The controversial Katoomba stone sculpture depicting Wanjina has been vandalised. Arts Law acted for several of the Indigenous groups who made submissions in support of the Blue Mountains City Council’s decision requiring the sculpture to be moved from its current position on the grounds that its display had an adverse social impact. While we understand that this dispute is very distressing and emotional for the participants, we strongly condemn vandalism or violence of any sort, and urge all parties to respect the proper legal process.
The Arts Law Centre is a strong proponent for freedom of artistic and cultural expression for all artists, not just Indigenous artists. We have consistently lobbied against artistic censorship and stricter classification laws. However, fundamental freedoms are validated by rational limits which recognise that a balance must be sought where pursuit of one freedom is at the cost of another. For example, legitimate constraints are placed on freedom of expression by the laws of defamation, criminal laws relating to child pornography and laws concerning racial vilification. In this case, the right of a business to display an artwork in a certain location (not the artist’s right to create it) has been balanced against the cultural and social harm flowing from that display which, in our view and the view of our clients, amounts to a misappropriation and denigration of Indigenous culture. In ordering its removal, the Land & Environment Court accepted evidence of the consequential social harm felt within the local and wider Australian community.