The real story behind Seddon’s YES wall
When Australians were asked to vote in the postal plebiscite over whether to pass same-sex marriage laws, the Seddon community responded with motivating street art.
Local businessman Chris Gooden, co-owner of Seddon Deadly Sins cafe on the corner of Victoria and Young streets, commissioned a local artist to paint a giant YES on the red wall of his premises. As a gay man in a long term relationship, Chris said he felt he needed to do something overt but also very positive in the midst of what he described as a very unpleasant debate.
“My Facebook was full of people being quite upset about what was happening in the media about how vocal the ‘No’ campaign was,” he said. “If you are going to get married you will ask your partner, your parents, you’d probably speak to your best friend about it, but we were asking 12 million Australians, people that you had never met. So it was a pretty vulnerable spot that we were put in.”
He was walking his dog one morning and decided it was time for a big statement of support. Melbourne-based artist David Lee Pereira was recommended to him, and he decided on the very simple letters in white. Chris said he chose not to include any rainbow colours, but David painted a rope within the lettering in light pink and blue that represented the transgender flag.
“Whatever difficulties I faced coming out in terms of my sexuality, a trans person has another layer on top because they are not happy about how they present,” he said. “So that was really trying to acknowledge that part of the community that really gets lost in this debate as well.”
But while the signage attracted attention for its size, it was what happened next that has made it such a Melbourne icon. Chris knew that there was a good chance the wall would be graffitied, so he got a step ahead and encouraged people to sign the wall as a pledge of their support for a Yes vote. He kickstarted it by signing his mum’s name after she changed from being a ‘maybe’ and decided to vote Yes.
“That galvanised my position – we needed to engage the maybes,” he said. “They were our biggest target. They are the ones we needed to have conversations with to say we needed them to vote Yes because it was going to affect me in this way and will hopefully give our young gays some support and let them know it is OK to be gay, to be trans.
“I was so happy to do a video of me writing my mum’s name on the wall – I published it on Facebook and it went ballistic. It had more than 10,000 views in two weeks. I thought this is the message – keep it simple. Thank you mum for your vote, come and sign the wall when you have voted and show the rest of our suburbs that you support this.”
Chris says the local community of Seddon and surrounding suburbs embraced the wall – and himself – on a daily basis throughout the campaign.
“I couldn’t wait to go to work every day, because I would have someone thank me for the wall and a total stranger coming to give you a hug,” he said. “I was like, wow. I was getting goosebumps every day from those interactions with real people. That’s when we knew that we had totally done the right thing because we are giving these people that sense of hope and certainty and it was what they needed. It was awesome.”
However, he does admit he was a tad ruthless about people signing it.
“Up until vote time we had people coming in every day and sign the wall and say they were going to vote next week,” he says. “I would pull the pen out of their hand and say ‘no, you must go and vote’. Signing the wall is awesome, but if you don’t vote, it doesn’t count.”
The wall has become something of a tourist attraction for Seddon even several months after same-sex legislation passed and the cafe hosted a huge Yes street party in front of it.
Chris says he is not sure what will happen with the wall, which had has been a plain red for 15 years, but people travel from across Melbourne and interstate to see it, sign it and post their photos on social media.
“I have known Jane, my landlord, for 12 years and I knew she would be on board with the Yes wall,” he says. “Our lease is specific – I have to keep the building in a graffiti-free state, so while we call this ‘art’, it’s OK!”