Mehan gathered about 5,000 signatures for a petition asking for the statue to be removed when the Black Lives Matter movement kicked off in 2020. She also campaigned against a mooted new statue of Governor Lachlan Macquarie for his role in ordering massacres.
Now, some community members have renewed pressure against Barton’s statue, hoping to force the Port Macquarie Hastings Council to vote on the issue.
The Council’s former Cultural Development Officer, Janet Cohen, who oversaw the Barton Memorial Project in 1999-2001, has written a discussion paper, which is now circulating among members of the Council’s Aboriginal Advisory Group. The paper obtained by the Heraldwill be submitted at the next meeting of the group to vote on a recommendation to the board.
The paper suggests that the courthouse could be a better location for the statue, as Barton also served as a Supreme Court judge. Another option was to keep the statue in place but add interpretive signage.
The paper also discusses how to rectify the fact that the only acknowledgment for the Birrbay/Birpai people was a “modest plaque” in a garden bed near Barton’s statue.
Hastings-Macleay Mayor Peta Pinson, who previously opposed the statue’s removal, said the statue was installed in 2001 with community support and sponsorship from local businesses, but “much had changed” since then.
“As the mayor of a diverse and growing community, I recognize that we still have a long way to go in understanding the many layers and perspectives,” Pinson said. “I am curious about the opinion of the municipality.”
The Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council did not respond to requests for comment.
Since the assassination of George Floyd in the United States in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, dozens of statues around the world have been toppled by protesters or removed by authorities.
Targets include slave traders such as Edward Colston in Britain, King Leopold II of Belgium who led an exploitative and violent colonialist regime in the Congo, and Confederate figures in the United States. Statues have been vandalized in Australia, such as Captain James Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
The NSW government recently renamed Ben Boyd National Park on the south coast as Beowa National Park, because Boyd was involved in blackbird hunting, kidnapping Pacific islanders and using them for forced labor. This is now recognized as slavery.
The Mixed Legacy of Australia’s First Prime Minister
- Edmund Barton pushed for federation in the 1890s, helped write the Australian Constitution and became the first Prime Minister in 1901.
- The constitution specified that “indigenous natives” would not be counted in the population and gave the states power over them.
- The new parliament passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or White Australia policy. Barton’s speech said non-white races were “unequal and inferior”.
- His government gave non-Indigenous women the right to vote and run for parliament in 1902.
- He founded the public service and defense force and later was a judge on the Supreme Court.