The state of Victoria has some of the harshest graffiti laws in the world; it’s an offence to even carry spray paint or “graffiti marking tools” in public. Most people consider tagging and graffiti in general as either vandalism or a kitschy Instagram moment. But for those immersed in the scene it isn’t just about exercising creativity—it’s about being visible.
In Melbourne’s graffiti scene, the legacy of street artists are tied to violent reputations alongside creative merit. For graffers, the territory they tag is a reflection of their place in the subculture and society at large. So when an invader decides to claim their spot, or worse cross out their name, it’s an act of war.
Since the early 90s, graffiti crews have settled disputes in parking lots, train yards and back alleys. Prolific Melbourne graffiti writer, Nack, has been leaving his mark on the Australian scene since the 80s. He represents the legendary A.C (All City) crew, his reputation is mythic and his tag has been sprawled across Melbourne rail lines for decades. Nack has copped, perpetrated and witnessed waves of violence that have cost other writers their lives. Back in his day, the violence in graffiti wasn’t about bravado it came with the territory.
As Nack explains, “The misconception is that you’re expected to fight for your graffiti, or else your tag is worth nothing.” Nack spends his time handing down the trade to young disillusioned writers who are still trying to riddle their lives with meaning. He explains, “I just think graffiti as a subculture draws on the kids that are missing something. The kids that I don’t know what it is, but there’s something missing, and they find the answer in graffiti, but graffiti being the mean bitch she is certainly doesn’t make it easy.”
On the way to his car, Nack told us a story about a writer who had been released from prison on parole and was ordered to clean graffiti as part of his community service. When he was asked to wipe the name of a “king” in the Melbourne graffiti scene, he violently refused and finished his sentence in prison. Whether or not the story was urban folklore, the sentiment that graffiti is worth suffering for still resonates today.