Captain Cook set for St Kilda return after council vote down proposed relocation

The recently toppled Captain Cook statue on St Kilda’s foreshore will be repaired and likely returned to Catani Gardens,after Port Phillip councillors rejected a motion to consult the community on its future.

The bronze sculpture wassawn off at the ankles on the eve of Australia Day by a group of unknown activists. The vandals spray-painted “the colony will fall” on its plinth and the statue was left behind.

A statue of Captain Cook,which was cut down in Melbourne,will be re-erected.

Port Phillip councillor Robbie Nyaguy moved a motion at Wednesday night’s council meeting requesting a public estimate of the cost of reinstating the statue.

Nyaguy,who amended an earlier motion to have the statue removed,proposed the sculpture be reinstated following community engagement on where it went and what historical context was provided alongside it.

After a heated exchange,the council rejected Nyaguy’s motion five votes to four. Mayor Heather Cunsolo reprimanded councillors multiple times for misconduct. The meeting was briefly paused while one man was ejected from the public gallery for repeatedly interjecting.

On Thursday morning,the mayor released a statement confirming the statue would be repaired.

Councillor Robbie Nyaguy.

Councillor Robbie Nyaguy.Wayne Taylor

“Although the notice of motion was not adopted,we are united as a council in sending a very clear message to vandals that they do not dictate which cultural public assets are allowed to stand in our city,” Cunsolo said.

“Council officers are continuing their work for the reinstatement including engagement with Heritage Victoria. We anticipate having a plan for the reinstatement in the next couple of weeks.”

Councillor Nyaguy,who recently told The Age a more appropriate location for the statue would be a museum,said during the debate about his motion at Wednesday’s council meeting that the point of statues like Captain Cook was to “elevate and celebrate a very specific part of history.”

“The story that I learned at school … is a story of Captain Cook innocently discovering an empty land and claiming it for the British Empire,and this foundation colonial myth is a bit hurtful,a bit damaging,” he said.

The Captain James Cook statue was defaced on the eve of Australia Day.

The Captain James Cook statue was defaced on the eve of Australia Day.AAP

“The challenge we now face is how we reflect upon this.”

Councillor Andrew Bond,who voted against Nyaguy’s motion,said the Boonwurrung Land and Sea Council,the area’s Traditional Owners,supported the statue’s reinstatement.

Bond read from a letter he said the council had received from Jason Briggs who represented the Boonwurrung council.

“The statue should be repaired and replaced back in Catani Gardens. To not reinstate the 110-year-old statue of Captain Cook would not only undermine the wider communities’ heritage but our first nation’s heritage as well,” he said.

Bond said the fact that the reinstatement of the statue was even being debated was a reflection of the demise of the Victorian education system.

The council was advised that the estimated $15,000 cost of repairing and reinstating the statue would likely be covered by insurance,excluding a $5000 excess. Community consultation on its future was expected to cost about $12,500.

Port Phillip chief executive officer Chris Carroll said the statue’s reinstatement would still be dependent on the council’s budget despite the majority support from councillors.

Memorials for Cook have recently become a focal point of Australia Day protests amid growing concern over what January 26 represents.

The St Kilda sculpture was doused in paint during a protest in 2022,and vandals poured paint over its head on January 25,2018.

Victorian Liberal MP Georgie Crozier called on Premier Jacinta Allan to honour an earlier commitment to “repair and reinstate the statue” in parliament this week.

A spokeswoman for Allan said the state would work with the council if it decided to reinstate the statue,but ultimately,the decision to reinstate it was one for council.

With Rachael Dexter

Alex Crowe is an education reporter. She joined The Age as a breaking news reporter in 2023.

Lachlan Abbott is a reporter at The Age.

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