Asia Minute: Sydney’s Statue Controversy

Aug 24, 2017

Capt. James Cook statue in Hyde Park, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The American south is not the only location where statues are the focus of controversy. Here in Hawai‘i, some activists are re-launching a petition to change the name of McKinley High School, and remove the statue of President William McKinley from its lawn. In Australia, another statue is drawing attention—one with links to Hawai‘i. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


For well over a century, Captain James Cook has had a prime place in Sydney’s oldest park.

A statue strikes a dramatic pose, one hand holding a rolled-up nautical chart—the other arm stretched to the sky.

The statue is sparking controversy, mainly because of the inscription—which says “Discovered this territory 1770.”

Critics say that ignores the presence of Australia’s aboriginal people—who were on the land more than 50,000 years before Cook arrived. Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Indigenous Affairs Editor Stan Grant asked, “What were we doing all that time, just waiting for white people to find us?”

Grant said that in his view the statue can stay, but the inscription should go.

Some think the statue should go, along with those of other Australians with a mixed historical record.

Others are pushing back—including one lawmaker who criticized what he called “attempts to rewrite our public history for the sake of political correctness.” 

Aboriginal community leader Warren Mundine says the real issue is a lack of statues and other memorials of Australia’s indigenous people.

Sydney’s Mayor and City Council are consulting with a board covering indigenous issues.

One council member said “I don’t know how helpful it is to have a whole bunch of white people having a debate about Aboriginal dispossession and the colonization of Australia.”