Sporting a turban, a men’s abaya and a spectacular hand-drawn stubbly beard, this humble Lakemba shop-front mannequin has become a favourite prop in any media coverage of the area thanks to his unique and distinctive appearance.
Located in Sydney’s south-west and home to the city’s first ever purpose-built mosque, Lakemba often finds itself portrayed in the mainstream press as an Arabic cultural epicentre, and therefore a hotbed of Islamic extremism.
In reality, Lakemba is a diverse melting pot of different cultures, with more of the suburb’s internationally-born residents identifying as Bangladeshi or South-East Asian than Lebanese, according to the 2011 census.
Nonetheless ‘Manny,’ as he’s known by his fans and supporters, seems to have become a symbol of the area and its cultural diversity - no longer just by Lakemba’s detractors but by its supporters too.
“He pops up in sympathetic articles too,” points out friend of Manny and co-founder of his Facebook page, Will Scates Frances.
“People recognise him from the area. He’s ridiculous enough to be like a mascot [for the community]”.
Probably the most infamous article that shot Manny to notoriety was a 2014 piece by the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair, titled “Last drinks in Lakemba: inside Sydney’s Muslim Land”.
Accompanying the text was a photo of Manny captioned: “a store dummy crudely Islamified” and it was out of that caption that the Crudely Islamified Lakemba Mannequin Man page was born.
“The great thing about the article was that it was meant to cause offense but a lot of people just owned it,” says page co-founder Scates Frances, who is also known by the Twitter handle @ottomanscribe.
“In response [to the Blair article] a whole bunch of people put up the picture as their profile pic.”
And on Twitter the hashtag #teammannequin was born.
So Scates Frances and six or so of those friends decided to start the dedicated Facebook page as a more permanent homage to this local mascot. Manny even got to go on an adventure and get involved with the Haldon street festival, sampling the cuisine, getting a haircut and participating in the festivities:
Thanks in part to these efforts, the mannequin has grown in popularity to outlast just the initial notoriety of the article and become firmly cemented as a local icon.
With over 3,400 followers on Facebook, Manny’s home on the Lakemba street corner has played host to countless visiting fans. The staff at Sana Gifts tell SBS that people frequently drop by to visit Manny and while they’re more than happy for people to snap photos, they seem rather bemused by the whole thing.
Scates Frances says that “Many people who are involved in or like that page don’t actually live there,” as Manny’s playful appearance seems to have evoked a sense of fondness for an area which has grown accustomed to attracting negative sentiment.
Manny's notoriety has even drawn the attention of other local businesses who are keen to attract the kind of attention that Sana Gifts has received.
“We had people who owned Muslim clothing stores contacting the page to ask how they could make their mannequins famous too,” says Scates Frances.
So is Manny letting all this fame and popularity go to his head?
Apparently not, Scates Frances says.
“No matter how famous he gets, he’s still on that street corner.”