They say that when Johnny Weismuller finally lost his youth and his mind he’d scream his Hollywood Tarzan cry, frightening the nurses. I feel for the man. I was trying to be Tarzan for just a few days and it nearly did me in. I spared the nurses but did manage to frighten myself.
It all started with a hoon and a spray can. Some people see the semi-literate scrawls that blight our urban and rural scenes and sigh and wish it wouldn’t happen. I see those same scrawls and think, “Why the hell should we let these losers leave their dim thoughts sprayed all over the place. Why do we put up with it?”
Well, I don’t put up with it. I don’t accept that the world is their canvas, which brings me back to Tarzan.
When the big freight trains scream north from Wellington they charge across the Waikanae River bridge. The bridge is made from concrete and steel girders and it doesn’t sound too pretty but it’s part of an idyllic scene with the river, willows and other greenery.
The graffiti gang, for some reason, continually sprays the girders. As it happened, OnTrack had the bridge wrapped in scaffolding because they were replacing some sleepers. Enter Tarzan Lucinsky.
He doesn’t accept that this beautiful scene needs semi-literate paint scrawls all over it. He doesn’t put up with it because, like others in the town and the tens of thousands streaming up state highway one each day he hates the very sight of it and he wants to do something about it.
I was Tarzan as my body bits dangled in the breeze and I slapped the paint over the obscenities and half-formed expressions of extreme dim-wittedness that had been sprayed about. The freight trains barreled through and while the wind whistled and the bridge vibrated I felt safe on my OnTrack safety harness, slapping the brush this way and that.
Those OnTrack boys know how to hang something safely. I’ll say that for them. So the paint flowed and, on a scale of 1 to 10, my adrenalin levels stayed at about 17 as I obliterated the graffiti.
I struck the first problem when I dislodged my new spectacles and had I still been able to focus I’d have seen them spiral down onto the rocks below and shatter. The next problem came when I started to attach the anti-graffiti partnership sign between OnTrack and Keep New Zealand Beautiful to the bridge.
Have you ever tried to get the screwdriver bit into the slot on a screw head when you can’t focus because your glasses are fifty feet below you in bits in the river? My adrenalin levels reach 25. I swung about in the harness and thumped my hip.
That hip has helped keep my backside off the ground for around 74 years and I was sorry to thump it and it let me know by aching. It still is. In best Tarzan tradition I survived and put my doctor in his place when he implied that I was too long in the tooth to be hanging about the way I was. As for the quality of the graffiti, I think Tarzan’s chimp could have written better.
So the Waikanae bridge is cleaned up and painted over and the partnership sign is displayed and we move on to other sites. In Ngauranga, for example, we’re securing 75 x 50mm treated battens onto the concrete supports and wrapping them with chain mesh. This keeps the spray cans at least 50mm away from the bridge surface.
Yes, Tarzan does think when he’s hanging around, it’s not just a constant day dream of bringing home the bananas to Jane. You don’t just roll over and let your towns and countryside be despoiled.
Never accept that graffiti is a fact of life. Never think you can’t fight against it. You might never rid our country of the odd sorts that get their pleasure from emptying spray cans of paint onto wood and concrete but you can try to remove it as fast as it goes up and maybe discourage the sprayers and let them see the pointlessness of their habit.
I know, because I’ve been doing this a lot, that where we put the anti-graffiti partnership sign up from a cleaned structure, we’re left untouched by graffitists. OnTrack and Keep New Zealand Beautiful think we’ve reduced its recurrence by about 40%. My theory: when someone claims community ownership on behalf of us all, the graffiti scribblers accept that.
It’s when we turn away and meekly accept their right to spray that they oblige. And I don’t meekly accept anyone doing that to my neighbourhood.