Indigenous journalist Narelda Jacobs weighs in on debate about ‘racist’ statues being torn down


Indigenous journalist Narelda Jacobs has weighed in on the debate about the removal of ‘racist’ historical statues.

Appearing on The Project on Tuesday night, Jacobs was speaking about Hobart City Council’s decision to take down a statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Hobart’s premier.

Jacobs, 46, asked hosts Waleed Aly and Peter Helliar: ‘Who is that person and who is more worthy of being there?’ 

Indigenous journalist Narelda Jacobs has weighed in on the debate about the removal of ‘racist’ historical statues 

‘The scientific research that was conducted in those days is so upsetting,’ Jacobs added. 

‘There is an abundance of culture and an abundance of First Nations people in Lutruwita/Tasmania that is being celebrated now, as it should have been then.’

‘There are still the fish traps that are thousands and thousands of years old, you know?’ she added. 

‘When you talk about who is inferior or who is superior, just look at the things that are still standing. The middens, the evidence of a very sophisticated culture and way of life that was there in those days.

‘Then you look at a statue from the 1800s that was of a man who was premier for one year. And he pretty much built it himself, no one else was going to build it for William Crowther.’

Aly, Helliar and Stephens all agreed with Jacobs.

Monday night’s debate grew heated over the topic of removing the statue in Tasmania.

The Project co-host Steve Price argued everyday Aussies are happy to have historical figures honoured with statues and do not want to see history ‘erased.’

But Carrie Bickmore lashed out at the conservative commentator saying that learning about history means being able to make changes.

‘If they were erected by the public, perhaps that public at the time didn’t have all the information,’ she said.

Appearing on The Project on Tuesday night, Jacobs was speaking about Hobart City Council's decision to take down a statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Hobart's premier

Appearing on The Project on Tuesday night, Jacobs was speaking about Hobart City Council’s decision to take down a statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Hobart’s premier 

Price replied that ‘maybe they did have all the information and things have changed, times have changed’.

Comedian Helliar also chimed in on the controversial topic which has played in the US, UK and Europe as younger generations question whether statues of historical figures should remain if they are tarnished by racism or brutality.

‘It doesn’t erase the history at all,’ Helliar said.

‘It just means we’re not holding it up to be celebrated the way a statue invites you to do.’

Co-hosts of The Project Carrie Bickmore (left) and Steve Price (right) hold very different views on the removal of a controversial statue in Tasmania

Co-hosts of The Project Carrie Bickmore (left) and Steve Price (right) hold very different views on the removal of a controversial statue in Tasmania

A fired-up Price said: ‘I think agitators would have us rip down every statue of Captain Cook or get rid of every statue of Captain Phillip.’

He was referring to James Cook, who achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia, and Arthur Phillip, who was first governor of the Colony of New South Wales.

Aly said statues of historical figures are viewed is ‘a spectrum’.

‘The Crowther case is a particular one, because of what he is alleged to have done,’ he said.

The statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Tasmania's premier, will be torn down

The statue of William Crowther, who removed the skull of Aboriginal man William Lanne in 1869 and sent it to London nine years before he became Tasmania’s premier, will be torn down

‘I reckon there are people who would say that one should come down, Cook maybe is a different thing … I’d just be wary of saying you’re talking about monolithic views across the board.’

Price replied that he didn’t like ‘erasing history … I’m very uncomfortable about pulling statues down’. 

Hobart City Council on Monday night voted 7-4 to remove the statue from Franklin Square in the capital’s CBD after years of campaigning from Aboriginal groups.

The removal of the sculpture from Franklin Square, in Hobart’s CBD, will cost around $20,000 but there are also plans to move it somewhere else.

The bronze statue, erected in 1889, has long been contentious in Hobart.

Indigenous activists praised the decision to remove the statue of Mr Crowther, labelling it ‘racist’ and ‘barbaric’.

The council estimates it will cost a further $50,000 needed to install a new monument.

In 2021, an artist painted its head and hands red as part of a reimagining of the statue, symbolising the body part Mr Crowther removed and that he had ‘blood on his hands’ over the mutilation.

The proposal was outlined in a Hobart council report that claimed too many white men were memorialised in the city and that there would be more ‘removals’.

Council member Simon Behrakis attacked the plan as a ‘distraction with woke left wing issues over working on solving issues that actually affect the lives of Hobartians’.

A row has blown up over 'woke' plans to remove the statue of disgraced colonial Australian politician, William Crowther, who mutilated an Aboriginal man's dead body

A row has blown up over ‘woke’ plans to remove the statue of disgraced colonial Australian politician, William Crowther, who mutilated an Aboriginal man’s dead body

‘It’s important that we acknowledge all aspects of history, including the bad parts. That is not the same as sanitising or censoring history,’ he said in an earlier social media post about the statue.

Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chair Michael Mansell, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the William Crowther statue, said the plan to move it somewhere else was ‘illogical’.

‘If the reason you’re taking a statue down is because what the person did was so offensive, you couldn’t put it up in any other context because people will remember what that guy stood for,’ he said.

‘Cutting up dead bodies just because they are Aboriginal and treating them as fair game, (as) animals, it wouldn’t matter what good that person did, the scale of the atrocity stands out.’

Mr Mansell said any other statues with similarly ‘horrible histories’ should also be taken down.

William Lanne was regarded as Tasmania’s last ‘full-blooded’ Aboriginal man when he died from cholera and dysentery at 34.

In a gruesome piece of history, Mr Crowther broke into the morgue where Mr Lanne’s body lay, on behalf of London’s Royal College of Surgeons.

Mr Crowther ‘decapitated (Mr Lanne), sliced open his face and peeled off the skin, removing his skull and replacing it with the skull of a white man, stolen from another corpse in the morgue. He then stitched him back up, attempting to cover his crime.’

The move was condemned even back then.

Mr Lanne’s brain was put on show in an exhibition in London in 1912.

Mr Crowther was known as a naturalist and surgeon but his life was defined for his infamous actions in exhuming and mutilating bodies in the name of science.

William Lanne was thought to be the last 'full-blooded' Aboriginal when he died in  1869

William Lanne was thought to be the last ‘full-blooded’ Aboriginal when he died in  1869

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