The Aussie posters
by Peter Drew

My aim is always to emphasise the connections that bind us, rather than the fractures that divide us.
– Peter Drew, 2019 

Peter Drew

Peter Drew, Gladys Sym Choon SA c1920; Ah Sing VIC 1911; Terum Singh VIC 1917; and Monga Khan VIC 1916 four screen prints, 2016, printed 2020. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Thea Proctor Memorial Fund 2020. © Peter Drew

In 2016 Adelaide artist Peter Drew inspired volunteers all over Australia to paste screen-printed posters of long-dead Australians on public walls in their local communities.

The Aussie posters became a familiar phenomenon on city streets.

They continue to appear to this day.

Peter Drew

Peter Drew, Gladys Sym Choon SA c1920 2016–20. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Thea Proctor Memorial Fund 2020. © Peter Drew 

In the posters, Drew repurposed historical photographs of Australian residents who sought exemption from the Dictation Test required by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901.

The test, which could be set in any European language, gave Immigration officials wide discretion to refuse entry to Australia by non-Europeans. It was not repealed until 1958.

Peter Drew

Peter Drew, Monga Khan Vic 1916 2016–20. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Thea Proctor Memorial Fund 2020. © Peter Drew

Some applicants had been resident for many years, including Monga Khan.

A licensed hawker in regional Victoria, Khan sought exemption from the dictation test in 1916 upon returning from a trip to India, the land of his birth.

Peter Drew

Peter Drew, Terum Singh VIC 1917 2016–20. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Thea Proctor Memorial Fund 2020. © Peter Drew

Drew superimposed the word ‘Aussie’ over each photograph, a simple reminder that since colonisation, Australians have included people of many races and backgrounds.

Peter Drew

Peter Drew, Ah Sing VIC 1911 2016–20. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Thea Proctor Memorial Fund 2020. © Peter Drew

The Aussie posters recall our country’s past and address long-standing questions of belonging, identity and inclusion that continue to play out in the present.

Peter Drew

Peter DrewPhotograph by Wade Whitington