Anne Barton, the great-granddaughter of Australia’s first prime minister Sir Edmund Barton, has thrown her support behind a campaign to remove his statue from an Indigenous burial site in Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast.
It is expected that a petition signed by more than 4000 people will be tabled at the local council’s next meeting on July 1.
Ms Barton said she understood “completely” where the petitioners were coming from.
“I think it’s time we relooked at this,” she said.
“I think there’s a principle here – if we look at the idea of authentic reconciliation, that this needs to be part of that.
“It’s been our say – white settler’s society – about what we put up where, and it’s time I think to rethink that.”
Ms Barton said she was researching for a book about her great-grandfather, who she thought was “undeservedly obscure”.
She said it was not for her to say whether the statue should be removed or put elsewhere, but that it would not change the contribution he made to Australia.
“It could be that it’s time it was moved somewhere else – I’m very open,” she said.
Ms Barton said she had much respect for former prime minister Barton but that she was not going to pretend he was not part of a project that “killed and destroyed people’s lives”.
“He’s one of the people who put everything in place to make it this idea that Australia is a sovereign nation and that there was no-one here before white settlers came – the idea of Terra Nullius,” she said.
“But I think we’re now, at this point, very aware that these lands were not ours.
“He was a man of his time and he was deeply racist.
“A lot of the people in the Black Lives Matter movement are talking about how police cannot see black people as humans – that’s what my great-grandfather did – he and his mob.”
Member for Barton Linda Burney said she would not want to see the name of her electorate changed.
“[It’s] one of the sweet ironies of me being elected in 2016 and I just love the idea that there is now a First Nations woman representing the seat of Barton,” she said.
“The important thing is that existing statues tell the truth – that they be local decisions about what happens with them.
“There is now the opportunity to reflect the amazing diversity and the amazing length of human occupation in Australia in a way in which we represent things in parks and town squares.”
‘Sat there for 20 years’
Port Macquarie-Hastings Mayor, Peta Pinson, does not support the statue being moved.
“It is that constitution that has given us the freedoms and rights we have today,” she said.
“Edmund Barton has sat there for 20 years and there’s not been a complaint.
“We can’t rewrite history – and our younger demographic seems to want to tear at the fabric of that.
“They want these things removed out of sight – to them it’s not palatable, but history is not palatable at times.”
Both Ms Barton and the mayor agreed it was a discussion that needed to be had with the local Indigenous people.
The chair of Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council, Uncle Bill O’Brien, OAM, has declined to speak on the matter.