Postgraduate student Genevieve Rowles is working hard to make graffiti a rarity rather than a fact of modern city life, as part of her Master's degree in forensic science.
Ms Rowles is studying graffiti tags to find a way of identifying the perpetrators and eventually building a statewide database of offenders and their tags. She says a common defence among taggers is to admit to one offence but deny multiple tags, claiming them to be forgeries. Her aim is to be able to disprove that tags can be forged, so that offenders can be prosecuted for multiple tags.
"At present, only a very small proportion of graffitists are successfully prosecuted," Ms Rowles said.
"Considering there is closed circuit television on buses and trains, you would think there would be many more."
Ms Rowles has been assisted by five 'retired' graffitists in her research and analysis. Each provided her with 10 repetitions of their own tags, written with black ball point pens, felt markers and spray paint in sizes ranging from tiny signatures to scrawls that cover a wall.
She then asked three of the artists to copy the tags of the other two as closely as possible, and eight people who were not graffitists to also copy the tags.
To analyse the samples she has amassed, Ms Rowles studies them visually and uses a computer program. She also enlisted the assistance of 15 forensic document examiners from Australia and New Zealand, who were each given 10 genuine tags plus a mix of 50 genuine and copied tags. Their task was to identify them.
Ms Rowles is optimistic her research can also be applied to the latest trend in graffiti: glass etching – where graffitists use a mixture of shoe polish foam and acid – which is proving vastly more costly to local councils than standard graffiti.
She expects to complete her study in six months and is confident there are identifiable differences between genuine and copied tags.
"If I continue on to a PhD, the next stage will be to compile a database of tags," she said.