News / Business

Big Sydney Road graffiti clean up starts to get results

By the time, the project is finished, about 120 shopfronts will have had graffiti removed

Richard Agius of Nifty Solutions at a site in Sydney Road this week with his son, Ryan, working in the background.

Mark Phillips

GRAFFITI and unwanted bill posters have been removed from more than 60 shopfronts along Sydney Road this year with a similar number still to come in a massive clean up of the retail strip. 

The Sydney Road Brunswick Association has allocated about $30,000 to removing graffiti from shop fronts in a program that began in January. 

The first stage – between Brunswick Road and Victoria Street – was completed by the last week of February in time for the Sydney Road Street Party on March 5. 

The clean up team are now working on the second section from Victoria Street to Moreland Road and expect to be finished by the middle of May. 

Graffiti in Brunswick’s main shopping precincts became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, when there was less footpath and street traffic to deter low-level vandalism. 

While the southern end of Sydney Road was particularly notorious, another problem area is the top of Lygon Street, concluding at Albion Street, in Brunswick East. 

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Sydney Road Brunswick Association manager Troy Stuchbree said the graffiti removal program aimed to spruce up the shopping strip to make it more attractive to visitors. 

“What we’ve been doing is largely in response to the massive amount of graffiti that took place in the height of the pandemic when there was less mobility around the area,” he said. 

“This project is very much about bringing Sydney Road back to its former glory, being able to tackle ground floor graffiti to create an experience people can enjoy. 

“We would also hope this project can turn vacant businesses into leases. There’s a lot of beautiful buildings behind the graffiti and this is about providing people with a visual opportunity to see their potential.” 

The most recent occupancy survey of Sydney Road between Brunswick Road and Moreland Road last Spring found 129 empty properties, of which 43 were listed as available for lease. That number had fallen by about 25 earlier this year. 

Richard Agius brushes a powerful solvent onto a graffiti tag while Ryan Agius cleans a window in the background.

The program has been partly funded via Merri-bek Council through the Victorian Government’s post-COVID Outdoor Activation Fund. Last year the council allocated about $64,000 towards graffiti removal across the city of the almost $1 million it received from the fund, and then provided an additional $61,357 to a ‘Collaborative Graffiti Intervention Program’ in this year’s budget. 

Next financial year, the council will increase spending on the graffiti intervention program to $93,178.  

But the total cost of graffiti management across the municipality years – including chemicals, contracted services, labour and education – is approaching $400,000 a year, based on a 2017 report by the former Moreland Council which said graffiti management costs in the previous five years totalled $1.8 million. 

The SRBA has contracted Sunbury-based Nifty Solutions to carry out the works. 

Owner Richard Agius said his small team had never been busier, although he was unsure whether the increase in graffiti around the northern suburbs of Melbourne was connected to the pandemic. 

Typically, Mr Agius and his son, Ryan, can clean up a small shopfront within an hour using a combination of chemical solvents, brushes, water, and scrapers. They will often paint over the spots where the graffiti was after it has been removed. Bigger jobs can take up to half a day. 

Above and below: Two shopfronts in Sydney Road before and after the graffiti cleanup works.

Mr Stuchbree said it was too early to tell if the clean up had attracted new tenants to Sydney Road, but the feedback from current business owners was overwhelmingly positive. 

“There’s a property which was an old [NAB] bank and the café across the road couldn’t get over how much more natural light was getting into their shop because the removal of all the bill posters and graffiti had got the walls back to the original white and that reflected light into the café and created a much more welcoming environment,” he said. 

Mr Stuchbree conceded it was impossible to keep the retail strip completely free of unwanted graffiti, but he said the current clean up program would make it easier to stay on top of the problem. 

“What we’re doing is attacking the most severe cases in Sydney Road and bringing them to a more manageable standard, and then it will be a matter of maintaining it,” he said. 

Private property owners are also able to obtain free graffiti removal and paint kits from the council, while direct reporting to the police by the SRBA has resulted in at least three offenders being caught since late last year. 

What to do about graffiti in Brunswick? That’s the $64,000 question