Tuncurry Local, Ted Bickford, is a real hero – His passion for keeping the town graffiti free is paying off in more ways than one. Read all about the adventures of ‘Super Ted’.
How long have you lived in the Forster Tuncurry Area?
Fourteen years I have lived in the area; I used to reside in Cherrybrook. I came here after I retired and had open heart surgery, a five way bypass! This was a great place to recover and start again.
What attracted you to this area in particular?
The lifestyle. And I just love Tuncurry!
When did you first start noticing that there was a problem with graffiti in the area?
Well, graffiti is everywhere, all places have got it – but we haven’t now. I started noticing the problem straight away, as soon as I explored the area upon arrival.
Did you check today?
I check every day! And yes, today I went out and I did not see a single piece.
How do you promote your services?
I have fridge magnets; there is a lot of word of mouth. I am associated with Council and lots of kids know me in the area and know not to play up. It took a while to get their attention, but they definitely steer clear of messing up Forster Tuncurry with graffiti these days.
Describe your typical journey while on the hunt for graffiti.
I go out at 5:15am; I have a set run that has been known to be a popular graffiti route. It includes about a dozen toilet blocks, and the more common areas of the CBD.
It takes about two hours to do the run. Whenever I sight the graffiti, it comes off straight away … so really there is no purpose to even doing it. Nothing stays on for 24 hours.
I make my way home and usually I take a few phone calls from people who have sighted the graffiti somewhere, and off I go again.
You do this all for free?
I will not take a dime off anyone. As soon as I start earning a wage, it’s a job.
How do you get funding to keep going?
Originally, I didn’t have funding resources, but with the help of the Great Lakes Council, I have been fortunate enough to receive monies for chemicals, petrol for the rounds and a truck so I can go straight to the site and remove graffiti from public and private places free of charge.
I am extremely lucky to have a Council on my side, and that can only bring a more effective way to remove the vandalism.
Why do you think people go out to graffiti the streets?
I do believe that they have no idea about what they are doing, no idea of the consequences for property owners.
There are also some kids who just do not care and are reckless. Then there are kids who solemnly believe that graffiti is an art form … well my stand on that is you have no right to touch other people’s properties without their consent. Then there are others who just think they’re tough.
Do you think there is any form of graffiti that is acceptable?
Not to me, no.
What about cities like Melbourne who pride themselves on their brilliant street art praised by many?
No, I still do not think it’s acceptable. You see graffiti is all over the world – places like Italy, Rome … graffiti. Up and down the East Coast of Australia … graffiti problems.
And I think it’s a shame that you can say to people, “You can graff’ there, but not there”; it’s a contradiction. The moment you say it’s OK, the mess becomes acceptable. The cost to the community is too deep.
What is the cost to the community?
Take Port Stephens, for example. Their clean up bill as of this moment stands at $205,000 for cleaning graffiti … but you see it all over the place still!
Our bill in the Great Lakes, for me to be on the road for 12 months incorporating the vehicle, chemical bill and fuel, costs $5,000. That is a significant difference.
In Newcastle, there can be up to 300 graffiti hits per night, and their bill is running somewhere up to $750,000 per year!
Is it true you started out on a bicycle?
I actually started out on foot when I began volunteering nearly 15 years ago. I used to run around the district!
Of course, I got older and so moved onto a bike and then finally we got our first vehicle in 2000, and it’s so much easier! The truck is fully fitted, and if I drove down a street today and saw graffiti, I could get it off immediately.
Tell us why you do it, and why you put so much of your heart and dedication into it?
It’s an absolute obsession, and I know that. I have so much pride in this town, and I have great pride when people come into Forster and say, “Wow, this place is beautiful”.
And I get my biggest kick out of it because of the kids. When a 16 year old kid comes up to me and says, “Ted, can I help?” and, “Thanks”, it’s very worth it.
You have a great rapport with the Community Services sector. Having taken on kids straight out of Juvenile Justice programs and working with people who have been associated with crime, what have you all learned?
The kids in the community had no warmth towards me at all, and our relationship was disastrous. I remember heading down to the skate park and standing in the middle and refusing to leave until I knew what they wanted in order to stop graffiti.
During that whole experience, I learned a few new words! But I approached Council and got them some shade trees and some seating benches … finally they realised that I was with them, and not against them. I started understanding kids more, and when the opportunity came up to take on some young boys for community service work, I took it. I was nervous, don’t get me wrong, but it has been worth every minute.
I met all of the parents, built trust with them and took them to sporting games and basically became their friend. They assisted me with my graffiti removal, and I assisted them by being a mate.
If you could say something to those who continue to graffiti, what would it be?
It will not stay on for very long, so don’t bother!
Thank you Ted.