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.