There has been a recent push during the debate of the merit of public monuments of colonisers and invaders to place statues of Cook more than 100 years old on the National Heritage List which automatically means they will be guarded by strict laws which could see vandals caught attacking statues of Captain James Cook facing hefty fines and up to seven years in jail
In response I have written a list of things that relate to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture that currently under threat and are absolutely more sacred than a monument of James Cook.
- Awabakal Butterfly Cave
The cave has been said to have been meeting place for a Awabakal women for 4000-6000 years (way older than 100 years) and because of the caves’ meaning and its importance for cultural knowledge transference and gatherings, it is considered very sacred. As such, it has been listed as Protected Aboriginal site by the NSW government in 2013.
However, the site is currently threat by a new housing development located 20 metres from a sacred cave. As well as endangering the structural integrity of the site, this development threatens the privacy Awabakal women need when visiting the site. This is already worsens a pre-existing issue as the site is on “private property” meaning the women have to ask permission to meet at the site.
Considering this, shouldn’t protecting the Awabakal cave from corporate interests be a higher priority than graffiti on an inaccurate statue?
Also, known as Arthur Pieman Conservation Area, this site is an area of great significance for Tasmania’s Aboriginal community and is also heritage listed. However, the current Tasmania state government wants to extend its recreational access to the site, which includes 4wd access. This has concerned the local Aboriginal community members as such vehicles can vandalise the landscape.
When considering how much knowledge is embedded in the landscape, any destruction can cause insurmountable loss of culture and history. Why isn’t this vandalism as heavily discussed, especially when it involves the rewriting of thousands of years of history?
3. Piliga Forest – Biliga
Up to 850 coal seam gas wells are planned by Santos across the Pilliga – threatening to industrialise this habitat refuge. This has major effects to endangered wildlife of the area, including nationally-listed and critically endangered Bibil (Box-Gum Woodland) as well as local water, affecting its drink-ability. This also affects Local Aboriginal knowledge transference as much of Gomeroi/Gamilaraay culture relates to the rivers and the land.
Murujuga, also known as the Burrup Peninsula, on the mid-west coast of Western Australia is a not just a significant to Australian culture and history, it’s significant to world history as this site is home to over a million petroglyphs (rock art). Some of which, are among the oldest petroglyphs in the world (around 45,000 years old). Their depictions include animals that no longer exist and human faces (most likely one of the earliest depictions of a human face in the world)
However, Murujuga is under threat from industrial expansion. This includes mining and a chemical plant. It’s feared that the pollution involved in this industrialization can negatively affect Murujuga.
If we are worried about the erasure of history that can be caused vandalising a statue , surely we need to worry about anything that could affect a site with 45,000 years history and heritage.
5. Our Children.
Our children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are our future, however a 14 year boy can get murdered and the perpetrator only gets three years in prison. This is in the same country where a vandal of a colonial statue can get seven years in jail.
In addition to this, Indigenous Australians account for less than 3 per cent of Australia’s national population, but they make up more than half of all children in juvenile detention. And as seen with what was reported in Don Dale, Indigenous children can be the subject of major human rights abuses once incarnated. Furthermore, Aboriginal deaths in custody is still a prevalent still an issue in this country, and the one the affects our younger generation.
Additionally, it’s been 25 years since the Bringing Them Report and 9 years since Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are still being removed from their families at an alarming rate. Nationally, Indigenous children are nine times more likely to be removed than non-Indigenous kids.
Lastly, this disenfranchising, dehumanising and disadvantaging of our children, has led to high rates of Indigenous youth suicide.
Considering all of the above, we need to reframe the reverence we give to colonial statues and colonial paper. They’re not the only sources of culture or history. In many cases, the Aboriginal sites I have mentioned (along with many I didn’t mention) have more cultural information embedded in them and tell us more about ourselves than a colonial statue ever could. Instead of celebrating these statues, we should be proud of the heritage that surrounds many of the sites around this nation, celebrate their connection to the oldest living culture in the world and protect them.
The outrage people exhibited at vandalism of monuments is offensive when thinking what those monuments mean to First Nations people. Especially, when our youth are today still affected by dehumanisation that comes with the white washing of history in which these statues contribute to.
Why isn’t there national outrage when a murder of a 14 year old boy is only considered dangerous driving.
By Nathan Sentance