Australia Statues of colonial history attacked before national day

Australia: Statues of colonial history attacked before national day

Statues of James Cook and Queen Victoria celebrating Australia's British colonial past were damaged in Melbourne on Thursday, on the eve of the national holiday that has divided the country for several years.

In this South Australian city, a statue of the British explorer was torn down, cut open at the shins and its base covered with the words: “The colony will fall.”

Another statue depicting Queen Victoria, who ruled the British Empire, was painted red.

“This type of vandalism has no place in our community,” responded Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan.

The national holiday “Australia Day” takes place on January 26th every year. It is a public holiday and for most Australians it is often the occasion for a barbecue or a trip to the beach.

But the date, which commemorates the arrival of European settlers in Sydney Harbor in 1788, is increasingly controversial and has sparked heated debate. Some even renamed it “Invasion Day.”

While activists want colonial figures to be celebrated, others denounce the commemoration of abuses against Aboriginal people and a cultural genocide.

A majority of Australians are more nuanced and want to keep the holiday or even the name, but polls show they are more divided over the date.

“If we want a holiday, let's just change its name, but move Australia Day to a different date,” suggested 50-year-old Michelle Slater from Melbourne in an interview with AFP.

Cricket champion Pat Cummins, one of the country's most popular sports figures, also felt this week that a more inclusive date could be found.

“I love Australia. It is by far the best country in the world,” he said. “We must have a national holiday, but we can probably find a more appropriate day to celebrate it.”

In October, Australians voted in a referendum to reject a reform of Aboriginal rights that would recognize this minority in the constitution as the first inhabitants of the island continent and give them a special “voice” through an advisory council.

Aboriginal people make up less than 4% of Australia's 26 million population.