Queer Indigenous creative finds pride in hometown mural

Keira Jenkins |

Indigenous performer Ben Graetz appears in the Darwin mural with his husband.
Indigenous performer Ben Graetz appears in the Darwin mural with his husband.

When Ben Graetz’s aunty took him to see a production of Hair The Musical at the Darwin Entertainment Centre as a teenager, he was hooked.

It was this moment that inspired the Iwaidja, Malak Malak and Badu Island man into the performing arts.

“I’d always really enjoyed art and particularly drama, but that show was the first time I’d seen a professional production,” Mr Graetz told AAP.

“It just moved me like I’d never been moved before.”

Mr Graetz said he’d had a beautiful upbringing in Darwin, surrounded by family, but he’d always felt isolated as he grappled with his identity.

“Being queer and not understanding what that was growing up … there (were) no queer icons, there was no visibility around it,” he said.

“It was really hard to understand who I was and what I was … I felt very isolated and alone going through that.”

Ben Graetz mural
The mural at the Darwin Entertainment Centre is part of the city’s street arts festival. (Charlie Bliss/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Graetz left the Territory when he was 17 to pursue a career in the performing arts.

He returned to Darwin 16 years later, saying it was time to face his fears and deal with the things he had run away from all those years ago.

Mr Graetz has since been the Indigenous creative director for Sydney World Pride and has worked on a number of major arts events including the National Indigenous Music Awards, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Garrmalang and Sugarbag Festivals.

His latest claim to fame is appearing in a mural with his husband Dion, painted on the very same building where he was first inspired to take on the art world.

The mural at the Darwin Entertainment Centre was completed by artist Fintan Magee as part of Darwin’s Street Art Festival.

Mr Graetz said it was a full circle moment, although at first he wasn’t sure about having such a public portrait on display.

Once he saw Mr Magee’s work and thought about what it could mean, he was convinced.

“What was really beautiful was when I started to think about the importance of what it meant, the significance of it being on that wall,” he said.

“My story being a queer man, coming from Darwin and feeling out of place and not belonging to then being on a mural with my husband, representing my identity as a First Nations man and a queer man was really empowering.”

Now the work is complete, Mr Graetz is thrilled with the result.

“It’s just like a magic trick, it really blows my mind,” he said.

“To go from a photo to paint on a wall, all those really detailed elements, it still blows me away.

“Both Dion and I are so honoured to have worked with Fintan … it fills me with so much pride.”

Darwin Street Art Festival will run until June 8.