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Council urges Govt to outlaw "trendy" statue toppling

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Adelaide City Council wants to ban itself from modifying or removing statues under its control, after a councillor warned that comments by visiting UK-based human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC could portend a “trendy” and “Stalinist” future.

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South Ward councillor Alex Antic said he was worried by comments Robertson had made during a recent visit to Adelaide, to the effect that Colonel William Light’s statue on Montefiore Hill should be removed.

“During that lecture he (Robertson) said – this was in relation to our beloved statue of Colonel Light … ‘he’s a thief (and that) he robbed the Aborigines of the right to land’.”

“That is just an outrageous thing for someone to turn up in our city and say.

“This man has come in and made this ambit and historically inaccurate (… claim) in our city.”

Antic warned that a kind of “cultural revisionism” was “trendy” and that Adelaide’s statues and monuments had to be protected from it.

“This is a very trendy thing at the moment, in the US in particular, this kind of cultural revisionism, whereby people will turn up to a city, point a finger at pretty much everyone, like the days of McCarthyism, and suggest that whatever deeds they (performed) should be burned from our collective psyche by virtue of (removing) our statues,” Antic told the meeting.

“It’s the sort of stuff that Stalinists used to do.

“It’s nothing more than re-writing history.”

No current city councillor advocated removing Light’s Vision or changing its inscription, and more than one questioned the relevance of Robertson’s views on the subject.

The Adelaide City Council is responsible for the maintenance and placement of statues and monuments in the CBD and North Adelaide.

However, a majority of elected members voted to instruct Lord Mayor Martin Haese to write to the State Government, urging it to introduce legislation to “protect the location and inscriptions of statues and monuments within the City of Adelaide (and beyond)”.

Antic acknowledged that many of the city’s statues and monuments were already protected under heritage law, but “from my point of view, it would be a crying shame at some point now or in the future, for one of these statues or its inscription was changed to justify the social justice conscience of some fly-in who decided they wanted to have a say about our culture and our history.”

Central Ward councillor Megan Hender argued that none of the city’s statues were under threat, and “nobody actually cared” what Robertson thought about them.

“I was actually going to support this until I heard Councillor Antic’s explanation,” she told the chamber, laughing.

“I don’t think it’s a pressing matter, I don’t think any of our statues are under threat.

“If it becomes an issue we can address the issue, when it becomes an issue.”

She argued, however, that society’s values change over time and that future councils should not be constrained from altering or moving statues.

Antic’s motion also “affirms support for the protection of all the statues and monuments within the City of Adelaide – other than those already protected under relevant Heritage and Development legislation – including but not limited to the preservation of both their locations and inscriptions”.

During the meeting, council CEO Mark Goldstone said he did not believe the motion would prevent the council from moving statues into storage, if necessary.

North Ward councillor Sue Clearihan, who described herself as an admirer of the city’s cultural history and its monuments, told the chamber: “It really worries me that we would hand over control over what happens to our statues and memorials to the State Government, when they’re actually our responsibility”.

“We do hand the baton on, but I say keep it with Adelaide City Council and don’t hand it over to the State Government.

“We’re just probably overreacting to this.”

Area councillor Anne Moran said that while she did not believe any of Adelaide’s statues were in danger of being interpreted in the way that statues of Confederate leaders in the United States had been, she was happy for heritage protections to be reinforced.

Several US municipalities removed monuments and memorials on public property dedicated to the Confederate States of America in the wake of the Charleston church shooting in June 2015.

Antic reportedly argued last year that the “poorly endowed” statue of Hercules in Pennington Gardens should be moved to a more prominent location.

A spokesperson for Planning Minister John Rau told InDaily: “The Minister will consider the Lord Mayor’s correspondence when he receives it.”

InDaily attempted to contact Robertson for comment.

Robertson is a dual Australian-British citizen who is based in London.

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