Captain Cook statue St Kilda: Debate over saw-down statue’s return

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Debate is swirling on whether a sawed-down Captain James Cook statue should return to a Victorian park, with one local councillor pushing for the community to have their say.

The 115-year-old Captain Cook statue at Catani Gardens in St Kilda made headlines last week after it was defected on the eve of Australia Day.

Vandals hacked the metal statue off its stone base and spray-painted it with the words: “The colony will fall”.

The incident occurred on the same morning a large monument at Queen Victoria Gardens was vandalised with red paint.

In response, Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan offered to help repair the heritage monument, which was originally funded by private donations.

However, councillors aren’t seeing eye-to-eye, with Labor-aligned Port Phillip councillor Robbie Nyaguy planning to call for a community consultation on whether the statue should be reinstated in a motion at Wednesday’s council meeting.

“(The Captain Cook statue) was cut down by vandals just before the 26 of January in an act of vandalism which our council condemned,” Mr Nyaguy said in a video on Facebook on Saturday.

“The important question now is whether we put this statue back.”

Mr Nyaguy said he is also calling for information on the cost of restoring the statue and its ongoing security.

Speaking to news.com.au, the councillor said Australia needs to be “more sober” about our history, and the community needs to come together to have a conversation.

“Rather than letting a couple of vandals in the night write our conversations about how we respond to history. Let’s [respond] in a mature way and have a conversation.”

“I think we need to reflect on the fact that the statute was put in that location 100 years ago … as part of the national myth-building around the discovery of Australia – the fact that this empty land was found in the southern hemisphere – which is ultimately untrue.”

Mr Nyaguy said the money to reinstate the statue could be put towards other initiatives in the midst of the country’s current housing and climate crisis.

“There’s a lot of challenges that we in trying to deliver for our community. I think it’s important, before we spend a significant amount of money on a statue, that we know whether that’s actually something that our community want us to do.”

He said the destruction of the stature has sparked a mixed response among the community in the Port Phillip area, where Cook never visited.

“When I was down there today (Saturday), a man said that he thought the people who vandalised it should be hung.”

However, Mr Nyaguy said he knows of “many” others in the community who have exhibited a more light-hearted response, simply laughing it off.

“Different people attach different bits of significance to history. If a piece of history that I was particularly invested in was damaged, I would also feel that kind of bereavement.”

While he said he’s personally against the statue being reinstated, he stressed he is not looking to “cancel” history.

“History is in textbooks, it’s taught in classrooms, it’s talked about in communities. But the purpose of the statue, ultimately, is to highlight and celebrate history, and when I reflect upon the legacy of James Cook, I don’t think that’s the kind of thing that should be our central focus to highlight and celebrate.”

Instead, he would like to see one of the country’s “many incredible” figures honoured in the form of a stature, such as Aussie sailor Jessica Watson, who became the youngest person to sail solo and unassisted around the world.

However, Mr Nyaguy’s motion around community consultation has been slammed by fellow councillor Marcus Pearl, who argues it “neglects the importance of historical context and the need for a balanced understanding of our heritage”.

“The motion proposed by Councillor Nyaguy to reassess the future of the Captain Cook statue is a veiled attempt to undermine the cultural heritage of our community,” Mr Pearl told news.com.au in a statement.

“The motions seeks to unnecessarily divide our community and disregard the broader historical significance.”

He also noted the “discrepancy” between Mr Nyaguy’s stance and Premier Allan.

“The Labor Premier has publicly supported the reinstatement of the Captain Cook statue, aligning with a vision that respects our collective history and heritage.”

“We must stand against vandalism and for the rule of law, ensuring our public spaces and historical markers are respected.”

Mr Nyaguy’s motion will be discussed by the council on Wednesday.