My brief blog post on the removal of monuments of controversial figures. Written for the Aus Glam Blog Club Aug theme of Silence
The removal of statues of racists or statues that represent racism and slavery in the United States, has created discussion in this land mass around our own statues of invaders and colonists, who to many are symbols of colonisation and genocide. This discussion has caused some Australian commentators to defend the statues as part of history and stating that their removal would be silencing, erasing and/or rewriting history.
However, as we know these statues are of part the creation and reinforcement of a historical and cultural narrative that portrays men like Macquarie, Cook, Brisbane, etc as heroic and admirable. And, if you consider these men’s involvement in the massacres, land theft and oppression then aren’t the presence of these statues rewriting history?
As Beasley notes, claims of revisionism are not new. Ever since the 1970s, when there was the call to include the many parts of First Nations history that were left out of mainstream historical discourse, historians have avoided or contested anything that tarnishes the mythology of colonisers and invaders.
Consequently, the mythology attached to these monuments continues and is one that vindicates their lives and helps those prosper now on the back of their land theft and violence feel less guilty or even proud. The existence of this hero mythology heavily depends on the avoidance or denial of First Nations history. Particularly, when that history intersects with invaders.
Another argument against the removal of statues is that they can help tell the dark history of these men. As one commentator wrote “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it” However, for all the statues and things named after Governor Lachlan Macquarie, people are very unaware of his involvement in the Appin Massacre.
The statues rarely do anything than glorify these men and therefore their actions. They were not built to be conversation starters or to be cautionary tales of white supremacy. In fact, they do the opposite.
Another argument against their removal is that they are sacred. I personally find that offensive. Many statues of Cox, Cook, Macquarie, Philip, etc were built in our lifetime or in the last 100 years, but they represent an attempt to destroy 65-80,000 year culture and they are placed on stolen sacred lands. As result, their existence in public spaces are evasive reminders of invasion and genocide. Not just a symbol saying “we won”, but an unavoidable symbol saying “we won! In your face”
As for the argument that removing statues is erasing history, that is ludicrous. Men like Phillip and Cook are some the most written about people in Australian history. The removal of one monument, would not cause everyone to suddenly forget about Cook, especially, when there are hundreds of books and papers focused on him.
As you can see, while people see removing the statues of people such as Macquarie and Cox as revisionism, the statues themselves are revisionism. A continuation of the history of Australia being controlled by certain few and omitting many voices, particularly First Nations voices. Similar to what has happened in historic collections in galleries, libraries, archives and museums. However, in those collections we can address the biases in history by what we collect now and how we present material, allowing historical pluralism.
I do not believe statues of Cook or Phillip, or Macquarie have much capacity for pluralism. As such, we need to question their purpose, especially in public spaces.
By Nathan Sentance