Saturday, January 27, 2018

What's There to Celebrate on Australia Day?

The statue of Captain James Cook was splashed with paint. Credit: Leigh Henningham 

Graffiti was also scrawled on the base of the statue. Credit: Leigh Henningham 

A statue of British explorer Captain James Cook was vandalised in Melbourne, Australia. Simply put, it was a protest on the eve of Australia Day. 

The statue was found covered in paint on Thursday. Graffiti depicted an Aboriginal flag and the words: "We remember genocide". 

The Australian government described the vandalism as "disgraceful". 

"These vandals are trashing our national heritage and should be prosecuted", tweeted Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Alan Tudge. 

This was not the first time this happened. Last year, a statue of Cook in Sydney was also vandalised with messages including "change the date" and "no pride in genocide".

Australians should follow the examples in other parts of the world – and remove any reminders of a debauched and debased past. 

In April 2015, South Africa's University of Cape Town removed a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes. 

And in 2017, in the US of A, many Confederate statues were taken down. 

One advocate was the mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mitch Landrieu who passionately defended this move: “They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for”. 

The Robert E Lee and Thomas J "Stonewall" Jackson monument base is viewed in Wyman Park Dell in Baltimore, Maryland, after being removed by the US city on August 16, 2017. Credit: AFP 

I see them as anachronisms from a past era. 

It’s a clear-cut argument really. 

Rhodes was a monument embodying the colonial dispossession and oppression of Africans (Read my post dated March 26, 2015 titled “Faecal Attack” @

The statues of the Confederacy period honor a regime that enslaved African-Americans. They promoted white supremacy. 

All these monuments shouldn’t be there in the first place. There is no reason to keep them anymore. They only bring back painful memories of the past. 

For Australia, it has to be more than just removing statues. It must also mean changing Australia Day to another date. 

Australia Day represents the anniversary of British settlement – where the local population was displaced, dispossessed and decimated. 

It doesn’t surprise me that not every Australian see Australia Day as a day of celebration. And this Australia Day issue has regularly seen annual debates over indigenous sensitivities.

Australia Day is supposed to celebrate what’s great about Australia – but does it? 

The fact that January 26 is Australia Day means it requires a denial of history. That day commemorates invasion, that sovereignty was never ceded to the trespassers. That it intentionally glosses over the genocide of the Aboriginals and the Torres Strait Islanders. It is really a day of mourning. 

Can the rest of the country come to terms with the fact that for the First Peoples of Australia – January 26 is a day of infamy, of ignominy, of shame? 

And when Australians can come to terms – only then can they truly celebrate Australia Day. 

Image credit: BuzzFeed News

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