Bill Snow | 1938 - 2018

Bundeena resident Bill Snow was one of the founders of BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions), a movement that used witty and subversive graffiti to expose the glossy falsehoods of powerful corporations.

As a civic-minded graffitist and anti-smoking radical, he made a colourful contribution to the banning of tobacco advertising in Australia and the realisation of a smoke-free society.

Many people unknowingly have treasured mementos of Snow in their homes and offices.

For years he printed all the degrees from Sydney University on his 19th century printing press.

He risked his job when he refused to print an honorary degree for a tobacco industry luminary but it was a shift to modern printing technology that made him redundant in the early 1990s, confirming his dislike of digital technology which he felt was taking over people's lives.

Billy Snow during a camping holiday at Jervis Bay. Picture: Supplied

Billy Snow during a camping holiday at Jervis Bay. Picture: Supplied

Billy (as he wished to be known) Snow was born on January 31, 1938, the youngest of Alison and Lyall Snow's three children.

He grew up in Drummoyne and attended Fort Street High School, where he won an award for debating.

Billy began work as a printer's mechanic and rebelled against his strict Salvation Army upbringing by immersing himself in the early rock 'n' roll scene.

After a period of national service he took off for a decade-long sailing and backpacking adventure. He sailed through south-east Asia and the Mediterranean and travelled the length of the Americas, working as a printer in Japan, London and San Francisco.

He met Rosemarie Gosling in London in 1964; they set off to Europe together and married in Sydney in 1967. Their daughter Emily was born in 1972. After separating from his wife, Snow moved to Bundeena, in 1979.

He became one of Australia's early fresh air campaigners when he supported Brian McBride's legal action against a bus driver for assault with tobacco smoke. This battle led to Billy, Brian and Gayle Russell forming the Non-Smokers Rights Movement in 1978.

Frustrated at the lack of government action on tobacco and alarmed by the proliferation of outdoor tobacco advertising he began to write graffiti on tobacco billboards.

He would sometimes dress as The Phantom and be accompanied by his beloved dog 'Beauty'.

He joined forces with fellow billboard graffitists Geoff Coleman and Ric Bolzan. The three sought a way to encourage others to join them.

In 1978, Simon Chapman and others concerned about tobacco promotion formed a group called MOP UP (Movement Opposed to Promotion of Unhealthy Products). Billy, Geoff and Ric wanted to make a more radical statement and in 1979 came up with the inspired acronym 'BUGA UP'.

BUGA UP was to be without structure and hierarchy; anyone could be a part of it by simply signing their billboards.

Snow drove a succession of old vans adorned with slogans and murals of dolphins, rainbows and environmental issues. In 1984, he converted one ancient vehicle into the 'BUGA UP Embassy' at North Sydney in the heart of ad-land, where he displayed his collection of cigarette butts collected from sacred places around Australia.

Billy Snow is arrested at the BUGA UP embassy in North Sydney in 1984.

Billy Snow is arrested at the BUGA UP embassy in North Sydney in 1984.

The van remained on a small parcel of vacant land opposite the Leo Burnett advertising agency (the creators of the 'Marlboro man') for a few weeks until it was impounded and Snow arrested. The police waited in vain for the registered owner, 'Philip Morris', to claim it.

Snow always had spray cans and paint bombs on hand just in case they were required. He probably re-faced more billboards than anyone else, with the possible exception of Fred Cole, but he was not one to rush a job. He could linger at a billboard for half an hour, using his printer's eye to ensure his alterations were 'perfect'. Needless to say, he was arrested on numerous occasions and spent time in gaol 'on principle' rather than pay a fine.

The BUGA UP movement spread, pre-internet, to health advocates around the world. Regular health campaigns seemed tame by comparison and BUGA UP helped reframe the global debate about tobacco control.

Australia was the first major country to ban tobacco advertising and the resulting loss of legitimacy by the tobacco industry had huge implications for tobacco and health policy.

In addition to his BUGA UP activities, Snow was an avid campaigner for peace and the environment.

In the 1980s he put his sailing skills to use with the Sydney Peace Squadron to protest against nuclear armed ships in Sydney Harbour. He was always generous to fellow activists and the many causes he cared about. He supported Indigenous issues and funded Burnum Burnum's trip to England in 1988, Australia's 'bicentenary' year. 

Snow stood on the beach at Dover on January 26 as the activist planted the Aboriginal flag and claimed Britain on behalf of the Aboriginal people.

He campaigned tirelessly throughout his life, addressing new and current issues in a creative way and adapting his protests for new audiences. In recent years he was concerned about 'infobesity' - the 21st century digital revolution overloading our lives.

Billy Snow died of a ruptured aorta after a short painful episode on March 8. He is survived by his daughter Emily, his sisters Joan and Dorothy and his former partner Danielle Kluth.

  • Lachlann Partridge and Arthur Chesterfield-Evans