Forget cover ups: roll right over Rolf

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Rolf Harris
Convicted pedophile Rolf Harris happens to paint: does this mean his art is worth more than sending a strong message to sexual abuse survivors? Image: The Guardian.


[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] T [/dropcap] wo very unsettling things have emerged from the debate over whether a mural by convicted pedophile Rolf Harris should be kept in Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre, and neither offer any comfort to victims of sexual abuse.

The first was a comment by Warrnambool City Council chief executive officer Bruce Anson in which he compared Harris’s systemic abuse of minors to an artistic “foible” – a weakness, a blemish on his character, a minor flaw.

Here is the quote in full, as taken from the Warrnambool Standard report of July 2:

“I’m not justifying in any way what has happened (but) I don’t think we should destroy art as a result of inappropriate behaviour.

“Many of our great artists had foibles.”

A dirty old man in a rain coat who sexually abuses children is seen as the predatory pervert that he is, whereas an entertainer who fooled the world with his charm and natty dress sense –  and who also sexually abuses children – is considered to have a “foible”?

I waited for the torrent of outrage against Mr Anson’s comments, but there was barely a trickle, despite Mr Anson holding one of the most influential positions in our city.


bruce anson abc
Warrnambool City Council CEO Bruce Anson earlier this week described Harris’s behaviour as a “foible”, but the outrage was saved for the Rolf Harris mural. Image: ABC Radio


[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] T [/dropcap]he outrage was instead saved in response to calls by some – including Bluestone Magazine via our Facebook page – that the Rolf Harris mural be painted over. Bluestone supports this move in order to send a clear message that the work of a convicted pedophile should not be honoured via public display in a public building.

If the Rolf Harris work was on a canvas, instead of a wall, it would be removed immediately (as is happening elsewhere in Australia), but because it is on a wall, we need to be even braver and bolder in our response and this is where we have become weak-kneed.

Despite Harris painting this mural in the very same year as he was actively abusing minors, the artwork is seen by some as separate to the artist, as if one Rolf Harris is the jocular painter, and “another” Rolf Harris is the pedophile.

This is a false comfort, as the hand that held the brush that created this mural is the same hand that could not keep itself off children – the art and the artist are inseparable.

There is also an argument that because Harris happens to be a visual artist, his “work” immediately deserves higher status and preservation than, say, the work of a pedophile priest, teacher or judge who – once exposed for their crimes – are stripped of all public honour.

Imagine if the Lighthouse Theatre decided to stage a musical tribute to pedophile and Harris associate, Jimmy Savile? Would we be as forgiving of the need to preserve his talents as an entertainer?


Jimmy Savile
Would we tolerate a musical tribute at the Lighthouse Theatre to the late entertainer, and pedophile, Jimmy Savile? Image: The Guardian.


[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] B[/dropcap]y keeping the Harris mural in place, we are sending a message to every victim of sexual abuse that a piece of art is worth more than them: that we, as a community, value the work of a convicted, systemic abuser more than we value them.

We can argue around it, through it and over it, but that is is the bottom line.

If we keep the mural, we must also be prepared to argue that a recent work by a convicted pedophile is more precious to our collective community consciousness than standing up for the one in three girls and one in six boys who are sexually abused in Australia.

But wait, some say, the history of art is littered with examples of child abusers having their work celebrated in public, such as Caravaggio’s erotic paintings of young boys painted in the 17th Century.

I would like to think we have come a long way as a society in four centuries and understand – fully and painfully – the lifelong ramifications of child sexual abuse that, in the case of Harris, is clear cut.

I am also still struggling to find an artist who is a convicted pedophile and is still feted by the public – Caravaggio included.


In Australia, one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. Image: Courier Mail.


[dropcap style=”color: #a5cecd;”] S[/dropcap]o why not just cover the mural up, as has been suggested?

Because that, to me, is a cop out. It says we are frightened to make the tough call and that one day, when we all “get over it”, the cover will come down again. Otherwise, what is the point?

Collectors can keep all of their Rolf Harris’s in their private collections and galleries – although it appears that the Queen has disposed of her portrait – but there is only one thing to do with our Harris mural: run a paint roller right over it.

Gather a group of women who have suffered sexual abuse (you won’t have to look far) and invite them to reinterpret the mural as a work of defiance: a work that says, loudly, we will not tolerate or condone this man’s disgraceful behaviour, no matter how well he paints.

With this work, we have the opportunity to make a very clear statement about a living, breathing sexual predator who happens to be an artist, and we at Bluestone are dumbfounded as to why it is proving so hard.

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47 thoughts on “Forget cover ups: roll right over Rolf”

  1. Great article!
    I have plenty of rollers available and am happy to volunteer my services to the Lighthouse theatre to paint over it. I am sure with the dozens of wonderful local celebrated artists that a beautiful replacement is possible!

  2. The sad part of this debate is, the disregarding of the feelings of the many suffering from assault, interference, be it from, a now infamous person ..a lecherous family friend ,trusted relative …
    the pain is out there in our community.
    A strong decisive action is the only response that says directly to those in pain , You mean more to us . We are not responsible for your pain ..but our society hold as abhorrent , the wrong that has been done .

  3. I do not care what Mr Anson thinks, the painting should be gone. It should not be his decision. I also asked via email what our elected councillors had to contribute to the discussion. So far, two have had the courtesy to reply. Again, silence from those elected to represent us.

    1. So far I have only heard the opinion of Cr Ermacora (see below) and Mayor Neoh: I look forward to hearing what our other elected members have to say.

  4. This is a great article Blue Stone. What message do we send to survivors of sexual violence if our community/Council continues to honor Rolf’s art work? Our society has many ways to avoid the reality violence against women, the stigma of disclosure, devastation of families and not least our judicial system that re-abuses survivors during court cases. I loved Rolf’s art but after I heard the judge say “that you used your notoriety as a cover for you conduct” I can no longer as an art lover show respect to something that was an accomplice to his pedophilia. We must take a stand and show the survivors in our own community that we understand and we won’t sweep the issue under the carpet, particularly as our Municipal Public Health Plan identifies family violence as the number one health issue in our community. I believe it is also important not to confuse censorship as being relevant to this issue. The content of Rolf Harris’ art works and performances is not at question here.

  5. Well said Bluestone. I’ve never met Harris but I feel a deep and sincere sense of betrayal by what has happened, and what he did to his victims. And don’t get me started on Mr Anson’s comments. Roll over it!

  6. Roll over it, well said Carol. Time for a new mural to celebrate that Warrnambool is a strong cohesive town that supports all victims of any kind of abuse, sexual, racial, physical or mental. Why does the council have to be so gutless make a stand, stand proud and move forward I Say….Roll over it !!!!

  7. I too was totally mystified at the lack of outrage at Bruce Ansons comments ! If there is a public protest to be had, count me in ! Empathy is what is lacking these days. The old ” he never did anything to me ” seems to stand the test of time unfortunately. . . This is actually embarrassing for our town, as many others the world over don’t seem to have the same problem. Are we really that desperate ?

  8. How about a meeting to discuss what sort of Artwork can start the healing process… There are many people just like this dude with his extra leg who must be feeling a tad nervous right now. Who cares whether a paedophile is talented or not??? This is a great opportunity to empower all those who have suffered indignity whether the abuser has been brought to justice or not.

    1. An excellent idea, Jenny. This could be a line in the sand on so many levels, but it requires courage and leadership. I wonder who will step up, because it obviously won’t be Mr Anson, unfortunately.

  9. As I have said several times on social media, I believe the work should not be simply covered up, as that is just perpetuating the culture of silence… instead it could be appropriated and incorporated into an art project that provides a forum for discussion on issues of institutionalised abuse of power, colonialism, and the sexual objectification women. Rolf Harris wasn’t just a paedophile, who habitually assaulted and belittled women and girls, and he was a racist bigot and a proud Australian, topical themes of our current cultural climate that need addressing! This piece could become something really interesting and important, because true change requires facing up to and analysing the problem, not just white washing it.

  10. Haha! Just realised I referred to him in the past tense… symbolic! His kind have very few places left to hide.

  11. It’s good to see another of these nasty little men brought to justice. I love the idea of reinterpreting his mural to show community intolerance of sexualised predatory behaviours. But just a word to the wise. Keep an eye on your friends and associates as high profile convictions like this one can bring up old traumas in people who have experienced sexualised assault. If someone chooses to trust you with their story, listen and let them know you believe them and refer to Sexual Assault Crisis Line 1800 806 292

  12. Great opinion piece once again, Bluestone.
    While I totally agree the mural in question should be painted over, I can’t help but think covering it up is not enough.
    The mural will still be there, forever, lurking beneath. … waiting to be exposed again in the future. Lurking silently in the background, not unlike this filthy pedophile himself.
    It needs to be stripped away. Gone. Never to be seen again.
    That would show the World, and in particular the victims of child abuse, exactly where we as a community stands.

    1. Michael
      I agree, if it is covered over we are no better than those that let this pedophile bring more and more victims into his web to damage more and more young people, like you Michael, I feel very strongly that it needs to be destroyed completely so that it cannot be uncovered in years to come. It takes strong people to stand up and say this is wrong, if many others who new what this pedophile was doing had said this is wrong, many lives would not now be destroyed! If you think something is wrong speak up!!!!

  13. Put my name on the list to roll over his supposed art with gaudy paint. I could justify my comment~ but I’m sure many others would join me.

  14. The mural lurks waiting in the shadows. Lets put the spotlight on, change the scene and let Warrnambool shine brightly against secrecy and evil of all kinds.

  15. A terrific editorial Carol. Clumsy use of the word “foible” at best. I note Mike Neoh’s comments in the press today valiantly trying to find a measured way through this issue where, in reality, there is none. The very least we can be as a community is bold on this issue and roll over this work. The message of solidarity with survivors of these types of crimes would be clear.

  16. You say that other places are doing the same. Are they destroying the are or simply removing it and storing it away? I think covering over the Perspex, as has already been done, is the best course of action at this time. It allows for some thought and discussion before it’s final fate is determined.

    A poll on The Standard website (not entirely scientific granted) 43% of people wanted it covered up, not destroyed. Also it worth noting most of the people in Warrnambool wouldn’t have known this mural existed until The Standard broke the story about it staying on Wednesday (I certainly didn’t know it was there, did you?) it’s on a wall at the rear of the theatre, not in public view. Not that it changes anything.

    What Rolf Harris did was horrid, and cannot be tolerated by anyone. Bruce Anson’s comments were also completely out of taste.

    But some of the worlds best artists, authors and musicians also did horrible things. Take Roman Polanski, do you want all his films destroyed, never to be seen again?

    1. Exactly! If the designer of the GTHO was found guilty of a crime would we roll them all in for crushing? Of course not. It is ridiculous and so sickeningly PC to destroy all Rolf Harris art. The darkness of his crimes is not changed with the destruction of the beauty he created. Its art created by him, not portraits honouring him.

      1. Thanks for your comment, Craig, but just to clarify that nobody is advocating to “destroy all Rolf Harris art”. This is a very specific case, involving a mural on a public wall, that allows for a very bold statement to be made on behalf of all victims of sexual abuse.

  17. I’m there with roller and paintbrush!!!!! Fantastic article Bluestone, and yes, what a wonderful opportunity to put some time in to devising a heartfelt and educational piece of art in response to and in opposition of abuse.

  18. Reminds me of the silence around roman Polanski. No one has boycotted his films. You can’t seperate the person from the art no matter how celebrated the art in any form …..

  19. Secrets breed in silence, silence breeds more secrets….if you cover it and pretend it never happened nothing changes, the victims still hurt but the discomfort of this being a ongoing problem in contemporary society continues.
    In recent times people in positions of power are being caught arrested for perpetrated this behavior in the past or for currently obtaining materials of explicit and sexually exploitation of children. Unless society deals with it, talks frankly and looks after all it will continue.
    Thank God artists are not all of such a persuasion but they are all interested in creating art which brings issues to the forefront of public debate and have people question how society responds to issues. I would not like to see the mural destroyed but kept. Perhaps partly covered with interpretive signage and used for healing, to warn, remind and encourage the community to discuss the issues involved and look out for our children.

  20. Great article, Carol. I think sand blasting the thing may be the answer in this instance. And I believe that the people in the community that have suffered any form of abuse, sexual or otherwise, should be the ones to say what they would like to see in its place. Personally, I suggest that it be left blank as a symbol of the devastation that sexual abuse causes in the lives of its victims/survivors.

  21. I haven’t seen the mural but rolling over it seems a bit tame to me. I’d like to see a Jackson Pollock type splatter of paints thrown over it – would look really good and make a statement.

  22. In my professional opinion as an art conservator… Just let me know when & I’ll be there with a paint scraper. Let the healing begin.

  23. I don’t want to be the odd one out and I certainly don’t want to take away support to victims of abuse. However unless we research the past of all artists who have art on display within our community why should we destroy this artwork.
    I want to make it very clear that I in no way support the actions of Rolf Harris and other people who have abused others and I would very much like to tell him and others some not very nice words.
    Yet unless we as a community are ready to ban all art that has been created by unsavoury people- this message of standing against abuse will be weak and rather hypocritical.
    we would have to rid warrnambool of all the art, movies and heroes that have any ties to criminal actions To ensure the message that we Warrnambool stand against abuse.
    I would prefer to use my time more effectively to educate and prevent sexual abuse and help care for victims.
    I know my stance on the subject isn’t going to be popular, but hopefully it will give you all something else to think about. The actual artwork in question is not offensive and seen each day by everyone within Warrnambool. If you don’t want to see it, don’t go to the lighthouse theatre.

    1. Hi Petra – no odd ones out here, just good robust debate and thanks for being part of it! The point you make about having to destroy all art by all unsavoury characters if we destroy this one has been raised a lot (especially on our Facebook page).My argument is that this is a mural on a public wall, which is temporary by its sheer nature, and it presents an opportunity to make a very clear and specific statement about sexual abuse without either destroying all of Harris’s work (which nobody is advocating) or having to go back and revisit the history of every piece of art created. I would like to think we can deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis, and as they arise, just like we do other issues, such as racism and sexism.

  24. I’m no artist but I could use a roller! Great article Carol. well done again for asking and addressing these types of issues

  25. Unfortunately for Warrnambool Bruce Anson is only showing his true colours and is more than likely not alone: one wonders if his attitude would be different if Harris abused boys. As for the so called ‘Art work’ it is no more than a scribble on a wall being eroded away by time and needs to be sand-blasted off. Just because it was put there by Harris does not put it in the Category “Art”.
    Harris isn’t just an abuser of children, he groomed, manipulated and gave cause to fear to at least one vulnerable young girl. He is a RAPIST. And any thing to do with him needs to be deleted from history. The only place he belongs now is on the shelf of every Legal Office. (This comment has been edited slightly to avoid any potential legal problems – edit)

    1. Carol, I have often wondered, too, how the response to this would be from our CEO and others if Harris had abused young boys. Scout leaders, church leaders and teachers who abuse young boys would never be described as having ‘foibles’.

  26. Is there an update from the Council? I have not read anything relating to this issue in the Standard. Public opinion appears to want the work destroyed.

    1. Hello Jan, It is most likely to be raised at next Monday’s council meeting. Don’t worry we are keeping an eye on it!

      1. I hear on today’s news that the city of Perth have listened to the voice of their people. A public plaque dedicated to Rolf is to be removed. I will live in hope that our council will also listen.

  27. Rather busy lately and forgot my password but I will never forget the sexual abuse that is swept under the carpet in Warrnambool. I also wonder was the roller door down in the unloading dock and who was there with Harris. Who chose to look the other way?
    The British courts proceeded regardless of Harris’ age but in Warrnambool retire from public life and your manipulation of power also goes to rest. The public structures bearing your name do not undergo a name change. The abused keep silent and retain their jobs or place in an institution while carrying their distress forever. The public face of power and the silent community that are condoning this type of behaviour continue life a somewhat Clintonesque definition of abuse. As one abuse victim was told by his boss, “Don’t worry you will make some woman happy one day.”

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