Vale Bill Snow, subversive BUGA UP graffiti artist

Bill ‘BUGA UP Billy’ Snow. Photo supplied.

Lachlann Partridge

Bill Snow was a dedicated campaigner for peace and the environment but was best known as one of the founders of BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions), a movement that used witty and subversive graffiti to expose the glossy falsehoods of powerful corporations.

Billy (as he preferred to be called) was born on January 31, 1938. Growing up in Drummoyne he was a keen debater. He rebelled against his strict Salvation Army upbringing by immersing himself in the early rock’n’roll scene and then took off on a decade-long adventure sailing around the world.

Billy married Rosemarie Gosling in 1967; their daughter Emily was born in 1972. Following their separation he moved to Bundeena in 1979.

The proliferation of outdoor tobacco advertising alarmed him and he began to write graffiti on tobacco billboards, sometimes dressing as The Phantom with his beloved dog Beauty at his side.

Teaming up with fellow billboard graffitists Geoff Coleman and Ric Bolzan they created BUGA UP in 1979. BUGA UP was without structure or hierarchy; anyone could be a part of it by simply signing their billboards.

Billy, accompanied by his partner Danielle Kluth, re-faced countless billboards and was arrested on numerous occasions, spending time in jail on principle rather than pay a fine.

Billy drove around in a succession of old vans adorned with slogans and Danielle’s murals depicting dolphins, rainbows and environmental issues.

In 1984, Billy converted one ancient vehicle into the ‘BUGA UP Embassy’ at north Sydney in the heart of ad-land, where he displayed his collection of cigarette butts collected from sacred places around Australia. The van remained on a small parcel of vacant land opposite the Leo Burnett advertising agency (the creators of the ‘Marlboro Man’) for a few weeks until it was impounded and Billy arrested. The police waited in vain for the registered owner, ‘Philip Morris’, to claim it.

In addition to his BUGA UP activities, Billy campaigned for peace and the environment. As part of the roaming activist community he joined protests at Nightcap, Daintree and the south-east forests. He inspired and supported his friend, local activist and former Greens MLC Ian Cohen.

In the 1980s Billy was active with the Sydney Peace Squadron protesting against nuclear-armed ships in Sydney Harbour.

Always generous to fellow activists and the many causes he cared about he funded Burnum Burnum’s trip to England in 1988, Australia’s ‘bicentenary’. Billy stood on the beach at Dover on the 26th of January as Burnum Burnum planted the Aboriginal flag and claimed Britain on behalf of the Aboriginal people.

Billy continued to campaign tirelessly throughout his life, addressing new and current issues in a creative ways and adapting his protests for new audiences.

Billy died of a ruptured aorta on March 8 and is survived by his daughter Emily, sisters Joan and Dorothy, and former partner Danielle.

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