Taggers are ‘trashing’ Tauranga

Street art or vandalism? Harbour bridge abutments are smeared with graffiti. Photo: John Borren.

There are the garish throw-ups under the approaches to the Tauranga Harbour Bridge and beyond the gaze of most locals.

Blockbusters they’re called apparently. They may be construed as art - “quite cool” has been the general consensus. But graffiti none-the-less.

Then there’s the graffiti scarring at the skatepark at the bottom of 17th Avenue which is an eyesore to anyone and everyone travelling up Takitimu Drive onto the toll road. Crude daubing, tagging, or vandalism by another name - signing a pseudonym on public property with markers.

“I think it’s a terrible blight,” says Mayor Greg Brownless. “It’s not even a New Zealand thing.” Mindless, New York style, gobbledygook is how he classifies it. “And apart from painting it out as soon as it happens, there’s not a lot we can do.”

And what happens to someone nabbed while bombing. “Well the answer is four-fifths of nothing,” says Greg. “Penalties are weak, courts are weak and so people are getting away with it.”

The Weekend Sun approached the Mayor after continual rumblings about the growing amount of graffiti around Tauranga. Greg wasn’t aware to the same extent. “We have a squad that takes care of it. But if more and more people are deciding to trash the place, then unless we increase the squad and the budget, we are never going to keep up.”

The council graffiti squad keeps a data base – whenever graffiti goes up, photos are taken for evidential purposes. “That’s wonderful, but if we catch someone as a result of that record-keeping, then what happens? Well, you could probably guess,” says Mayor Brownless.

There will be a family conference according to Greg. “Maybe an: ‘oh dear, they have issues.’ That will be it, go on your way. We can do everything we like, but we are never going to stop it completely. It’s getting worse because there are more of them out there. It’s a pity, it’s a shame.”

Under the Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Act 2008 a person convicted of damaging or defacing is liable to a community-based sentence or a fine up to $2000 or both. Being caught in possession of something capable of being used to damage or deface is also liable to community work and or a $500 fine.

There is often confusion about graffiti and urban art – it’s a grey area but essentially graffiti is defined as criminal damage and is word-based while urban art is permission based or commissioned artwork. “You’ve seen some beautiful murals painted on the side of buildings here. I call that street art.”

He refers to Tauranga’s hugely successful Paradox Street Art Festival where internationally acclaimed artists transformed city streets into an outdoor canvas. Street murals, street art or urban art is one of the biggest art movements in the world.

But that’s all quite different to Tauranga’s tagging issue. Is it a recognition thing where offenders just want to see their illegible scrawl up on wall and annoy the hell out of people?

“Possibly,” says the Mayor. “So we shouldn’t give them too much oxygen. I guess it’s an indication of how insignificant their own lives are. The only way they feel they can contribute is to tag, instead of getting off their backsides and making a real contribution.”