14 March 2024

When vandalism strikes, a country village rallies to help its own

| Sally Hopman
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Woman sitting on verandah of blue house near bicycle

Xanthe Gay outside her gallery in Bungendore before her beloved bicycle was trashed. Like this 2016 calendar, the bicycle has appeared in many images promoting the village. Photo: Suzie Wood.

If you’ve ever driven past X Gallery at Bungendore, you’ve probably seen the bicycle on the verandah. It’s always been there, at least for the 20 years Xanthe Gay has run the popular business.

But last Friday night, while Xanthe was working late preparing for an exhibition opening, someone ripped the bicycle off the verandah, took it for a ride and stacked it, smashing it into pieces. They then dumped it in front of the gallery – in bits.

Yes, the classic-looking bicycle was part of the Bungendore streetscape, and had been used in film shoots and even as a guest at weddings. But for Xanthe, it was much more than that.

“I did a lot of jobs before I opened this gallery,” the artist said of her business in Gibraltar Street. “But it took a lot to do something like this, so when I started I had a lot of debt.

“When my beloved grandmother died, she left me a few thousand dollars – and I knew I should have paid off some of the debt, but I wanted something to remember her by, so I decided to get a bike. She would have liked that.

“That was about 20 years ago and I think the bike cost about $1000 back then, so it was a special one – it probably costs double that today.”

Xanthe worked a variety of jobs before saving enough to open the gallery, a lifelong dream she combined with her other passion, as a silversmith.

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She said it wasn’t the money that upset her so much. It’s the fact that this sort of mindless vandalism could happen in a small rural community where, on every other day, people were kind, caring and always looking out for their own.

“I know there are worse things happening in the world today,” she said, “but this came as a real shock to me.”

So distressed by the incident, Xanthe posted what happened on social media, but was overwhelmed by the response. She just wanted to let people know what happened, warn them that this anti-social behaviour had infiltrated their village, “and just try to understand why the person or people did this”.

“I guess I was just appealing to whoever did it to do the decent thing,” she said.

“But I ended up feeling embarrassed by the way people responded so generously. People I didn’t even know just dropped into the gallery to see if I was OK. That says so much about this community.

“I’ve had people ask if they can fix the bike for me, others have wanted to set up a GoFundMe campaign to get another one. It’s so sad that good people have to fix the work of bad.”

Woman artist working on jewellery

As well as running X Gallery in Bungendore, Xanthe Gay is an acclaimed silversmith. Photo: Queanbeyan-Palerang Council.

Xanthe said she didn’t know yet whether the bike was repairable. She also doesn’t know whether her insurance will cover it, but reckons you can’t put a price on sentimentality.

“I have a friend who told me she had a photo of her daughter sitting in the bicycle basket when she was just three weeks old. Her daughter is now 17. There is so much history with that bike.”

Xanthe lives behind the gallery, which is near a pub.

“I know people do silly things when they drink, but this whole thing is so disappointing.”

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She had hoped there might be some footage from the hotel’s security cameras to see what happened, but has been unable to view it.

“When it happened, I decided not to go to the police because I was hoping whoever did it would own up, but that didn’t happen, so I ended up going to see them. They were really good.”

Xanthe, who grew up in Sydney, said she never knew her neighbours when she lived in the city, but in Bungendore, pretty much everyone knew everyone else.

“That’s what I love about here,” she said.

“So I’m still hoping that the person who did this will show some humanity and come forward so we can put the bicycle back where it belongs.”

Original Article published by Sally Hopman on About Regional.

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