Paint poured over Captain Cook amid controversy over date of Australia Day
A statue of Captain Cook was vandalised in Australia amid growing debate about whether to change the date of the annual Australia Day holiday from January 26, which marks the arrival of British settlers in 1788 but is known as "invasion day" by the nation’s Aborigines.
In an incident that follows controversies elsewhere over monuments to British colonialist Cecil Rhodes and to Confederate leaders in the United States, vandals poured pink paint over a 104-year-old Melbourne statue of Captain Cook, the eighteenth century British explorer.
The words “No pride” and an Aboriginal flag were painted beneath the explorer’s feet.
Separately, the word “stolen” was painted on a statue that commemorates the ill-fated 1860 "Burke and Wills" expedition led by Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills, who died on a trip from the south of Australia to the north.
The incidents come amid a growing push to change the date of the national holiday from January 26.
Aborigines have protested against the celebrations for decades, saying the arrival of the British settlers should be marked as a day of mourning – but the protest has attracted growing public support in recent years.
Some have proposed moving the date to January 1, when Australia’s colonies broke away from Britain to form an independent state in 1901.
Others have suggested May 9, when Australia’s first parliamentary session was held.
But the move has been opposed by Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, as well as Bill Shorten, the opposition leader.
“It’s a day that should unite us,” Mr Turnbull told Bay FM Radio recently.
“I think Australia Day has become a great national celebration of everything that is magnificent and wonderful and unique about Australia. We should cherish it.”
However, several local councils have dropped their usual celebrations and some workplaces have said people can choose to work on Friday and take their public holiday on a different day.
The Greens announced they backed the move to change the date – a position endorsed by numerous other MPs.
“All Australians want a day on which we can come together and to celebrate our wonderfully diverse, open and free society – but January 26 is not that day,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale told Fairfax Media.
The defacement of the Captain Cook statue follows a similar incident last August, in which vandals wrote “change the date” and “no pride in genocide” on a statue of the explorer in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
This followed a recent wave of incidents involving the defacement of controversial statues or calls to pull them down.
Profile | Who was Captain Cook?
A statue of Cecil Rhodes, a mining magnate and African coloniser, was removed from the University of Cape Town in 2015, prompting a push – which was ultimately unsuccessful – to remove a statue of him at Oxford University.
In the US, a plan last year to remove a statue of a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia – seen as dishonouring the victims of the nation’s history of racism and slavery – prompted violent protests that turned deadly.
The incident led to a national debate about the issue and was followed by the removal of Confederate statues and monuments across the country.
Responding to the defacement of the Captain Cook statue in Melbourne, Alan Tudge, Australia’s citizenship minister, said the vandalism was a “disgrace”.
“These people are trashing our national heritage by doing what they’re doing and they’re achieving nothing in the process,” he told 3AW radio.
“You can’t rewrite our history. I want Australia Day to be a great unifying day for our country. It has been for many decades now.”
Australia Day has been celebrated by states and territories since 1935 but only became a national annual public holiday in 1994.
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