Pacific News Minute: Controversy Over Statues In Sydney

Jul 9, 2019

Statue of Matthew Flinders outside the Mitchell Wing of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. The statue of his cat Trim is visible on the windowledge behind.
Credit User:Rcbutcher / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Richmond, Virginia, once the capital of the confederacy, recently renamed a street in honor of African-American tennis star, and Richmond native, Arthur Ashe. The gesture was a response to the movement to remove statues of Confederate generals and politicians. Statues are also controversial in another part of the world . . . Australia.

In a week set aside to honor Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander peoples, critics pointed to the 25 publicly funded statues in Sydney. They include Captain Cook, Queen Victoria, explorer Mathew Flinders and his cat, Trim.

But not one recognizes an indigenous leader.

Australia’s ABC quotes Nathan Moran of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council describing that as, breathtakingly hard to take.

There is one exception, a statue of Indigenous rights campaigner Mum Shirl, but that was privately funded and stands on the grounds of a Catholic church.

By contrast, a statue of an aboriginal football player was unveiled in Perth last week. It celebrates one of those moments that transcend sports.

Back in 1993, Nicky Winmar’s St. Kilda Saints had just defeated the Collingwood Magpies in Melbourne. As Winmar blew kisses to the hostile crowd, the torrent of racial abuse he’d received all day intensified. Winmar lifted his team jersey, pointed to his skin and shouted, “I’m black, and I’m proud to be black.”

The moment was captured by a newspaper photographer and appeared on the front page of the Sunday Age, along with Winmar’s quote.

26 years later, Winmar told the Australian Associated Press it felt surreal to see himself in bronze and that he hoped the statue would encourage conversations and education about Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander culture and history.