Peter Drew is an artist known for his Aussie series of posters and paste ups. Head to most places in Australia and you might well come across them. Most recently his ‘Home Soon Enough’ piece has also been appearing across the country. A response to the Covid-19 lockdown he’s been sending them out across the globe too.
I came across Peter Drew’s Aussie posters during a visit to Adelaide in 2019. They were everywhere. The density quite possibly higher because this is Drew’s home city. As I traveled I would notice more. Across Melbourne and Brisbane and in smaller towns along the way. The Aussie posters are not hard to miss. They have the word ‘Aussie’ bold in big letters underneath a vintage portrait.
Interview with Peter Drew
White Australia Policy
The posters themselves contain just an image and a word. The images themselves have been taken from old photographs and then adapted with some colour. Taken over a century ago, they were part of a controversial law which has since become known as the ‘White Australia Policy’. It was a piece of legislation which was aimed at restricting non-white and particularly Asian entry into Australia.
Officially known as the ‘Immigration Restriction Act‘ it was passed in 1901. The act required any would be entrant into the country to be able to pass a dictation test in any European language. The language itself could be chosen by the immigration officer on duty. It was a test designed to be impossible to complete and it was a condition that was only replaced by the Migration Act in 1958. Drew doesn’t hold back, he calls the policy racist and it was.
But there were a few exceptions. Mainly these were for people working in roles deemed essential for the Australian economy. For one man, named Monga Khan, this was the case. A hawker, his job was to travel between Australian townships selling goods. Working across the country hawkers would often travel on foot and use camels to carry things across large distances. It was hard and tiring work.
In his poster campaign, Peter Drew wanted to make Monga Khan famous. His image, taken in 1916, could easily have just languished. Forgotten in the Australian National Archives. Here was just an ordinary man after all. A man who could have had no conception that his face would become so famous a hundred years from the day his picture was taken.
Peter Drew Aussie Poster Campaign
When you consider what is meant by the word ‘Aussie’, it is people like Khan who Peter Drew thinks about. These are the people who helped to build Australia. Hawkers like Khan who would cris-cross the outback providing a vital supply chain. These were people who provided a key resource and a link between townships. In a country as vast as Australia where the infrastructure was limited, people like Monga Khan were vital.
Since that initial campaign other Aussie’s have been remembered in posters. People like Ah Sing (1911), Dorothy Sym Choon (c. 1920) and Abdullah Khalik (1923). Their images taken as they made their way through the system. For many they were applying for entry into Australia. But for others they just wanted to come back in despite having been born there. For each they will have needed to claim an exemption to the White Australia Policy.
It was a crowd funded campaign in 2016 which resulted in Drew producing an initial total of 1000 posters. The money raised was used to print them and to support the travelling around Australia needed in order to post them up in towns and cities. Monga Khan was the hero image of the whole campaign. “I picked him because he looked strong and regal” explains Peter. “You see his photograph and not only do you like him but a part of you identifies with him as being heroic. Because he looks like someone you’d like to emulate. He has a strength to him”.
Together Soon Enough
Together Soon Enough was Peter Drew’s artistic response to the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. Like so many other artists he chose the respond to the moment in the best way he knew. For him it was another poster. Very different from the Aussie campaign it shows entwining figures in an embrace. Together Soon Enough crystallised the thought that although temporarily people were apart, it wouldn’t last forever. The posters sent by post to anyone in Australia, or indeed in the world, to anyone who had a wall to paste them up on.
Peter Drew was interviewed as part of the Inspiring Interview series in July 2020. His book Poster Boy which explains his Aussie campaign can be bought here. You can learn more about Peter Drew’s work at his website and instagram.