Calls for the removal of statues or other historic monuments have been a feature of identity politics for some time, but recently this movement has taken a darker turn. The toppling of the statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee in Durham, North Carolina is just one example of a trend gathering momentum. The persecution of stone and metal monuments for the real and imagined sins of those so depicted is at times violent if not anarchic.
Unfortunately, this fanatical crusade which seeks to re-write history by destroying and removing inanimate objects, has also found expression in Australia’s public spaces with the vandalism of iconic statues of Captain Cook, Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria and even an Anzac memorial by an one or more individuals clearly offended by their very presence.
This made me wonder what our cities would look like if the history erasers in Australia got their way, and the trend to not only vandalise, but also destroy statues, arrived in Australia. So I went on a politically correct walking tour of Ballarat’s statues and monuments to find out, and then made a film about it.
It was not overly difficult to apply the ‘logic’ of the new determinists as to what is right and wrong to every single statue and monument which grace Ballarat’s streets, as all can offend or be said to represent something offensive, to someone, in some kind of way.
For example, it could be argued that the statue of King George V should be removed because he is representative of Western Cultural imperialism; he is descended from George III, who instructed Captain James Cook to chart the east coast of Australia, leading directly to its settlement by Europeans shortly thereafter. You could also claim that the statute of Hebe, the Greek goddess of Youth should also go because she is clearly perpetuating the female beauty myth and is thus part of a system that reinforces male dominance.
This light-hearted satire should be viewed in the light of last week’s Newspoll, which finds that 58% of those polled believe that statues should be left alone. This should be indication enough that this movement to rewrite history and sacrifice our heroes and symbols does not have the support of the majority of Australians.