Story and photos Luis Feliu
The painting of a bridge in rainbow colours at Uki last week by two dozen youngsters in memory of their classmate, a 9-year-old local boy who died at school just over a year ago, sparked an urgency debate among Tweed shire councillors soon after.
Police and council rangers were called last Tuesday afternoon to Smiths Creek Bridge on the village’s northern entry after complaints were made about a group of around 30 youngsters and adults painting the a bridge rail in a rainbow theme.
The group of painters, who were celebrating the first anniversary of the death of Marley Phoenix Morton Cross, were horrified to learn council rangers intended painting over their work the following day and made a plea to mayor Gary Bagnall for the painting to be allowed to stay.
At the start of last Thursday’s Tweed Shire Council meeting, Cr Bagnall alerted councillors to concerns about the fate of the bridge-rail painting in the community, saying council should leave it in place for now and the issue of similar personal memorials considered.
He said state government authorities had left in place a similar ‘rainbow bridge’ on the Pacific Highway in Byron shire at Tyagarah in memory of a young woman killed on her bike there some years ago.
Cr Barry Longland, who lives at Uki, told councillors he had ‘vox popped’ locals when he noticed the ranger crew at the bridge last week and that the communty was ‘largely’ accepting of the new painting but some didn’t like it.
He said he agreed with the motivation behind those who painted the bridge ‘and it does look pretty good’, but said the local resident group’s advice should be sought as that the community should be informed about council policy on the issue.
Cr Warren Polglase said he was concerned that councillors were making decisions against council policy on what he termed ‘graffiti’ and that it was unfair on council staff ‘to be out on a limb’ when they’re acting per the policy’.
‘If we let one go, then why not another one, where do we stand then?’ Cr Polglase said.
He said policy should be changed by resolution and not by ‘a merit assessment’, even though he ‘supported and understood the sentimentality’ behind the painting.
‘What next? Will the bridge over the Tweed River be painted in rainbow colours?
‘It’s all good-hearted stuff, but we have a responsibility for the 80-to-90 thousand other people in this shire and and we have a policy,’ Cr Polglase said.
Cr Michael Armstrong said the issue could be ‘informing or ‘inspirational’ of a draft council graffiti management plan currently being developed.
Councillors unanimously agreed to ‘take no action in relation to the unauthorised painting of the handrail on Smiths
Creek Bridge on Kyogle Road’ pending advice from the Uki Village and District Residents Association over community opinion on it’.
They also decided to advertise in council’s newsletter the fact that council approval is needed for such works and for a report on the issue to be brought back to next February’s meeting.
The painting celebration for Marley, who died after collapsing at the Aetaomah (Steiner) School at Terragon near Uki last November drew a crowd of onlookers and many thumbs-up from passing motorists, according to Marley’s mum, Raquel Morton.
Ms Morton told Echonetdaily she couldn’t understand why people were offended or complained about the painting or memorials in general such as plaques and roadside crosses.
‘I can’t see why people are offended, that’s a bit weird,’ she said.
‘People hadn’t noticed that bridge before when it was a dull grey, now its so colourful and puts smiles on people’s faces.
‘It is Uki after all,’ she said.