Indigenous artists and activists are furious at a lack of representation in Sydney’s public art landscape with the 25 statues honouring British colonists but not one celebrating First Nations historical figures.
Among the publicly-funded statues of colonial figures celebrated across the city are Captain Cook, Governor Arthur Philip, Queen Victoria and her dog, Lachlan Macquarie and explorer Matthew Flinders with his pet cat Trim.
Yet there is not a single statue on public land commemorating a First Nations person.
Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council deputy chair and Wiradjuri woman Yvonne Weldon said tourists would be forgiven for thinking there was nobody in Australia before the British.
There are 25 publicly funded statues of colonial figures in Sydney’s CBD including Captain Cook (left), in Hyde Park, and Matthew Flinders with his cat Trim (right), on Macquarie St
Cr Weldon, who is also an independent City of Sydney councillor, has campaigned for a statue to commemorate Indigenous historical figure Patyegarang for her role in preserving the Gadigal language – a proposal the council has rejected twice.
The 15-year-old Gamaraigal woman formed a strong bond with First Fleet naval officer Lieutenant William Dawes, sharing with him cultural knowledge and the language of her people.
Lieutenant Dawes wrote down their conversations in a notebook, which is recognised as the earliest recorded first-hand account of the Gadigal language.
Cr Weldon told Daily Mail Australia she was ‘shocked and heartbroken’ the proposed statue of Patyegarang was opposed and claimed the city wants to hide First Nations history instead of promote it.
‘You have so much of history being represented in a non-First Nation sense and it’s disappointing,’ Cr Weldon said.
‘To have Patyegarang represented, what she gave was a gift of the Sydney language, and it’s used today. It’s practised on lots of sites, and often in speeches.
‘Dawes Point is named after him [Lieutenant Dawes] and he’s referred to in history. Whereas Patyegarang is more of an afterthought. As a young Gadigal woman that risked so much of her people’s lives, her life should be represented.
‘She should be standing in a statue because her story is important, it was back then and it’s important now and it should be important into the future.’
Despite the role played by Indigenous historical figures in the first decades of European settlement, there are no statues commemorating First Nations people on public land in Sydney (pictured are statues of Queen Victoria, left, and her dog, right, at the Queen Victoria Building)
Cr Weldon, who was the first Aboriginal councillor in the city’s 180-year history, claimed the City of Sydney ‘cherry-picked’ answers before rejecting her proposal.
‘They shopped around to get the answers that they wanted to hear rather than what they’ve been told,’ she said.
‘I put it up to have a statue commemorating Patyegarang and Mayor Clover Moore used her casting vote to vote her down. She feels that was her right.
‘The city’s her domain as Lord Mayor and my views are probably not as valid as hers, I think probably in her eyes.’
The City of Sydney instead erected Waanyi artist Judy Watson’s sculpture ‘bara’ – a traditional fish hook crafted and used by Gadigal women for thousands of years.
This statue of Indigenous rights campaigner Mum Shirl is located at the St Vincent de Paul Church in Redfern – however, it was privately commissioned and sits on church land
Cr Weldon said the installation, although beautiful, does not have the same effect as a statue.
‘It might not inspire a young Aboriginal person in the same way that a statue of someone who bears their resemblance would,’ Cr Weldon said.
‘My people are here and we have always been here. But visitors don’t see that, they just see fishhooks, traditional art and other symbols.
‘If you don’t have statues representing First Nations people then we become figments of people’s imagination, which we are definitely not.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Lord Mayor Clover Moore for comment.
One exception in Sydney is the statue of Indigenous rights campaigner Mum Shirl at the St Vincent de Paul Church in Redfern.
However, that statue was privately commissioned and sits out-of-sight on land owned by the Catholic Church.
Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council deputy chair Yvonne Weldon (pictured) actively campaigned for a statue to commemorate 15-year-old Gamaraigal woman Patyegarang
Cr Weldon said Lord Mayor Clover Moore (pictured) has rejected the proposal for a statue of Patyegarang on two occasions
Sydney mural artist Tim Guider told Daily Mail Australia the City of Sydney forced him to ‘jump through hoops’ to get approval for a site to paint murals of First Nations people.
Mr Guider removed his mural in the inner west suburb of Petersham, which depicted a young Indigenous Australian being held in detention, to make way for Australia’s first public art depiction of Bennelong and Barangaroo.
‘It was sad to remove a mural but it was the only way I could do it because if I applied, the answer would have been no,’ he said.
‘Bennelong and Barangaroo are well worth admiring and I think we should be admiring them above those English people that came.
‘I want to see those faces on walls for people to go “wow, who is that”, and for Aboriginal people, to look and feel proud that they came from those ancestors.’
Husband and wife and leaders of the Eora people, Bennelong and Barangaroo were communicators and mediators between their people and the British in the late 18th and early 19th century.
Sydney mural artist Tim Guider painted the first public art depicting husband and wife and leaders of the Eora people, Bennelong and Barangaroo, in western Sydney suburb Petersham
Bronze statue busts of the couple were unveiled in 2021 but are situated on private land, framing the door at St Patrick’s Catholic Church in The Rocks.
Mr Guider’s mural, titled ‘Our Original Heroes’, features portraits of Bennelong and Barangaroo separated by spirit hands painted by Indigenous artist Frank Wright.
Mr Guider said the title was a play on the words as the Latin prefix ‘ab’ which means ‘away from’ or ‘not’, giving the word Aboriginal the meaning of ‘not original’.
‘I don’t think our government is deliberately suppressing Aboriginal people today but they have taken away their ability to admire past ancestors,’ he said.
‘If you don’t allow a race of people to have their own heroes of the past they’re going to feel like second class citizens.
‘This mural, in essence, for me is about that missing part of our culture, and I am doing all I can do to preserve it and the government can’t stop me.’
Mr Guider’s (left) mural, titled ‘Our Original Heroes’, features portraits of Bennelong and Barangaroo separated by spirit hands painted by Indigenous artist Frank Wright (right)
Mr Guider wants to repeat these heroic images around Sydney and in cities across the country and hopes Australian companies will sponsor his work.
Thousands of people are set to march in Invasion Day rallies across the country on January 26.
In recent years, statues of colonial figures were vandalised during Invasion Day rallies and Black Lives Matter protests.
This year, protesters will rally against the federal government’s plan for a national vote on introducing an advisory body for Aboriginal affairs into the constitution.
Australians will likely be able to vote on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum as early as August.
Cr Weldon said the referendum was a positive ‘start’ but not the solution to deeper issues including the erasure from the public domain of First Nations history and cultural perspectives.
The Captain Cook monument in St Kilda, Melbourne ‘s southeast, was vandalised with red paint during Invasion Day protests in 2022