Indigenous leaders have started NAIDOC week by putting the spotlight on Sydney’s statues, saying they represent only a fraction of Australia’s real history.
- There are no publicly funded statues of Indigenous leaders in Sydney’s CBD
- Greens MP David Shoebridge said the statues were all “essentially white men”
- Statues of Lachlan Macquarie and Captain Cook have been vandalised in the past
There are 25 publicly funded statues of the colony’s early leaders around the CBD.
Among them are Captain Cook, Governor Arthur Phillip, Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria, explorer Matthew Flinders and even his cat Trim.
But Nathan Moran, from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC) said the fact none recognised Indigenous leaders was “breathtakingly hard” to take.
It’s not the first time Sydney’s bronze monuments have sparked debate — in 2017, slogans including “change the date” and “no pride in genocide” were painted on statues of Lachlan Macquarie and Captain Cook in Hyde Park.
Then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed those responsible for the vandalism were trying to “obliterate” Australia’s history.
Chief executive of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council Nathan Moran. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)
NAIDOC Week runs from July 7 to 14 and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“The narrative of only honouring colonial powers and authorities is a very narrow view of the colony itself,” Mr Moran said.
“It’s breathtakingly hard trying to feel proud walking around seeing statues of people that my old people have told me have declared martial law on us.”
Among those leaders was Gadigal matriarch Cora Gooseberry, the wife of King Bungaree who was a powerful and respected tribal elder.
Then there was Gadigal patriarch Colebee who, along with Bennelong, was kidnapped by Governor Phillip in the hope of forcing cross-cultural communication.
This statue of Queen Victoria towers over Sydneysiders in Hyde Park. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)
But the person who had a lasting impact was 15-year-old Gadigal woman Patyegarang, who taught her language to First Fleet naval officer Lieutenant William Dawes and ensured its survival.
Dawes recorded their conversations and his notebooks are the only known first-hand accounts of the Gadigal language.
“Patyegarang was able to sit down and have conversations that were able to be recorded so that we would have language that we can renew and revive,” Mr Moran said.
“It’s a tragedy that the majority of non-Aboriginal people would not have an iota of a clue who Patyegarang is.”
An exception on the Sydney landscape is the statue of Indigenous rights campaigner Mum Shirl at the St Vincent de Paul Church at Redfern.
However, it was a privately commissioned and funded statue and sits on land owned by the Catholic Church.
Mr Moran said a statue of a prominent Indigenous leader would be a small but significant step towards reconciliation.
The statue of Mum Shirl at St Vincent de Paul Church at Redfern. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge urged the State Government to work with local Aboriginal groups to commission a public statue.
“Justice for First Nations peoples requires us as a community to tell the truth about how First Nations peoples bravely resisted invasion, how they survived colonisation,” he said.
“That can’t be done if the only sanctioned historical figures are essentially white men with the occasional cat or queen thrown in.”
NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Don Harwin said: “It is clear there is scope for better representation of First Nations people when it comes to public displays and monuments acknowledging our nation’s history.”