Asia Minute: Australia’s Statue Controversies

Jun 16, 2020

Statues have become part of the story of protests against racial injustice in this country, and in many other parts of the world. That includes Australia.

A statue of Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park was spray-painted with graffiti this weekend.

The statue’s been there since 1879, along with a plaque that says he “discovered this territory, 1770.” Archeologists estimate aboriginal people had already been in what is now Australia for some 50,000 years before Cook and his crew ever showed up.

While in the United States discussions of statues and monuments center on slavery and the civil war, in Australia, it largely focuses on indigenous people.

In the same park, there’s a statue of Lachlan Macquarie — who was brutal in what he called “punishing the hostile natives.” But his statue inscription calls him, among other things, “a perfect gentleman.”

The head of Sydney’s Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council says his group supports “the removal of statues that honor racist bigots and those who have perpetrated atrocities against our people,” including Macquarie.

A different view comes from Australia’s Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt — who says the statues should stay because they “serve as prompts to encourage people to talk about history.”

He adds, “Truth telling is not a contest of ideas but a sharing of the truth. In order for us to heal the past we need to have genuine conversations and understand the history of our nation.”