex issue. I don’t think anyone does. Although, I do have an important question to ask; do you know the second verse of the Australian national anthem? It is a fundamental inspiration behind Peter Drew’s political artwork. What was once a national joke that no-one seems to remember is now a verse that is vital we do not forget:

For those who’ve come across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share;

With courage let us all combine

To advance Australia fair

It’s time to decide what you consider to be Australian. It’s time to decide how you want Australia to be defined. It’s time to decide if you are willing to share with those who’ve come across the seas and open your arms to love despite the fear you may be feeling. We have the option to succumb to this fear or stare it in the face and battle adversity head on. This is the power of street art and its symbolic value. Most importantly though, it’s time to decide if we have the courage to let us all combine to advance Australia. Is that fair?

Thank-you.

Peace x

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