Melbourne is unsafe and it has nothing to do with graffiti

Adrian Doyle

If you have walked around the city lately you would be aware of two things: the homeless people that seem desperate and scary and the expensive attack the council seems to be launching against graffiti.

When I was in high school, I used to draw on the pavement as a busker. It wasn’t great money, but it paid the bills as a young punk. Melbourne even had the world chalk drawing champion competition in 1998, but in the late ‘90s as the heroin epidemic took hold my ability to make money stopped, as more drug-affected people began to beg.

I have no problem with drug-addicted people. It is a mental health issue and that often people on drugs find themselves with very little choice and that their main priority becomes drugs, which is very understandable.

This happened at the same time as the Kennett Government shut many of the psych institutions around the city, like Kingston and Bundoora. And the city has slowly become a place for the homeless, the psychologically disturbed and the desperate.

During the past 20 years Melbourne has fallen even further into a horrid den of disrepair with the ice epidemic and the legal drugs from Club X creating massive problems and desperation, and nobody seems to mind or care.

During the past two years COVID has really brought the issue to the forefront of Melbourne’s culture. With most of the laneways developed and most buildings gentrified and the city becoming bland, COVID has created a scenario for the perfect storm.

The junkies (excuse the term) have become desperate and very abusive. It is hard to understand how this has been ignored by local, state, and federal governments. Anybody who has been in the city during the pandemic or even now will notice how brazen these people have become. They have become truly scary and very confronting. I feel it would be a memorable experience for any tourist visiting Melbourne, but not in a good way.

One thing that is memorable for tourists in a good way is the urban art and graffiti culture. Even though many of the lanes have been developed and the city has been heavily gentrified, Melbourne still holds its own on the graffiti, urban art, and fine art cultural milieu.


It attracts thousands of people every year and now that COVID restrictions have lifted they have come back in droves. It’s awesome for Melbourne’s economy, it’s more popular and financially beneficial than AFL, plus it lasts year-round.


According to a recent report in The Age, The City of Melbourne has spent more than $1.1 million on graffiti removal this financial year as it tries to clean up the city. This seems interesting to me as the city is famous for its graffiti, coffee and its laid-back style.

I feel that the efforts and costs to remove the graffiti around Melbourne are misconstrued. And it’s not the most important and predominate issue.

If both local and state governments want the city to be clean, surely safety is a far bigger priority.

This money that is being wasted in an unwinnable war against graffiti could be spent to make the city safer.

We need to ban legal drugs from the adult stores and create patrols around the city, and work across government agencies to help these at-risk people and to get them off the street and help them, and make Melbourne feel safe.

It is a real and very serious problem that needs a realistic conversation. At the moment, it feels as though everyone is ignoring the issue at the expense of safety in Melbourne and its reputation.

I don’t know how it can be fixed but it does need to be fixed or Melbourne will end up with a reputation for being unsafe and disturbing.

It seems that everybody is aware of the problem, but nobody wants to discuss it and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible for a number of important reasons.

As part of the war on graffiti, the council has put on anti-graffiti QR codes on every bin around town. This allows citizens to report graffiti and means that everyone will know that the council is doing something about graffiti.

I understand this can be a divisive issue, however, it all seems like a waste of time in an unwinnable war.

Not that I condone any illegal activity, but one of my artist friends has started to change these QR codes by adding a black square with a marker and it changes the destination of the website.

I think it is an awesome form of culture jamming, and it’s really funny. As the council sets up this expensive exercise it all gets hacked by one quick black mark.

Art comes in many forms, and I understand that graffiti isn’t for everybody, but I feel that this artist with his dot on the QR codes has created a funny response to the council’s program by turning it into a funny installation of sorts.

Anyway, I feel that if you really want to clean up Melbourne, the graffiti is far from the first priority •

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