To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, our local council installed a rainbow crossing in the heart of Taylor Square in February last year. Six bold stripes of colour were painted across Oxford Street to represent pride.
I thought the symbolism of the crossing was fantastic. Mardi Gras was born out of a gay rights protest on Oxford Street in 1978 where many arrests were made. To see our community's flag proudly painted on that road just a few decades later demonstrates how far we have come in Australia. History aside, the crossing was a fabulous, colourful addition to our city. I thought it would be fantastic for tourism and local businesses.
Dad and me at the crossing in February 2013.
The rainbow crossing was meant to be temporary just for Mardi Gras, but the community really started to feel attached to it. Some of our city officials had had spoken in favour of it, and there was an online petition to let it stay. Despite a groundswell of support to make the crossing permanent, it became increasingly clear that our state government was intent on removing it on the grounds of road safety. So many people who loved the display would stop and take photographs that the roads minister said it had to go.
I sell BBQs by day and host community radio by night. In between that, I try to do a lot of creative stuff in the city. When I heard that the crossing was going to be torn up, I dressed up as a pot of gold to signify the “end of the rainbow.” I spent a day with a mate sourcing a garden pot and gold facepaint, and we took some fun shots at the crossing. I thought it might raise awareness to get more signatures on the petition, but mostly I just thought this was hilarious. When I shared the photos on Facebook, they got quite a few Likes and some news organisations used the pictures when reporting on the possible removal of the crossing, but I hadn't saved it in any way.
Me at the end of the rainbow on Oxford Street.
On April 10, the night the state government ordered workers to swoop in and remove the crossing, I was broadcasting from a local radio station. A dear friend of mine, Denton, called in and described the scene. People watched as tractors and men with shovels tore up the short-lived installation and covered it with plain black bitumen. It was such a shame.
The next night is when the magic began. On my way home, I thought about making my own rainbow crossing in a laneway behind where I live. It was basically a joke for my friends on Facebook. I figured chalk would be the easiest and cheapest way to do it, so I picked some up on the way home, along with a bottle of wine. At the time I was living with my sister and Vladi, a German backpacker. Once I had outlined my six stripes in chalk I convinced them both to colour in this DIY rainbow in exchange for a glass of white wine each.
The original DIY Rainbow.
We started taking photos of our ad hoc crossing and the images quickly spread on Facebook. Our quiet night of what I like to call “whimsical activism” really resonated with heaps of people who were also disappointed with the rainbow crossing removal. As the night progressed, there was a lot of chatter from people saying they'd love to make their own rainbow. At this point I wasn't really convinced this would happen. It's one thing to get people to like a photo, it's another to get them outside making something.
The first DIY Rainbow submission.
That weekend was the most exhilarating time I've had in front of a computer screen. Chalk rainbows started coming in, along with various tales of people meeting their neighbours and making new friends from nearly every corner of Australia. Television crews had arrived at my house to get me to “recreate” my original chalk moment. For someone who spent a lot of time and money dressing up as a pot of gold just a week earlier, it was fairly hilarious that just $7 of chalk is what grabbed people's attention.
DIY Rainbow getting some press.
With pictures flooding in, Sydney actually had a chalk shortage that weekend, particularly for the colour red. People were posting to the page about stores that still had chalk available. Others were posting to connect with strangers who wanted to join them to make a crossing in their local area. It was incredible. Our first international rainbow was from a lesbian couple in France. Everyone loved their photo and quickly we started receiving photos from all over the world. In that month of April we received rainbows from Cambodia, New York, Zurich, Vietnam, Singapore, the U.K., and many more places. So many places that I struggled to keep up with it all.
DIY Rainbow submissions from Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Europe and Asia.
By the end of the month I had organised a “chalk off” around the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House for a mass chalking. Although the authorities weren't too happy about a large crowd with chalk, over 300 people coalesced in Sydney's Circular Quay for one of the best moments of my life.
Clearly the movement, although born from the removal of the Sydney Rainbow Crossing, meant more to people than just a single government decision. The page morphed into a vehicle for gay rights across the world and for marriage equality in Australia, which we have yet to receive.
We've chalked outside the Russian Consulate here in Sydney in support of our gay brothers and sisters in that country. We have even recreated the rainbow crossing at its original site on Oxford Street during a number of marriage equality rallies. One nearby council, with fierce lobbying from its citizens, has implemented a permanent rainbow installation in Summer Hill, which was born from a DIY chalk rainbow.
As we approach the 36th annual Mardi Gras this year, I've got a team together making a float for DIY Rainbow, which will drive over the original crossing location, and pay homage to the rainbow that started it all.
Chalk your own rainbow and submit a photo to the DIY Rainbow Facebook Page.