Michael “was a hero for a lot of queer people”, says Mac, who counts himself in that number having collaborated in person with the Wham! frontman.
“He was an incredible songwriter and an amazing art musician, more than people give him credit for, and super-generous in spirit [with] a wicked sense of humour.
“I was just devastated [to hear of his death]. It came as a total shock.”
The mural quickly became a “bit of a shrine”, Mac says. He once saw an old lady dancing in front of it with a candle and Bluetooth speaker. “For 11 months it was loved.”
Then came the hate. The day after the marriage equality survey it was defaced by “militant Christians who mistakenly thought it was taking the piss out of their religion,” says Mac.
The campaign against the mural continued for days, spurred on by a Facebook mob.
“It was absolutely terrifying to live through,” Mac says. “The social media around it was horrific, there were comments like ‘bring baseball bats and bash all fags’. It was really heavy.”
The community rallied together to try to save the mural. One local filmed an attacker who “kept saying ‘it’s against my religion’”.
The audio from that video, according to Mac, reached into his soul and triggered a deep creative response.
“It just poured out. This was the first time that I was writing not for pop or dance. It goes deeper, into a difference place. The event drove the music. It was a really good way of [using] a traumatic event [and] making something really beautiful out of something horrible.”
With playwright Lachlan Philpott and director Kate Champion he put together a “concert” version that played for one night at last year’s Sydney Mardi Gras to a sell-out audience, some of whom admitted they were in tears from start to finish.
Now the work is bigger and more fully realised, with a huge Melbourne community choir and star collaborators including Ngaiire, Brendan Maclean and HANDSOME, more lighting and visuals and material – including clips of Tony Abbott, Penny Wong, Magda Szubanski.
“It’s really powerful to hear their voices,” says Mac. “It reminds us what a traumatic period that was for a lot of people, particularly the queer community. It was a really horrible time.
“But this is not just a document of the past. This is still playing out with the religious freedom law and other issues.”
As for the mural, for now the damaged remnants remain.
He’s chatting to Marsh about what might replace it, though “it feels nice that the house feels safe again”.
The next one won’t be St George.
“Living through that again would drive me insane.”
The Rise and Fall of Saint George runs from January 23–24 at Hamer Hall.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.