News National Police on watch as statues of historical figures defaced around Australia

Police on watch as statues of historical figures defaced around Australia

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Victoria Police officers were guarding Captain Cook’s Cottage on Sunday as Black Lives Matter activists defaced historical monuments across the country.

The police operation was carried out on the same day NSW Police charged two women, aged 27 and 28, after a Captain Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park was vandalised.

Police were alerted to graffiti on the statue about 4am on Sunday and arrested the two women on College Street in the CBD, NSW Police said in a statement.

The women were allegedly found with a bag containing spray cans.

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

It appeared Victoria Police was anticipating a similar attack on Sunday, with several officers watching over Captain Cook’s heritage-listed cottage in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens.

Victoria Police near Captain Cook’s Cottage in Fitzroy Gardens on Sunday. Photo: TND

Across the country, protesters have vandalised several statues of divisive historical figures as part of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

In the Victorian town of Ballarat, bronze busts of former Liberal Australian prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard were found covered in red spray paint on Saturday morning.

The statues have since been wrapped and fenced off.

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

On Friday in Perth, a statue of Captain James Stirling – the first governor of the colony of Western Australia – was also defaced with red paint.

The statue’s neck and hands were painted red and an Aboriginal flag was painted over the inscription at the base.

A 30-year-old man has been charged with criminal damage or destruction of property.

Why are anti-racism activists targeting statues?

Statues of explorers and slave traders are considered offensive to Indigenous Australians because they are painful reminders of their ancestors’ suffering at the hands of the British Empire.

Between 1794 and 1928, there were at least 270 frontier massacres of Aboriginal people as part of an organised attempt at genocide, according to figures from The Guardian.

As part of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the globe, there have been renewed calls to destroy or vandalise these statues.

Police guarded a statue of explorer James Cook as protesters gathered in Sydney on Friday. Photo: AAP

Over the past fortnight, tens of thousands of Australians have attended rallies in major cities to protest about Aboriginal deaths in custody and the high rate at which Indigenous people are jailed compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

But even before the protests started, outrage had been mounting over the legal destruction of caves at Juukan Gorge in WA by mining company Rio Tinto.

The sacred Aboriginal site dated as far back as 46,000 years and was described as some as the “dawning of humanity”.

Juukan Gorge in 2013, left, and 2020. Photo: Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation/ABC News

‘Juvenile behaviour’

Some Australians have been outraged by the vandalism of statues in major cities.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said most people would be “very upset” by the defacement of the Captain Cook statue in Sydney.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Ms Berejiklian said: “I ask everybody to please respect what’s in place. I ask everybody to be respectful of the difficult situation all of us find ourselves in NSW”.

Simon Benson, a journalist at The Australian newspaper, told ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday the destruction of statues was “juvenile behaviour”.

“Most Australians, they see these protests for what they are – they don’t dismiss the legitimacy of the cause – but as you saw overnight, they’ve descended into the sort of juvenile behaviour that you’d expect with defacing statues and things like that,” Mr Benson said.

Around the world

Meanwhile in Canada, where anti-racism protests are also under way, shocking dash cam video footage has emerged of the violent arrest of a Canadian Indigenous chief.

The 12-minute video shows an officer charging at Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam with his arm and elbow up as he tackles him to the ground.

It also shows a police officer punching him in the head.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called the video “shocking” and said black and Indigenous people in Canada did not feel safe around police.