Set in Stone?: Dialogical Memorialisation and the Beginnings of Australia’s Statue Wars

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Bruce Scates


Memorials to white explorers and pioneers long stood (virtually) unchallenged in the heart of Australia’s towns and cities. By occupying civic space, they served to legitimise narratives of conquest and dispossession, colonising minds in the same ways ‘settlers’ seized vast tracts of territory.  The focus of this article is a memorial raised to the memory of three white explorers, ‘murdered’ (it was claimed) by ‘treacherous natives’ on the north west frontier. It examines the ways that historians and the wider community took issue with this relic of the colonial past in one of the first encounters in Australia’s statue wars. The article explores the concept of ‘dialogical memorialisation’ examining the way that the meanings of racist memorials might be subverted and contested and argues that far from ‘erasing’ history attacks on such monuments constitute a reckoning with ‘difficult heritage’ and a painful and unresolved past. It addresses the question of whose voice in empowered in these debates, acknowledges the need for white, archival based history to respect and learn from Indigenous forms of knowledge and concludes that monuments expressing the racism of past generations can become platforms for truth telling and reconciliation.

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Articles Statue Wars (PEER REVIEWED)