Art & Design


With A Little Help From My Friends

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Since its founding, Polyester Books on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy has established itself as a counter-cultural hub and a bastion of free expression in Melbourne. For 18 years, their controversial logo (which adorns the shop’s sidewalk A-frame sign) has been a symbol of their commitment to all things non-mainstream, be it underground drug culture, alternative erotica or the occult.

However, following a single complaint to the Advertising Standards Board (a voluntary and self-regulating organisation) late last year, Yarra City Council decided to suspend the sign’s display permit on the basis that it included offensive content and pressure Polyester Books into modifying a sign which has been a Fitzroy fixture for almost two decades.

Rather than alter the local icon, however, Polyester proprietors Adam and Jo Emslie stayed true to the store’s spirit and decided to challenge the council’s position. Bolstered by an outpouring of customer concern over what many perceived as unwarranted censorship, Polyester engaged the public to support their cause.

“If you read the comments we’ve been receiving, so many people don’t want us to change it in any way, shape or form” says Emslie, pointing out that to many the sign is a rare survivor of Brunswick Street’s alternative heritage in the face of increasing gentrification.

“We set up a facebook page last week and I put out two tweets about it” says Jo Emslie. “Within 24 hours we’d been hit 600 times. By last Friday we’ve had close to 800 hits. People had started talking about it. Some people had even posted Council email addresses, all encouraging each other to email the council.”

Thankfully for the Emslies and their faithful supporters, the strategy has proved effective. Following months of ongoing dialogue and a deluge of emails from the public, Yarra City Council has this week relented and decided to issue the permit for the sign as is.

“We’ve decided not to take the matter any further and issue a permit for the sign with the original image,” says City of Yarra Mayor Alison Clarke. “There were some talks between the book shop operators and Council officers about the image on the sign being changed, but a compromise could not be reached…we have made the book shop operators aware that some people may find the image offensive, and we’ll just leave it at that.”

Of their victory, Jo Emslie says “I’m just happy to have my sign out there again. When it’s all said and done, that’s all we wanted; to have our sign our there like it has been for 18 years.”

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