Newtown’s ‘Three Proud People’

Mural restored thanks to Cultural & Creative grant

Words Amy Willing

Painted in 2000, just in time for the Sydney Olympics, the Three Proud People mural on Leamington Lane has become a valued part of the Newtown community.

The mural depicts three figures at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico: African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Australian track athlete and silver medallist Peter Norman. Smith and Carlos are raising their hands in the Black Power Salute and Norman, who expressed sympathy with the American athletes’ ideals, wears a Project for Human Rights badge in solidarity.

The peaceful protest caused unimaginable controversy, with Smith and Carlos thrown out of the Olympics, and Norman’s athletic career effectively ended. The sprinter’s record-breaking run was all but overlooked, and he wasn’t selected for the subsequent 1972 Olympics, despite making the qualifying time.

The mural, says City of Sydney Council Heritage Specialist John Poulton, “held a great significance for Norman because it is the only thing representing his achievements in Australia”.

Nevertheless, its future looked uncertain in 2010, when the State government considered demolishing the house it stood on to make way for a rail tunnel.

Local council stepped in and voted for the mural to be heritage listed, and by 2012 its status as a work of local significance had been secured. Now nearly twenty years old, however, the original paint work was beginning to fade.

The paintwork in 2018 showing signs of wear and tear. Photograph: Giulia Inga.

Determined to preserve the iconic mural, the owner of the terrace on which it is painted took matters into his own hands. With a lot of hard work and the backing of a City of Sydney grant, the mural was last week restored to its former glory by artist Kelly Wallwork. A final layer of Bondcrete was applied to preserve the new and original paint.

Terrace owner Silvio Ofria applies the final layer of Bondcrete. Photograph: Giulia Inga.

“The Mural is a tribute to one of the most controversial moments in Olympic history,” said John Poulton in a report on the artwork’s significance. “[It] has a landmark value as a reminder of the 1960s Black Power Salute movement.”

107 Projects was proud to auspice this grant, and looks forward to seeing the story of this mural remembered for years to come.

The final restoration. Photograph: Giulia Inga.

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