Tuesday poem: The worst statue in Australia?

February 26, 2018

The worst statue in Australia?

In Cairns, there’s a Captain Cook.
Of course, you say, he’s everywhere,
a kind of cane toad, or rabbit,
with a nicer, powdery wig.
But, and do my eyes deceive me?
in Cairns he’s saluting.
A Nazi salute. But, you say
(again), James lived long before
the Nazis. And you’d be right.
Yet someone built this… ‘art’
long after the Nazis.
Someone placed it in front of
the Endeavour Inn, now gone.
Now Nazi Cook stands there,
all forlorn, ugly as Ugly’s ugly uncle,
giving his tireless salute.
The mind boggles. And yet, I say,
given the way his arrival
heralded attempted genocide,
maybe his inadvertent Nazi salute
makes a kind of sense?
This statue, which would last
ten minutes in Canberra
(that’s as in the place people live,
not the places politicians gather)
is just as grim as facts.
So perhaps this is the best statue
of Cook in Australia?
Not aesthetically, for it’s foul,
foul as a nightmare’s farts,
but historically?
I’m not the first to comment
on Cairns’s Nazi Cook.
And yet still he stands, gesturing,
truly obscene, seen on the way
to the Reef (the Frankland Islands
named by yes, you know who)
or back. You can’t see it
without the words ‘topple’
or ‘Aussie-mandias’ coming to mind.
Cairns’s Cook kicks pale mythology
quite out of decent bounds.
Unspeakably ugly, laughably gross,
and, it must be said, somewhat true.

PS Cottier

Nazi Cook

The Cairns Cook is aesthetically disgusting. At least one Indigenous artist, Munganbana Norman Miller, has taken action to address it, politically. (Note that the headline suggests that putting a ‘Sorry’ sign on the statue was vandalising it; I think that anything would improve this statue, apart from the fact that putting a sign on it is hardly vandalism. The article itself has a different tone.)

Seeing this thing made me realise that Australia really is a big place, politically. (‘Canberra vegan poet investigates Far North Queensland in one week stay!’) I have been trying to find a way to talk about it for a couple of months now, putting it in the context of debates about what we do with statues that are problematic. (That’s a link to an article by Paul Daley.)

You can read a little more about the building of this Cook statue here. That article says the gesture is copied from a painting of Cook ‘protecting’ Aborigines, which adds to the mix. There’s a much better photo there; mine was taken in a mini-bus in a state of shocked amusement. (But note that there’s a sign saying you can win a trip to Las Vegas under him, in my photo, and something about the Cock and Bull. Cook and Bull?)

Cairns, statue aside, is beautiful.

Thoughts? Carrots? Sticks? Comments? Go ahead!

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