Turnbull’s statues

By August 27, 2017Australian Politics

This is becoming a habit. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has made a fool of himself again, in stating that the defacing of statues of James Cook, Queen Victoria and Lachlan Macquarie with spray painted slogans such as “change the date” and “no pride in genocide” was a “totalitarian campaign to not just challenge our history but to deny it and obliterate it”1. No, it isn’t, it is simply a campaign to change the date of Australia Day.

While there are better ways to campaign, the damage to the statues was apparently not permanent. While Turnbull likened the vandalism to Stalin’s purges, this is overstating the case to the point of idiocy. Stalin was into totalitarianism, and likely caused the deaths of more Soviet citizens than did the Nazis during his purges, either by simply ordering their murder, or their incarceration in the gulags, which often led to their deaths anyway. He also ordered the rewriting of Soviet history to suit his own ends. Turnbull is also using this vandalism to his own ends, in a bid to appeal to the white blindfold section of the Australian population and indeed, his own party.

Some in the white blindfold sector of the population and the Liberal Party may believe that some are trying to rewrite history by vandalising statues. However, unlike Stalin, this rewriting does not extend to purging university history departments, or purging libraries of history books. So, Turnbull’s assertion is simply ludicrous. But the white blindfold mob probably don’t read history books, nor do they tend to frequent history departments, so Turnbull’s statements probably sound rational to them.

At the base of the James Cook statue, it says that he ‘discovered this territory – 1770’. That is essentially saying to Aboriginals that they do not count, despite the 1967 referendum. Ever since the concept of ‘terra nullius’ (nobody’s land) bit the dust with the Mabo case in 19922, there is no justification, not even a legal one, to state that Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. Cook3 was one of the greatest navigators in history and is probably worthy of having numerous statues erected in his honour, but perhaps, instead of maintaining that he discovered Australia, it could be argued that he was the commander of the first ship to navigate and map the eastern coast of the continent.

When I was at school, I was also told by my history teacher, and believed, that James Cook discovered Australia. However, I then grew up. It is time our politicians did too.

Sources

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/aug/26/captain-cook-statue-and-two-others-in-sydneys-hyde-park-attacked-by-vandals
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_nullius
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook

 

13 Comments

  • Jon says:

    The pathetic mentality of those responsible for defacing of statues unfortunately harms the purported cause, especially in such an immature nation which can’t deal with simple issues such as anthems, flags, marriage, specific mention of the first people in our constitution etc. Mind you they should find out who was responsible for approving the utter nonsense that Cook discovered Australia and put him in stocks (it will have been a white caucasian male almost certainly). Surely they don’t still teach that horseshyte in school curriculums in modern Australia?

    • admin says:

      Jon,

      I would hope they don’t still teach it, but I wouldn’t put it past some of the upper crust schools, and perhaps some Christian schools.

  • Jim says:

    I would be very surprised if the concept of Cook discovering Australia is still taught in schools. Even when I was at school in the 1950s it was made clear that Cook “discovered” only the east coast of Australia and it was the Dutch who were the first Europeans to see the West Coast, not to mention Tasmania. The aborigines were, of course, not mentioned.
    Re the vandalism of the statues, that was just plain silly and extremely immature. Apart from anything else the Cook statue reveals the thinking of the time–not sure when that was.
    On a different matter re history books in University libraries. I think you will find that a lot of books, on all subjects, are currently being thrown out of some university libraries these days. Any thing that has not been borrowed in the last five years is at risk. One of the local high schools in Adelaide threw all their books out several years ago on the grounds that everything is now available on the web–the mind boggles.

  • Arthur Baker says:

    On linguistic grounds, I’m registering a dissenting voice on the issue of Cook discovering Australia. The critical consideration is whether the verb ‘discover’ necessarily implies (and I stress the word ‘necessarily’) that nobody had ever discovered whatever it was before.

    Clearly, it doesn’t, as the following sentences adequately illustrate:

    – I’ve just discovered this great website called The Blot Report.
    – I discovered the joys and challenges of chess at a very young age.
    – I’m currently discovering the novels of Kingsley Amis.

    In these examples, the discoverer discovers things which had obviously been known to others beforehand, just not to him or her. The meaning clearly differs from the more restrictive ‘discover’, such as, for example, when someone is the first in human history to make a scientific discovery, or makes landfall in some place which shows no sign of ever having human habitation, a genuine terra nullius.

    Cook and his sailors, as I understand it, had never been here before 1770. The vast majority of his fellow countrymen at that time wouldn’t have known about this land, unless they had somehow followed the exploits of those earlier Europeans whose names elude me right now.

    For Cook, and his fellow English, and the government which sent him, his finding the east coast of this landmass was indeed a discovery. Can’t see anything wrong with referring to it as just that. Can’t see any disrespect for aboriginal people either, unless you do maintain that the verb ‘discover’ necessarily entails the discoverer was the first in human history. Which I don’t.

    If that qualifies me for the stocks, then you’ll need to find me first. Good luck with that.

    I do agree, however, with the statement that Turnbull made a fool of himself. The LNP’s rhetoric has taken a turn towards the deranged recently, with their reds under the beds, East Germany and Stalin references, and wild accusations of the barely-left-of-centre social democrat Shorten being some kind of closet commo. Looking and sounding desperate, the lot of them. Perhaps they’re starting to get a whiff of what will happen when Beetroot-face Joyce inevitably gets the boot out of parliament.

    • admin says:

      Arthur,

      I get your drift, but disagree with you. You could have indeed discovered the joy of chess, but others had known about it for centuries. The discovery was you discovering something about yourself (your enjoyment of chess) and was something internal to you. Discovering that wonderful website {;-) the BlotReport or the novels of Kingsley Amis is the discovery of something external to you, but not exactly previously unknown to at least some people. However, the clear intimation from the statue’s plinth inscription is that he found a part of the planet that had never been seen before. The problem is, it had been seen by the at least several hundred thousand aboriginal people who lived here at the time. They just hadn’t communicated that to the European nations, of which they were mostly unaware. It would make as much sense if Cook stated that he discovered Batavia, simply because neither he nor any of his compatriots had ever ben there before. I’ll oil the hinges on the stocks!

      • Arthur Baker says:

        “You know sometimes words have two meanings”. (Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”.)

        And even though she’s probably never heard of Led Zeppelin, the work experience student at Macquarie Dictionary will confirm that.

        • admin says:

          Arthur,
          Of course words sometimes have two meanings, but I’ll bet you London to a brick on, that ‘discovering’ the joy of chess is not the sense in which it is used on the statue’s plinth. The statue was installed in the 1870s to celebrate the centenary of Cook’s ‘discovery’ of the east coast of Australia.

          • Arthur Baker says:

            You could be right there. But remember that in 1870 NSW was still a British colony, so one would fully expect its written history to be not only British-centric, but also written by elderly white males, whose outlook on the world would be conditioned by the prevailing colonial regime of the time. What else would it be?

            However, if they did use the word ‘discover’ in the sense of claiming not only that Cook had found Australia but also that he was the first person in the world ever to do so, I’d imagine they must necessarily have misinterpreted any claim Cook himself made. Cook was perfectly aware that others had found the place before him – after all, he met some of them on day one. And when he returned to England his account would certainly have said so. Everybody knew that.

            There may be another possibility. Maybe the people in power in England in 1870 thought nobody had ever ‘discovered’ or ‘found’ Australia before, because the people Cook encountered had been there since God’s creation, 6000 years earlier? Just as the Good Book told them. I mean, who could have imagined, in those days, the journey out of Africa which we’re now pretty sure is the truth? Most people at that time would have believed in God’s creation – hey, about half the population of Trump’s America still do in 2017.

            Whatever. The wording of the claim, in a 2017 context, doesn’t strike me as potentially offensive, but I guess aboriginal people should be the ones to tell us their opinion. From my point of view, we’d be much better to focus on the robbery of the land, the massacres, and the long-term and ongoing adverse consequences of our invasion for those who were here before us, rather than obsessing about the language on a plinth.

          • admin says:

            Arthur,

            I agree that we should focus on the important things that you list in your last paragraph, but you should never underestimate the value of an acknowledgement. This was clearly demonstrated by Rudd’s apology to the stolen generation.

  • Jon says:

    There is no doubt that Cook’s visit was greatly significant but the implication of the claim that he “discovered” Australia is obvious I’d have thought Arthur, especially but not solely to the descendants of those who occupied the land for thousands of years previously. The claim is a relic of our past British-centric written history, long since exposed as inaccurate and incomplete – like much historical “fact”.

    • admin says:

      Arthur,

      I never thought of it like that; as timidity. It is the sort of thing which many people in the US saw in Trump, I suspect. A return to the certainties of the past, when things were more slowly paced, and clear-cut, when the working man was important, and the missus cooked the dinner and looked after the kids. The pace of change is now frighteningly fast for many of those who haven’t grasped it. And it is they who are rapidly being left behind. In biology this is called the red queen hypothesis. This is an hypothesis which states that organisms must constantly adapt to simply survive. Some people seem unable to adapt.

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