Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon was elected as City of Sydney’s first Aboriginal Councillor in 2021. She’s using her platform to push for truth-telling — especially when it comes to the statues of “offensive” colonisers that are still standing throughout Sydney’s CBD.
Weldon slammed the dozens of coloniser statues dotted across Sydney’s CBD which continue to feature descriptions of their subjects that are “inaccurate, misleading and offensive accounts of the feats of those commemorated”, despite how far we’ve come in acknowledging that white Australia has a racist history.
One such plaque is that of the statue of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in Sydney CBD, which reads as follows: “He was a perfect gentleman, a Christian and supreme legislator of the human heart… The chisel of gratitude shall portray the beloved and majestic features of General Macquarie.”
It’s a strangely sanitised (and kind of erotic?) account of events, given Macquarie is considered by some to be a mass-murderer who encouraged his soldiers to capture and kill Indigenous people to create a sense of “terror”.
“Look at the devastation of what [Macquarie] did to First Nations people. In his own words he said ‘Aborigines need to be shot with their bodies hung from trees’,” Weldon said, per ABC News.
“There’s nothing gentlemanly about that.”
Weldon’s push against the status has come after the failure of Australia’s Voice referendum, which she said proves we need more “truth-telling” in this country.
Despite the “no” vote prevailing, the City of Sydney’s population were majority “yes” voters. This is what’s inspired Weldon to fight for a review of the statues, the outcome of which will hopefully see that their plaques have more accurate information about their impacts.
Bruce Scates, a historian with ANU, has backed Weldon’s efforts, and told ABC News that now is really the time to be talking about these issues.
“I think in the wake of the referendum, we really need to find new ways forward,” he said.
“What we have to do is embrace the other aspects of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, truth-telling and reconciliation, and one of the ways we can do that is by grappling with these symbols of a past that really does not serve Australia well today.
“These statues, as long as they remain there unchallenged, will be perpetuating racist ideas. They’re problematic statements.”
Professor Bronwyn Carlson, head of Macquarie University’s Department of Indigenous Studies, reckons we should just tear the statues down. Hear, hear!
“Statues are a version of history that somebody who has significant power to put that in prominent places to tell that story, so they actually don’t tell our history at all,” she told ABC News.
“People are holding onto these statues like they’re some part of them and I think there’s that fear that they’re going to lose something. But you’re not going to lose something from reflecting on the past and thinking about the future.”
Sydney was the first point of invasion by the British. It makes sense that it should also be the first city that frees itself from the shackles of the colonisers’ lasting legacy.