Historic Vandals

6 March 2024

3.8 MINS

On the eve of Australia Day, my 80-year-old neighbour of Italian descent complained about ‘how disgusting’ it was that vandals had cut down a statue of Captain James Cook in Melbourne. Born in Italy, she emigrated to Australia as a child. A proud Australian, she also retains a fond connection to Italy. She is neither indigenous to Australia nor of Anglo-Saxon background. Yet her pride in the history of the nation was deeply offended by a few, cowardly barbarians who vandalised public property which acknowledges the historical significance of Cook under the cover of darkness.

The attack on the statue of Cook demonstrates the historical amnesia of the vandals. He didn’t ‘invade’ Australia. Nor did he establish a colony, contrary to the slogan painted on the plinth of his statue asserting that ‘the colony will fall.’ The case against him is that ‘he arguably paved the way for the terrible experiences of generations of Indigenous people’, to quote one critic.

Regarded by many as one of the greatest navigators and cartographers ever, James Cook should be a figure of admiration. From humble beginnings, he rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy on merit before being entrusted with some of the most sensitive missions of the era. His demise came at the hands of indigenous natives of Hawaii.

Not that the vandals limit themselves to Cook. The first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, is a favourite target of the minority ‘invasion day’ adherents. Yet Phillip was instructed ‘to endeavour by every possible means to open intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affection, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.’

Phillip and successive governors insisted ‘that there can be no slavery in a free land and consequently no slaves.’ When convicts concluded their sentences, they became free men and women, often given land to make their future.

A Fair Go

Influenced by William Wilberforce to cultivate the religious and moral culture of the colony, Lachlan Macquarie, perhaps the most significant of all the colonial governors, encouraged marriage, education, temperance and the fruitful use of the land.

Possessed of deeply humane instincts, he and his successors helped to create a society in which freedom, justice and, ultimately, self-government prevailed. The spirit of egalitarianism flourished, unlike in many other places in the world.

This century-long project was the foundation for the journey to federation and the creation of a constitution that sought to protect both political and religious liberty of the individual.

This national journey has had its challenges, including the White Australia Policy. But the journey has been one towards respect for the dignity and liberty of the individual. There were — and still are — challenges from those who advocate a Marxist utopia, a classless society and the denial of individual property ownership.

Some of the national achievements, including widespread home ownership and stable marriage and families, are again under threat. But the restoration of these essential pillars of civil society is not the goal of the activists. While enjoying the fruits of Western civilisation, they seek to further undermine it.

Australians enjoy the benefits that flow from Cook and Philip — including the right to protest peacefully — but the protesters now want to tear down this edifice. As Edmund Burke once said, ‘We shall never be such fools as to call in an enemy to the substance of any system to remove its corruption, to supply its defects, or to perfect its construction.’ He likened it to asking an atheist to explain any religious tenets in need of further elucidation!

Sheer Ignorance

This nonsense is not confined to Australia. The most recent international example is the attempts to remove a statue of William Penn from a park in Pennsylvania.

In 1682, the English Quaker led his people to America, where he established Pennsylvania. An advocate of religious freedom, Penn was known for his amicable relations and successful treaties with the Lenape Native Americans who had resided in the region prior to European settlements in the state.

Located in Welcome Park, named after the ship that transported Penn to America, the area was the location of Penn’s original home. The operators of the site, the US National Park Service (NPS) proposed to include an ‘expanded interpretation of the Native American history of Philadelphia’ and a ‘more welcoming, accurate and inclusive experience for visitors.’ The proposal did not include any reference to Penn’s contributions to America.

When the proposal became known, and protests mounted, the NPS reversed its decision, claiming it had been a draft released prematurely!

The incident reveals the mindlessness of the invasion movement. Somehow, the statue of the leader of a persecuted religious group who forged a new existence for his people, and who has been praised for his enlightened relations with the native inhabitants is now to be torn down!

The reversal of the decision demonstrates the power of the majority when they exercise it. Ever since the result of the Voice, it has been clear that the advocates for the radical transformation of society are in a clear minority despite the barracking from the media and corporate executives. A recent poll indicated that two-thirds of people support the continued recognition of Australia Day on January 26th.

No country’s history is free from blemish, but the Australian story reveals a steady progress towards a just and humane society. Some of the greatest beneficiaries of this journey have been the original inhabitants. There is more to be done, but spare us the indulgence of the vandals who would tear down the Australian achievement.

This achievement is what my neighbour recognised when she made her comment. For three decades, that sentiment was expressed to me by the tens of thousands of people of various ethnic backgrounds that I represented in the parliament. They appreciated the efforts over generations to build an enterprising, just and humane society of which they were proud to be a part.


Originally published in The Spectator Australia. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons

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