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Struthless are flipping the bird at Australian identity

Taking on lads, sharehouse culture, Internet bros, hipsters, bogans, and Australian nationalism

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“Sydney, to me, is like a person who is so good looking that they never had to work on their personality,” explains Campbell Walker, the illustrator half of art duo Struthless. “[The city] coasts a lot on its beaches, international status, and money.”

Struthless beautifully skewer a cross section of Sydney and Australian topics: lads, foodies, clueless politicians, sharehouse culture, skate culture, Internet bros, reality shows, hipsters, bogans, and Australian nationalism and race relations. All of them get a good whack alongside an icon Struthless never seems to tire of: the ibis.

Their fascination with the ibis (aka the ‘bin chicken’) struck one arvo while Campbell was walking through Hyde Park. “I started watching this one ibis going about its day, and in a city full of icons, the most properly iconic Sydney thing I could see was this bird eating rubbish”. That night at the pub, Campbell couldn’t get that thought of his head. “I asked the barstaff for some paper. That night I drew a whole bunch of ibises on the back of the betting pages and put them on Instagram. I thought it was funny so I kept doing it.”

The bird moved from the back of betting pages to bum bags that are handmade by Felicity Handley, Campbell’s partner. “She came home one night to our place which I had covered in cut up magazines” Campbell explains. “I had made a paper bumbag pattern and asked her to make one out of chino. Instead she improved my pattern and made a better bag.”

Alongside this handmade signature piece, Struthless produce polos ready for collar popping, which replace the iconic horse-riding sportsman with a ciggie smoking bin chicken. A quick scroll through their Instagram also uncovers a litany of cartoon characters wearing TNs and Nautica apparel spouting pig latin. What’s up with the lad fixation?

“I guess I see them like I see ibises,” Campbell says, “[they’re] everywhere and cropped out of the travel brochures.” Campbell continues on that in cashed up, beach-bountiful Sydney, “people get a bit forgotten. Many suburbs fall to developers. It’s an easy city to love and hate in the same day. The roads are bad but the weather is amazing. If you’re poor and a bit defensive, stay out of the East.”

When asked about the recent trend of appropriating the lad look, Campbell says in his eyes, lads “[are] usually young people who feel a bit powerless getting their power up with a uniform, right? And I know that hipsters go ‘ladcore’ but I think it stems from the same place: powerlessness. I think that Sydney tends to make you feel a little bit classist and alienated, so I think lad culture makes a whole lot of sense here right now. I think to the ‘hipsters’ they might see the lads as a bit of a mascot for the rising fight in them, which has been brought out through the repression that the city has faced as of late.”

In February, Cam and Felicity flew the coup and moved to Newcastle, fed up with Sydney’s ever-escalating rents and increasingly-infruriating traffic. Though it’s sad to learn there’s one less larrikin in the Harbour City, it’s great to hear how much they love it up north. “Everyone is super friendly, it’s easy to get places, there’s lots of outdoors stuff to do, and there’s enough jobs to get money” enthusiast Campbell. “Plus it’s cheap enough to live and I can still get to Sydney when I have to.” Campbell tries to draw something every day, and he and Felicity plan all of their products together—which to date have included a ‘pink flamingo’-like ibis sculpture, tshirts, sweatshirts, hats, pins, prints, ibis earrings, the aforementioned polos, and necklaces, such as a glitter-filled VG (Victoria Glitter) can, or a leather pouch made to carry a Panadol pill—“no more headaches at festivals!” Every product has its tongue in cheek.

A chance encounter with the owner of Cream Vintage led to Struthless products being stocked in their stores, and some promotion from Brown Cardigan has also helped spread the word. But this increased audience hasn’t always agreed with Campbell’s often outspokenly anti-racist, anti-nationalist views. “I drew that Southern Crossed Bun picture on Easter that said ‘Mosques are fukken gay’,” explains Campbell. “A couple of big pages reposted it including Brown Cardigan. In his comment section there was this girl having a laugh, but a couple of really shit people started kinda bullying her and being racist.” Campbell made a point of contacting her to make sure she was OK. “I felt so shit that I’d made something that got someone bullied… She was alright, but only out of being desensitised to that sort of thing, which made me even sadder. So I drew a picture of what I felt had occurred—a bunch of idiots mistaking a joke made at their expense for ammo. I drew it as a Qu’ran with a rear spoiler.” Both drawings sit alongside hilariously realised piss takes protesting Trump, Lockout Laws and Mike Baird, Invasion Day, and a slew of other conservative agendas.

Struthless have made their new roost in Stockton, a suburb just north of Newcastle on a peninsula originally called ‘Pirate’s Point’ after escapted convicts were shipwrecked there in 1800. Cam crosses the Hunter River to work in Newy, where he’s a tattoo apprentice at the Hubb Collective with Jai and Ally Liddle. “I’ll be taking on customers soon, so that’ll be fun.” In March, Struthless did a collab with Everyday Skate Supply in the Blue Mountains, and this year the duo have more upcoming collaborations, some large scale pieces, and a more clothing planned (including different types of bags). While many in Sydney see the ibis as an eyesore or ugly nuisance, Campbell is adept at finding beauty and a reason to celebrate everyday things that are cropped out of the travel brochure. He’s bringing that same spirit to Newcastle, as evidenced in the way he enthuses about the suburb he and Felicity now call home. “Stockton is funny… nothing’s changed there in a long time. You’re surrounded by water, there’s close to zero traffic, and it’s only three minutes to the Newcastle CBD. Lots of good dogs and interesting houses to look at. A lot of Newy people sort of ignore Stockton or think it’s a bit gross or rough, but I don’t really see it. I think Stockton is just the best. I love it so much man.”

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