Last weekend, a mob tied a rope to a statue of a 17th century Bristol merchant, philanthropist and slave trader called Edward Colston, pulled it off its pedestal, dragged it through the streets and then threw in the river.
In London, two bronzes of Winston Churchill were defaced, one of them daubed with the words ‘racist’. In Leeds, a statue of Queen Victoria was graffitied with the words ‘racist’, ‘murder’ and ‘slave owner.’
Meanwhile, over in the US, statues of Christopher Columbus have been either toppled or beheaded.
It was only a matter of time until radical activists in this country would want to start imitating the wonton destruction and vandalism taking place in other parts of the world.
In the last few days, disparate voices on social media platforms are calling for the wholesale destruction of all monuments to Australia’s early settlers, explorers and colonial administrators on the grounds that each and every individual who has been immortalised in stone, marble or bronze was a racist.
While it has yet to play out in our cities, like their counterparts in the UK, the proponents for ‘Topple the Racists’ have already come up with a hit list. One of their targets is Charles Cameron Kingston, who was the 20th Premier of South Australia between 1893 and 1899. Their problem with Kingston is that he was one of the proponents of the White Australia policy. However, what they fail to mention is that Kingston was also responsible for electoral reform which gave votes to women in Australia. He also had working class Australians in mind when he pushed to extend workers’ compensation.
In this bizarre world of statue identity politics, race clearly trumps both gender and class.
Another individual on the hit list is Captain James Cook, whose statue in Hyde Park was graffitied three years ago with the slogans ‘Change the date’ – a reference to change the data of Australia Day – and ‘No pride in genocide’.
It is one thing to conflate history out of ignorance, but it is another to retrospectively attribute the unspeakable crime of mass murder to the son of Scottish Farmer who died before the First Fleet had even arrived on the shores of Botany Bay in 1788.
These kinds of historical facts are of course totally irrelevant to the mob. This is because members of this movement believe the false narrative that the modern state of Australia is a travesty which was brought into existence through violence, genocide, and dispossession. For them, the removal of statues has become a form of atonement for guilt and self-loathing. It is an expression of a moral revulsion at the supposed racism and ideas of cultural superiority displayed by our forebears.
We cannot divorce these characters from our history because without them, the modern state of Australia as it stands today would simply not exist.
We are going down a very dangerous path if we cave into the demand of the few because no one can tell when it will end.
Every Labor Prime Minister supported the White Australia policy until it was declared dead by the Whitlam government in 1973, which has solicited not so much as a whimper from the ‘Topple the Racists’. And speaking of Gough Whitlam, I doubt the mob will destroy his statue because he closed the door on Vietnamese refugees.
The movement is indicative of a deep rift which exists in Australian society between a minority of radicals who hate Australia, and the majority of Australians who love Australia.
Every year, around Australia Day, they attempt to berate, belittle, and bully mainstream Australians into being ashamed of their country and into joining them in an act of self-flagellation.
Their efforts, however, remain futile and even counter-productive, because the more they tell Australians that they should hate this country the more Australians love this country.
Every year, the Institute of Public Affairs commissions a survey of 1000 Australians in advance of 26 January, and every year, the results come back the same. This year, 71 per cent of Australians are proud of their history, and 85 per cent are proud of being Australian.
It is worth reminding the mob that they are perfectly free to protest about racism, and free to voice their opinions about this nations’ past without reprisals or punishment, because of the civilisation brought here by the very men and women they wish to erase from history.
They also need to remember that the institutions of Western Civilisation do not give them the freedoms to commit acts of untrammelled vandalism, violence, and anarchy on Australian streets.
Everywhere you go in Australia, no matter the size of the town, you encounter a variety of plaques, statues, and memorials which have been erected by the community, for the community.
These monuments and memories reflect both individual contributions and the values of the community at the time. If we are going to have a conversation about what statues mean to society, perhaps we need to ask the community at large what it wants, rather than leaving it up to the mob.