Oliver Gordon, ABC, February 7, 2024
A Melbourne council will move forward with plans to resurrect a toppled Captain Cook statue after a bid for a community consultation process to decide the future of the monument was rejected.
The statue in the bayside suburb of St Kilda was cut off at the ankles in the lead-up to Australia Day on January 26, leaving only Captain Cook’s boots on display.
Port Phillip Councillor Robbie Nyaguy moved a motion to have a community consultation to decide the future of the statue on Wednesday.
But the council rejected his proposal five votes to four, following a fiery debate which saw councillors reprimanded multiple times for misconduct.
Cr Nyaguy said he thought the result was unfortunate.
“The motion was to repair and re-instate the statue, but then also to have a consultation about its location and context going forward to get a better understanding of how the community felt about the statue and how they want it to be presented, which I’m very disappointed to say failed.”
Mayor Heather Cunsolo voted against the motion, citing a lack of clarity and competing demands.
“Community consultation — and I very much believe in it — is a lot about the questions you ask, and those questions we ask are unknown at this point,” she said.
“Without that information I’m not ready to do this, and I also think we have a lot on our plate right now at council.”
“I’d like to make sure that the resources are being used to do those, including the work that they’re already doing to re-instate the statue and perhaps some other concepts that might take the target off future vandalism, or mitigate it.”
She acknowledged that the statue could again be targeted if resurrected “if we don’t take the opportunity now to fill in some gaps in our history, maybe in an art form or something in that area”.
Prior to the vote, the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council submitted that the statue should be repaired immediately, a sentiment echoed by a number of local residents in attendance at the meeting.
Locals have differing views on the statue
Community members passing by the vandalised statue on Wednesday night had mixed views about the way forward.
Phillip Arnold is in favour of the statue going back up, but with some additions.
“I think some more context and possibly, you know, maybe… some sort of protective plastic or something so that it can’t be damaged.”
“Not much point in having it up if it’s going to constantly be damaged, defaced and you know, it’s going to cost the council money or every time to repair it.”
St Kilda local Phillip Arnold would like to see more protection added to the statue of Captain Cook.(ABC News: Oliver Gordon)
Not everyone wants the statue back though.
Local resident John Platt wants it moved to another part of the city
“I’m hoping that they don’t put the statue back. I’m hoping they take it to the Botanical Gardens, where Cook’s cottage is and they plant him knee deep in there.”
He said he’d like to see the statue replaced with something more conceptual.
“I would like to see something beautiful, and I would like to see the truth told.”
“That’s open to creativity. But that’s all I need. I need beauty. And I need truth.”
Indigenous leader disappointed by level of consultation
The CEO of the Federation of Victorian traditional owner corporations, Paul Patton, said he was disappointed the community will not be consulted before the statue is repaired.
“From my perspective, it represents a dark part of our history as far as Europeans occupying this country, and the history that is associated with with that, but non Indigenous Australians would have a connection to it from a different perspective,” he said.
“So it’s important that we come together and understand and respect each other’s history and views on this landmark, as well as our history more broadly.”
The Indigenous leader said a formalised community discussion could have led to more understanding, not less.
“It gives us an opportunity to move forward as a nation and as a community, you know, just in this instance,” he said.
“By not creating those opportunities for those conversations, we stay in the status quo.”
The St Kilda statue isn’t the only public monument of Captain Cook in the spotlight.
The City of Yarra — another inner city Melbourne council — has removed a stone memorial to Cook after it was toppled and spray-painted.
The council is now weighing up whether or not it should be replaced.