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The case for moving Cook

Jul 6, 2020 • 16m 18s

The City of Sydney is being petitioned to remove Thomas Woolner’s Cook statue from Hyde Park, and place it in a public museum.

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The case for moving Cook

258 • Jul 6, 2020

The case for moving Cook

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

With the renewed focus on colonial monuments, a group of academics and artists is petitioning the City of Sydney to remove Thomas Woolner’s Cook statue from Hyde Park, and place it in a public museum.

Today - Tristen Harwood on the case for moving Cook.


RUBY:

Tristen, tell me about the open letter that you've co-written. What is it asking for?

TRISTEN:

Yes. So Nic Tammens, who's a curator and an educator, approached me last week to write an open letter basically requesting the relocation of the statue of Captain Cook from its current location in Sydney's Hyde Park to a public museum.

RUBY:

Tristen Harwood is an Indigenous writer, cultural critic and researcher. His open letter appeared in The Saturday Paper.

TRISTEN:

And so the letter itself is addressed to the City of Sydney. And in writing the letter, we acknowledged the historic significance of Cook and the statue itself, which was executed by the artist Thomas Woolner. But also that this statue represents Cook’s continuing legacy in First Nations people’s dispossession. And I mean, from my personal experience, as an Indigenous person, it's really confronting and hurtful to be met by this kind of imposing statue in a public space. And it is genuinely hurtful to see symbols of your oppression be commemorated and held in prominent positions.

RUBY:

And there have already been protests and, you know, actions taken against this monument…

TRISTEN:

Yes. So the protest in Hyde Park that have sort of been directed at the statue have included graffiti text written on the statue

Archival tape -- reporter:

Two women have been charged over the vandalism of the Captain Cook statue in Hyde Park.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Police allege they had spray cans in their bag and were captured on CCTV…

TRISTEN:

Trying, I think, to contextualise the history of that statue, Cook's role in the history of colonialism and dispossession and genocide...

Archival tape -- reporter:

Police allege graffiti read “No pride in genocide” and “Sovereignty never ceded”.

TRISTEN:

… And that's sort of what graffiti - the graffiti on the statues - has tried to call to attention. But in the course of that…

Archival tape -- reporter:

Officers were seen circling the statue during last night’s unauthorised Black Lives Matter protest.

TRISTEN:

There has been intensified policing of the statue of Cook.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Hundreds of police have flooded Sydney’s CBD surrounding a statue of Captain Cook and moving crowds of protestors from Town Hall through Hyde Park.

TRISTEN:

There was images of the police standing around, guarding the statue.

Archival tape -- police:

Continue to move on…

TRISTEN:

That have been disseminated through the media.

Archival tape -- unknown:

What is this?

Archival tape -- police:

You’re in breach of current COVID legislation for being in groups of 10 or more people. This is a final direction to leave the area.

TRISTEN:

And I think what that sort of indicates is that while sort of writing on the statues is an important political expression. The current approach to policing the statues is to maintain the status quo.

Archival tape -- protestor:

We’re standing for our country, boys.

Archival tape -- protestor:

Yep.

Archival tape -- protestor:

Don’t let the mob terrorize us.

Archival tape -- protestor:

All we’re doing is standing.

TRISTEN:

And maintain the kind of power structures that are a part of the systemic racism that these statues are tied up in.

Archival tape -- protestor:

Please keep visiting, please keep coming. Because we will not stop. The police will not stop us, we are going home willingly to make sure they can’t do anymore police brutality to us…

TRISTEN:

So to see the sort of monument to Cook being protected in such a way, being kept safe while so often Indigenous people are made to feel unsafe by police, was quite jarring for a lot of people.

RUBY:

This debate over colonial statues is playing out across the world at the moment. Can you tell me about other examples - maybe what happened in Bristol, in the UK?

TRISTEN:

Yes. So that is that is the other route that's been taken. And Edward Colston, he was like a very reprehensible figure. He was a 17th century slave trader and he made his fortune on the trading of human lives, on human suffering. And what has happened there is amidst the Black Lives Matter protests.

Archival tape:

Take it down!

TRISTEN:

A group of protesters have gathered and in a very powerful act, basically tied chains around and ropes around the neck of the statue of Colston and dragged it down.

[Sound of statue falling]

TRISTEN:

And then proceeded to roll the statue through the streets...

[Sounds statue rolling]

TRISTEN:

… Before dumping it into the harbour.

[Sound splashing into harbour, clapping]

RUBY:

Tristen, why do you think it is that in Australia statues are not being torn down? And why in this letter, for instance, are you advocating for this more formal route of moving the statue of Cook?

TRISTEN:

Yeah, I mean, it's a hard sort of decision to make, because I think there is a lot of power in the political expression of tearing a statue down.

But I also think going back to those images of policing. I think there's a really legitimate fear that anybody in Australia, anybody caught removing those statues could be severely punished by the criminal justice system. I think, seven years in jail and fines, eighty eight thousand dollars.

But one of the fears for me in taking their air out of toppling the statue is that if it weren't to come down, where, where then does it go?

So I'm not sure that it should be discarded of. I think it does have a certain place in a museum as a reminder of the foundations of the Australian nation.

And also, I just I would be concerned that if it were to be taken down informally, it could simply be redirected by the city. So that's something that we want to try to avoid by offering the route of housing it in a public museum.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Tristen, you're part of a group who are petitioning for the removal of a statue of Captain Cook from Hyde Park in Sydney to a public museum. What would this achieve?

TRISTEN:

Yes. So the practical outcome would be that in a public museum, the statue of Cook can be properly contextualised, both in terms of Cook’s historical significance and the role he has played in British colonialism, and also the other historical interpretations of Cook. So not only is Cook a major figure in the authorised Australian histories, he's a major figure in popular culture. He's also featured in Aboriginal stories. So I think it's important to have a number of perspectives on who this figure is and why he doesn't really have a place as a public monument anymore.

RUBY:

And if it's presented not as a monument but an artwork, what is the difference?

TRISTEN:

So the difference for me is I think the monuments are much more narrowly defined than art. They are erected to commemorate someone that's notable, a notable person or a notable historic event. And they're often placed in these prominent public spaces. And they really when they're an effective monument, they really impose their presence on those spaces.

Monuments speak symbolically about the meaning of that place, the use of that place. And who that place is for.

Whereas art is much more broadly defined. And I think by placing such a work in a museum, it can be appreciated for its aesthetic and formal qualities as an artwork, while at the same time it can be thought about in its historical context.

RUBY:

What do you say to people who would argue that we should be more squarely focused on other outcomes, things like ending deaths in custody and closing the health gap?

TRISTEN:

Yeah. I would say that these are issues of vital importance. I think these are really important. But what I would say is that representation is connected to these issues. And I think we do have space to be having these conversations and be taking steps towards concrete actions on these issues simultaneously.

And I would say that it's important to remove these statues because they're symbols of oppression.

RUBY:

Why do you think the defenders of statues hold on so tightly? What are they worried about losing if statues like this are moved?

TRISTEN:

Yeah. I mean, that's a really hard question. One of the objections that I've heard is that. To remove these, these historical statues, it's an act of historical erasure.

Something - I guess it's more of a speculation from me - is that I think this is certain, Where will it end? type fear that people sometimes have. And I think that goes to a certain level of fragility. I think it's a fear that maybe if Cook goes, then Macquarie goes and then someone else goes and then, down the line, it's the person they cherish who is being named as a racist or even themselves. It's something that is reiterated by the leadership...

Archival tape -- Morrison:

Well when you’re talking about someone like Captain James Cook, in his time, he was one of the most enlightened persons on this issue you can imagine…

TRISTEN:

… in comments like Scott Morrison's about Cook not actually being a slave-owner and therefore not being so bad of a person.

Archival tape -- Morrison:

Australia when it was founded, as a settlement, as NSW, was on the basis that there would be no slavery.

TRISTEN:

Also, I think Turnbull's sort of dismissal of Stan Grant's article in the past addressing Cook’s colonial legacy...

Archival tape -- Turnbull:

Look, I’m an admirer of Stan’s but he is dead wrong here.

TRISTEN:

And as an impetus to either deny or minimise the past wrongdoings of these figures...

Archival tape -- Turnbull:

I mean, what are these people thinking? This is the greatest country in the world. Our achievement is so remarkable. We should be so proud of Australia and its history…

TRISTEN:

In order to maintain the sort of power balance that exists in the nation.

Archival tape -- Turnbull:

But we can’t get into this sort of Stalinist exercise of trying to white-out or obliterate or blank-out parts of our history.

RUBY:

You've written to the city of Sydney, and that letter was in The Saturday Paper on the weekend. What do you think will happen now?

TRISTEN:

Yeah, so, I mean, we're really grateful to the signatories who have put in that, put their names to the open letter. And I think that it will attract public attention as this is an urgent issue and it's the right moment in time for the statue of Cook to be addressed.

And we believe that the City of Sydney will read the letter and take it seriously. And ultimately, we hope that the Woolner statue of Cooke will be relocated from the park to a public museum where it can be better contextualised in the history of colonial art in Australia.

RUBY:

Tristen, thank you so much for your time today.

TRISTEN:

Thank you.


RUBY:

Also in the news -

Nine public housing towers in Melbourne were placed into "hard lockdown" without warning on Saturday afternoon, with residents now unable to leave their homes for any reason.

The towers, in the suburbs of Flemington and North Melbourne are home to about 3000 adults and children.

Victorian health authorities said hundreds of people in the towers may have been exposed to coronavirus, and health workers would now be going floor to floor conducting tests.

Hundreds of police are also at the towers enforcing the lockdown, which will be in place for at least five days.

The Victorian government says people in the towers will be provided with food and essentials and will have rent waived for two weeks.

I'm Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

With the renewed focus on colonial monuments, a group of academics and artists is petitioning the City of Sydney to remove Thomas Woolner’s Cook statue from Hyde Park, and place it in a public museum.

Guest: Indigenous writer and cultural critic Tristen Harwood.

Background reading:

Relocate the Captain Cook statue in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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258: The case for moving Cook