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The question of whether colonial statues must fall or remain is not a matter of history alone. It is part of the process of reckoning with the ongoing injustices of settler colonialism in the present. Reuben Rose-Redwood and Wil Patrick 2020 (1)

The removal of statues of racists, such as Cecil Rhodes or statues that celebrate racist history, such as colonial invasion and slavery in the United States, England and Africa has created discussions in Australia around what should be done its statues and monuments of invaders and colonists, who to many First Nations people are symbols of colonisation and genocide (2)(3)(4). Many commentators argue against the removal of such statues, saying that they are part of history and stating that their removal would be silencing, erasing and/or rewriting history (5)(6). However, others would argue that these statues and monuments themselves are rewriting history as they portray men like Macquarie, Cook, and Brisbane as heroic and admirable by overlooking these men’s involvement in the massacres, land theft and oppression of First Nations people (7) .

The Evans Memorial
The Evans Memorial located in Kings Parade Park, Bathurst New South Wales, Australia. Completed 1913. Image: Maksym Kozlenko
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Why is this an issue? Because these statues and monuments were created to celebrate particular colonisers and colonial events they often do not tell the full story of history and in many cases, they tell a lie. As Paul Daley writes “[Statues of] Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the syphilitic John Batman, Thomas Mitchell or Alfred Canning – are not, of themselves, histories of the people they memorialise. Indeed, sometimes, they are the opposite: they are anti-histories.”(8). For instance, the statue of James Cook at Hyde Park in Sydney has inscribed at the bottom of it that Cook “discovered this territory 1770” which supports the idea before 1770, Australia was uninhabited, empty land to be discovered which erases the fact that First Nations people have been in Australia for 65,000+ years (9)(10). By erasing this history, it invalidates First Nations people’s rights and claims to their lands.

Also, these types of statues and monuments often hide and ignore the pain that the men or events they are commemorating have caused to First Nation people. For example, many people have seen statues of Governor Lachlan Macquarie but are unaware of his role in the Appin Massacre, where 14 First Nations people were shot and driven off a cliff (11).

Hiding these horrible and violent aspects of colonial history means people will not get a full understanding of the past, they will not get the truth. And because the past creates the present, this lack of understanding means people will not fully comprehend the things happening today. For instance, if you do not know about the Stolen Generations, you might be against members of the Stolen Generations receiving compensation for the suffering they endured and the continued socio-economic oppression they face that comes directly from the policies that established the Stolen Generations.

Also, writer Tyler Stiem argues that because these statues are usually in public places where people would walk past and see them regularly, it makes them normal, which in turn can make their actions, including violent actions seem normal or something to celebrate. This can make injustices these statues represent easier to defend and again make injustices of today harder to see (12). As Professor of History Bruce Charles Scates writes “By occupying civic space they serve to legitimise narratives of conquest and dispossession, arguably colonising minds in the same ways white “settlers” seized vast tracts of territory.” (13).

Because of this, many have asked for the removal of statues of people and events involved in First Nations oppression, others have suggested that get reinscribed with a more critical, factual history written on them, while others have said let them stand but build counter monuments to provide a fuller understanding of history (14) (15). Regardless, we need to consider the purpose of Statues of men like James Cook, George Evans, the First Fleet, etc in our society and what stories we tell about history and who gets to tell these stories.

Ultimately, how we decide to see our past—through either the lens of history or that of memory—will determine the future and the kind of people and society we will become. Todd. W Groce, 2018 (16)

Cook Falling, Tear it Down
Cook Falling, Tear it Down artwork by Travis de Vries Image: Travis de Vries
© Travis de Vries


  1. Rose-Redwood, R. and Patrick, W., 2020. Why Activists Are Vandalizing Statues To Colonialism. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/why-activists-are-vandalizing-statues-to-colonialism-129750> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  2. Chaudhuri, A., 2016. The Real Meaning Of Rhodes Must Fall | Amit Chaudhuri. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/16/the-real-meaning-of-rhodes-must-fall> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  3. Puhak, S., 2017. Confederate Monuments And Tributes In The United States, Explained. [online] Teen Vogue. Available at: <https://www.teenvogue.com/story/confederate-monuments-and-tributes-in-the-united-states-explained> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  4. Grant, S., 2017. Stan Grant: America Tears Down Its Racist History, We Ignore Ours. [online] ABC News. Available at: <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-18/america-tears-down-its-racist-history-we-ignore-ours-stan-grant/8821662> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  5. Taube, M., 2018. The Removal Of Statues In Canada Reflects A Will To Erase History. [online] Washington Post. Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/08/23/the-removal-of-statues-in-canada-reflects-a-will-to-erase-history/> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  6. Bevege, A., 2017. Australia's PM Says Changing Statues, Rewriting History Is 'Stalinist'. [online] Reuters. Available at: <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-statue/australias-pm-says-changing-statues-rewriting-history-is-stalinist-idUSKCN1B50OY> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  7. Sentance, N., 2017. Silencing History?. [online] Archival Decolonist [-o-]. Available at: <https://archivaldecolonist.com/2017/08/22/silencing-history/> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  8. Daley, P., 2017. Statues Are Not History. Here Are Six In Australia That Need Rethinking | Paul Daley. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/postcolonial-blog/2017/aug/25/statues-are-not-history-here-are-six-in-australia-that-need-rethinking> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  9. Grant, S., 2017. Stan Grant: America Tears Down Its Racist History, We Ignore Ours. [online] ABC News. Available at: <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-18/america-tears-down-its-racist-history-we-ignore-ours-stan-grant/8821662> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  10. St. Fleur, N., 2017. Humans First Arrived In Australia 65,000 Years Ago, Study Suggests. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/19/science/humans-reached-australia-aboriginal-65000-years.html> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  11. Karskens, G., 2015. Appin Massacre. [online] Dictionary of Sydney.. Available at: <https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/appin_massacre> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  12. Stiem, T., 2018. Statue Wars: What Should We Do With Troublesome Monuments?. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/26/statue-wars-what-should-we-do-with-troublesome-monuments> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  13. Scates, B., 2017. Monumental Errors: How Australia Can Fix Its Racist Colonial Statues. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/monumental-errors-how-australia-can-fix-its-racist-colonial-statues-82980> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  14. Taylor, A., 2018. Historian Questions Whether Graffiti Should Have Been Left On Captain Cook Statue. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: <https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/historian-captain-cook-statue-graffiti-indigenous-20180418-p4zade.html> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  15. CBC Radio, 2018. How 'Counter-Monuments' Can Solve The Debate Over Controversial Historical Statues | CBC Radio. [online] CBC. Available at: <https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-august-10-2018-1.4779426/how-counter-monuments-can-solve-the-debate-over-controversial-historical-statues-1.4779446> [Accessed 7 April 2020].
  16. Groce, W., 2018. History, Memory, And The Struggle For The Future. In: D. Allison, ed., Controversial Monuments and Memorials A Guide for Community Leader. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp.36-44.