Nathan Paterson, the man behind the Cessnock Reclaim Australia photo | video

HE HAS been labelled a bogan, a red neck and a racist.

But Nathan Paterson, the heavily-tattooed Glendale resident who became the face of the Reclaim Australia rally in Cessnock on Sunday, says he’s standing up for an Australia he believes is at risk from overseas refugee migration.

‘‘I’ve seen people calling me a bogan, calling me a racist pig, all off one photo,’’ he said. 

‘‘A woman on the radio called me a toothless, tattooed freak.

‘‘Well okay, great, if she wants to pay for me to get my tooth fixed then that’s great, I’ll shake her hand, because I’m in the waiting line to have it done.’’

Mr Paterson is the instantly recognisable face of far-right anti-Islamic sentiment in the Hunter.

His picture, complete with Eureka Stockade singlet, Australian flag cape, and the elaborate face tattoo he gave himself at home in front of the mirror a year-and-a-half ago, was shared widely on social media after it was published in the Newcastle Herald this week.

Sunday in Cessnock was his first Reclaim Australia rally, and John Oliver, Newcastle’s chief Reclaim Australia organiser, said while Mr Paterson was part of the group’s support base “he isn’t representative of the vast majority of Reclaim supporters who are ordinary mums and dads”.

The image of Mr Paterson that became synonymous with Sunday's Cessnock rally.

The image of Mr Paterson that became synonymous with Sunday's Cessnock rally.

Mr Paterson says the rally was a success, and he wants to get involved in the movement ‘‘because I don’t know what kind of country I’m leaving for my kids’’.

He believes he’s one of a growing contingent of people who are ‘‘standing up’’ for ‘‘Australian values’’, and insists he ‘‘isn’t a racist’’.

‘‘At the rally I was chanting Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi, which is something every Australian chants at sporting matches against other countries, so is every Australian a racist now?’’ he said.

To illustrate that point, he refers to his friendship with the Bangladeshi owner of the kebab shop in Cardiff that he frequents.

‘‘I don’t actually know his name, I call him Bangladesh, he’s my mate from the gym,’’ he said.

Although he says he has mostly laughed off the abuse he received online since his photo was published, some of it did ‘‘make me cranky’’, and he’s frustrated at being labelled a racist without being able to tell his own story.

After working in heavy industry for 15 years, including with BHP and Hydro in Kurri Kurri, these days he survives off a disability pension and lives with his sister in Glendale.

He visits the gym twice a day to keep fit, and is passionate about the distinctive tattoo work he has had done, including the words ‘‘Not Guilty’’ on the right-hand side of his head, which he says is ‘‘just a saying’’.

He has been trying to find department of housing accommodation for several months, and has been told it could take more than 10 years to find the permanent two-bedroom home he’d like to have so that the younger of his two sons can stay with him on weekends.

It’s that struggle that has led him to believe governments - whether local, state or federal - aren’t doing enough to help ‘‘everyday Australians’’.

‘‘The government needs to start looking after its own people,’’ he said.

‘‘Newcastle Council want to let some of those 12,000 Syrian refugees come to settle here, but there isn’t even any housing for Australian people.’’

But his views about people of Islamic faith reveals the undercurrent of anti-Islamic sentiment that exists in some parts of the Hunter community.

‘‘They’re all over in their countries blowing each other up, and they want to bring all that here. I say just leave them there,’’ he said.

Sunday saw two rallies in the heart of Cessnock - one organised by Reclaim Australia, the other by Rally Against Racism.

Phillipa Parsons, the organiser of the latter rally, said Mr Paterson’s views represented an ‘‘unfortunate misconception’’.

‘‘A lot of people are mixing up extremists, criminals, and the terrorist group ISIS who hide behind one of the world’s biggest religions, with moderate muslims who just want to live in peace like every other Australian,’’ she said.

‘‘He went to this racist rally, and now he’s upset at being called racist, well he has to accept some personal responsibility.’’

Mr Paterson said he was frustrated that people judged tattooed people on their appearance.

‘‘People judge you just for the way you look, without knowing anything about you, which I think, that’s not fair,’’ he said.