Entertainment People Garry Linnell: On a mission to remove Australia’s problematic statues. Or bust

Garry Linnell: On a mission to remove Australia’s problematic statues. Or bust

Protesters throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the Bristol harbour, during a Black Lives Matter protest rally. Photo: AAP
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The statue had to fall.

The old woman across the road had been brazenly displaying it in her front yard for years, oblivious to the offence it caused, unaware of the growing fury among her neighbours.

So I sharpened my chisel, grabbed my hammer, marched across the street and attacked the damn thing.

It was harder to destroy than I first thought.

She had sneakily secured it to a concrete base and the moss growing around it because her faulty sprinkler system made it hard to gain a decent grip.

But eventually it fell. I smashed it to pieces and raised a triumphant fist in the air.

Goodbye garden gnome.

No longer will you stand there with your smug smile and pointy red hat causing offence to short people in our neighbourhood again.

The Hyde Park statue honouring Captain Cook has become a focus of anti-racist protests. Photo: ABC

In one determined act I had struck a blow for righteousness and wiped away one of history’s stains.

Gnomes, observed the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus, are “diminutive figures two spans in height who did not like to mix with humans”.

So not only are the garden version a frightful stereotyping of height-challenged folk, but they also commemorate beings who practise segregation.

Good riddance to any effigy that celebrates the exclusion of others.

Empowered and emboldened by my gnome-destroying mission, I stalked further down the street looking for more targets likely to cause offence.

That young couple halfway down the block building some kind of yuppy Balinese-style garden?

I dumped their statue of the laughing Buddha in their fish pond.

There will be no depictions of overweight people with wobbly jowls as happy-go-lucky types in my neighbourhood, thanks.

Obesity is a health issue we need to take seriously in this country.

Shrouded in black, the vandalised busts of Tony Abbott and John Howard await the restorer. Photo: Twitter

A couple of houses further down I spent a good hour toppling Mrs Smith’s plaster cast replica of Michelangelo’s David she had purchased on Gumtree.

I went home to fetch a sledgehammer.

When I returned and started pounding it to dust against her pebblecrete driveway, Mrs Smith appeared at her front door and threatened to call the police.

But she calmed down when I explained how her statue of David, with its rock clutched in one hand and a slingshot slung over his left shoulder, glorified male violence.

Mrs Smith thanked me for opening her eyes and joined me as my march of defiance continued around the neighbourhood.

Our numbers swelled as more and more angry citizens joined our movement to erase the sins of the past.

We ripped apart intricate wooden bird houses that have long symbolised the bastardry of white colonialists introducing European species at the expense of our endangered birds.

We spray-painted a wooden wheelbarrow someone had turned into a herb garden.

As we all know, wheelbarrows have long been foisted by powerful multinationals on oppressed and under-valued workers to make them work faster.

laws captain cook statues
The statue in Randwick was vandalised on Saturday night. Photo: ABC

When we reached an elderly couple’s house three blocks away, we debated what to do with a faded pink plastic flamingo resting against the letterbox.

An overwhelming majority eventually voted for it to be removed because, let’s be honest, any pink flamingo in a front yard is simply in poor taste.

By the time the sun slipped below the horizon, the carnage we had wreaked through the neighbourhood had left it resembling a war zone.

But our hearts were bursting with pride and satisfaction.

We built a raging bonfire fuelled by dozens of cheap replicas of 18th century wooden sailing ships – the same vessels used by Imperialist forces to subjugate nations and destroy indigenous cultures.

No doubt these model ships had been glued together in Chinese factories paying workers 19 cents a day.

Someone then read out the words of the French poet Jean Cocteau.

‘‘What is history after all?’’ Cocteau asked. ‘‘History is facts which become lies in the end. Legends are lies which become history in the end.’’

No one quite understood what it meant. But we smiled and nodded knowingly anyway.

For we had ridden our little world of everything that was stained by our ugly past and likely to be misinterpreted or lead to righteous indignation.

And when tomorrow arrived, we knew we would feel safe and content because no one could possibly be offended by anything any more.

Garry Linnell was director of news and current affairs for the Nine network in the mid-2000s. He has also been editorial director for Fairfax and is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and The Bulletin magazine