Tweed Shire Council has decided to repaint a bridge at the entry to the village of Uki which had been painted in rainbow colours late last year by locals in memory of a youngster from the area who died at school a year before.
Last Thursday councillors, except for mayor Gary Bagnall and Warren Polglase (absent due to illness), voted for staff’s recommendation to stick to council’s policy on ‘zero tolerance to graffiti’ and repaint the handrails on the Smiths Creek bridge ‘as resources permit’.
The staff also recommended that the family of the nine-year-old boy be consulted on options for a suitable alternative memorial to all children from the district who have lost their lives ‘in accordance with existing policies’.
The move reversed a previous decision last November for council to take no action over the painting till the village residents association had been consulted, and for a report be brought back to council.
Last November, around 30 youngsters accompanied by parents from the Uki area painted the handrails in memory of the children’s classmate.
The group of painters were celebrating the first anniversary of the death of Marley Phoenix Morton Cross and when they learnt council rangers intended painting over their work the following day they made a plea to mayor Bagnall for the painting to be allowed to stay.
The painting had sparked some complaints and police had been called, prompting councillors to debate the issue the following day as a matter of urgency.
At the latest council meeting, Cr Barry Longland, who lives at Uki, moved the staff recommendation, saying the painting had caused division in the community and that an association survey had favoured a generic memorial to all children from the area who had died.
Cr Longland said that in his 15 years at Uki he could think of several children who had lost their lives.
Cr Michael Armstrong said he hoped the move to repaint the bridge and create a community memorial was not one of disrespect at the family’s loss but aimed at ‘something truly special’ to help every family in their grieving.
In previous debate on the issue Cr Bagnall 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, while Cr Polglase had argued the Uki bridge painting was against council policy on ‘graffiti’.
The painting celebration for Marley, who died after collapsing at the Aetaomah (Steiner) School at Terragon near Uki in November 2013 drew a crowd of onlookers and many thumbs-up from passing motorists, according to Marley’s mum, Raquel Morton.
Ms Morton had 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.
‘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.
Uki local and council watcher Menkit Prince said the decision on Thursday to repaint the bridge showed a ‘callous disregard for the community’s wishes on a highly sensitive topic’.
Ms Prince said council had ‘disregarded’ the association survey which showed a majority of more than 70 per cent of locals wanting the rainbow coloured bridge to stay.
‘Why not keep it as is and add a plaque dedicating the Rainbow Bridge to all local children who have died?’ Ms Prince told Echonetdaily.
‘Council appears to be afraid that left as it is, it would set a precedent for other bridges to be painted in rainbow colours. So what? Does that necessarily make Uki another Nimbin?’ she said.