It’s time to cover up Rolf Harris' Lighthouse Theatre mural

Rolf Harris paints the mural during his visit to Warrnambool in 1986.

Rolf Harris paints the mural during his visit to Warrnambool in 1986.

PUBLIC figures and sexual abuse experts have called for a mural painted in Warrnambool’s Lighthouse Theatre by convicted paedophile Rolf Harris to be covered up.

Warrnambool City councillor Jacinta Ermacora, Emma House Domestic Violence Services manager Pat McLaren, South West Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) senior clinician Kate Kingsley and Emma Charlton, of south-west arts collective F Project, stopped short of suggesting the artwork should be destroyed,  but suggested the painting should be hidden from view.

The mural cannot be removed without damage, as it covers part of the loading dock wall in the backstage section of the theatre.

Ms McLaren agreed destroying art was a touchy subject but said the need to make a stand against sexual abuse was paramount.

“I don’t think it should be left there,” she said.

“I’m not saying we should destroy it. My personal preference would be for it to be painted over, but if people are squeamish about (destroying art) then cover it up and don’t acknowledge it.

“It doesn’t matter if the art is good or bad, it’s the message it says to Warrnambool and to Victoria.”

Cr Ermacora said covering up the mural would send the right message.

“It’s sad from an artistic perspective … but that work now symbolises a person which the community no longer respects,” she said.

“But if we don’t stand up for what we believe in as a community who is against sexual violence or sexual assault, then (it’s potentially) devastating to those in the community who have suffered at the hands of (abusers).”

Cr Ermacora said that while she believed personally that the artwork should be covered up rather than destroyed, the final decision should follow due process.

“We should listen to the community and also experts who work with the victims of sexual violence on a daily basis and then council should decide,” she said. 

Dr Charlton said there was a “need to be respectful to people who have experienced abuse” but added there was no need to destroy the artwork.

“(Harris) has been tried and judged in a particular space and I don’t think it’s necessary for the public to add to that judgment,” she said. “I don’t think we should destroy it — I think we should cover it up.

“Who has the right to destroy things like this? It’s making me think about Germany (in WWII) and the destruction of art and literature then.

“The court system has judged him. Why should we then decide on extra penalties?

“What this has provided is an opportunity to talk about (abuse) and hopefully that can be helpful for people who have been victims of abuse.

“I don’t think we should destroy things in general. The only benefit of this situation is we can talk about (abuse) and hopefully that is productive.”

South West CASA’s Ms Kingsley supported the call for the artwork to be covered.

“We strongly support this call because every day we see the impact of this type of predatory behaviour on the lives of children and adults in our community who’ve been exploited and abused by people in positions of authority, power and trust,” she said. 

“It would be dismissive for us not to take this stance on behalf of these children and adults who live daily with the memories of the trauma of such experiences.”

Comments from the public on The Standard’s website were divided on the matter, with some calling for the mural to be destroyed, others calling for it to be covered up, and some saying that art should stand separate from the artist and their crimes and be viewed purely in artistic terms.

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