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Sydney to review plaques on colonial statues

Sydney to review plaques on colonial statues

24 October 2023

Sydney (AFP) -

Australia's oldest city, Sydney, is reviewing statues of its colonial figureheads after an Indigenous leader raised concerns about 'offensive' plaques ignoring historical atrocities.

As part of the review, officials will look at a prominent statue of former New South Wales governor Lachlan Macquarie, who is described as a 'perfect gentleman' -- despite once authorising troops to shoot hostile 'natives' and hang them in trees.

City councillor Yvonne Weldon has been pushing for the measure after a national referendum overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to recognise Indigenous Australians in the constitution.

Weldon, the first Aboriginal Australian to sit on Sydney's city council, said many of the plaques 'feature inaccurate, misleading and offensive accounts of the feats of those commemorated'.

The review will not look at replacing the statues, only whether their plaques should be amended to reflect modern understandings of Australia's complicated colonial history.

Inscriptions attached to bronze monuments of historical figures such as Queen Victoria and explorer Captain James Cook will also be considered.

Towering over Hyde Park in the centre of the city, Cook's statue declares that he 'discovered' Australia in 1770 -- a deeply upsetting claim for Indigenous Australians whose ancestors have lived on the continent for about 60,000 years.

Scottish-born Macquarie was a leading figure in the establishment of modern Sydney, revered by some for his many achievements -- but reviled by others for his treatment of Indigenous peoples.

Statues of colonial figures are frequently targeted by vandals and have in recent years been the subject of an almost constant running controversy in Australia.

Former conservative prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 dismissed calls to change colonial-era monuments, saying it was a 'Stalinist' exercise in rewriting history.