YARRA Council residents in Melbourne are weighing in on a proposal for a sculpture recognising the LGBTI community, with no indication of opposition to the location despite the concerns of a prominent local gay business owner.

Council settled on Whitlam Place in front of Fitzroy Town Hall as a location for the $100,000 sculpture Courage designed by William Eicholtz. The 2.1m high bronze statue depicts a man wearing a Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz.

The owner of gay nightclub The Peel Hotel, Tom McFeely, has spoken publicly against the Whitlam Place location, arguing instead for it to be erected outside his venue on the corner of Peel and Wellington streets, Collingwood.

He told News Corp media he believed the sculpture should be closer to current gay venues, including nearby Club 80 and The Laird, and believed his venue’s CCTV cameras would be better able to protect it from vandalism.

McFeely was also involved in the initial stages of the project when the sculpture was only being considered for the location outside The Peel, where he offered to co-fund the statue with council. He has since accused the Yarra Council of hijacking his project.

Although McFeely has argued moving the statue to outside his hotel would be in the best interests of the LGBTI community, council told the Star Observer that one day before the end of the community consultation period the only feedback engaging with McFeely’s views was from a City of Yarra resident opposing his suggested location.

Only one negative response had been received about the location specifically, with the respondent suggesting the sculpture be moved somewhere with greater foot traffic.

Of the 23 responses received overall, 18 were supportive of the City of Yarra’s proposal. One negative respondent suggested a statue of a man was not representative of the gender diversity of the LGBTI community.

However, a council spokesperson acknowledged the consultation process had not yet closed and the community had not been asked about the possible suitability of other locations — only whether the proposed location and design were appropriate.

Yarra Council’s acting mayor Geoff Barbour said McFeely had not been involved in the project since its initial stages, and repeated attempts to contact him had been unsuccessful. Barbour also told the Star Observer that council continued to be open to engaging with McFeely on this issue.

The Star Observer has repeatedly tried to contact McFeely but has not received a response at the time of writing.

McFeely is a controversial figure in the LGBTI community, making headlines in 2007 for successfully making a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal application to ban patrons who were not gay men from entering The Peel Hotel.


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