My Day Our Plinth Will Come.

Edward Colston Statue Thrown Into The River

…..That’s the thought I had as a statue of a slave trader was chucked into Bristol harbour, Christopher Columbus was beheaded in Boston and confederates like Robert E Lee bit the dust all over America.

The empty plinth in Bristol city centre surrounded by protesters’ banners. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

After years of campaigning to remove white supremacists from our cityscapes, activists took direct action, and as a result, we’re now seeing a long overdue review of monuments. The statues of these mostly forgotten military men should be re-situated in museums which explain the horrors inflicted by colonialism and slavery upon indigenous populations around the world.

But after that, there’s going to be a lot of empty plinths up for grabs. And the question is – who should we elevate to fill them?

This topic is looming large in my mind because I unwittingly found myself caught up in the statue wars this week. Marooned in London by the corona crisis, I’ve been regularly meeting up with pals for cycles through the ghost town that was once Britain’s capital. Pootling around a peaceful Piccadilly Circus and gliding past an unpopulated St Pauls feels like falling into a fairy tale in which the whole realm has been put to sleep by a wicked witch’s spell.

I was insouciantly peddling around a deserted Buckingham Palace when I rounded a corner and ran straight smack bang into the middle of a far-right protest. It only struck me then how particularly camp my companion was looking in his tank top, ruched shorts and rainbow sunnies. I also now remembered that I was wearing my “This is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt. Oops.

The tattooed mob broke off from their “Eng-ger-land” chanting, Nazi salutes and smoke-bomb hurling to toss some beer bottle projectiles our way. A feminist and a gay guy – needless to say, this was not our natural habitat. We skedaddled out of Parliament Square as though racing towards the finishing line of the Tour de France. Hell, my feet were peddling so fast I think I must have injected Lance Armstrong’s steroids.

These shaved-headed extremists were rallying in retaliation against the racial reckoning demanded by #BlackLivesMatters protesters. Similar discussions are going on all across Australia about imperial iconography which glorifies colonialism and genocide.

Nobody can deny that history is just that – his story – the story of the pale male. People of colour are all too often photo-shopped out of the cultural narrative. University syllabuses, school curriculums, book prizes, film festivals, gallery collections – are all traditionally selected by white blokes; blokes who suffer not just from racial but also sexual Alzheimer’s.

Because not only are black and ethnic minority activists missing from our plinths, so are our heroines, especially women of colour. The patriarchy is inclined to put women under a pedestal rather than on top of one. I knew there are more statues in Britain of men called ‘John’ that there are of females. But, what about Australia? As one of the first countries in the world to give women the vote, surely my own country had broken through the sandstone ceiling?

The reality is that Australia boasts more statues of fruit and animals than of women or indigenous people. Dogs, horses, sheep…Adelaide’s Rundle mall even displays a whole litter of swine. So, when we’re not venerating chauvinist pigs, it’s the four-legged version hogging the limelight. Even fruit is deemed more worthy of respect. Giant strawberries, bananas and pineapples bestrew the land. Only three per cent of public statues in Australia honour non-fictional, non-royal females, and far fewer venerate indigenous women.

According to Trip Adviser, in Australia’s top monuments, the only woman is represented by a piece of furniture, in the form of Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Her first name isn’t even mentioned, only her marital status – and the seat is empty.

With so many plinths soon to be vacated, surely it’s time we celebrated Australian women, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, who have changed our world for the better, through literature, science, activism, invention, art, music and mischief. Women who stirred things up, dared to be different, blew raspberries at the Establishment and stood up against injustice. It’s time we raised them up in the public consciousness – literally – by placing those badass sheilas of Aussie history high on a pedestal.

So, who would you like to look up to?

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