SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian Government is planning a new monument to commemorate the April 29 anniversary of the day that British explorer Lieutenant James Cook made landfall on the continent for the first time in 1770.
The feature is to be built at the Botany Bay landing site where crew members of the British ship Endeavour first met Aboriginal people, changing the course of the nation’s history, in time for the 250th anniversary, in 2020.
Not everyone is happy about the Cook memorial in the Pacific nation which has seen recent conflict over whether commemorating the English colonialists is offensive to the country’s indigenous people.
Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison stressed that the monument would be inclusive as they launched the memorial’s plan for community consultation on Saturday, saying the site marked a meeting of two cultures.
“This was the first encounter between Europeans and Aboriginal Australians here on the East Coast,” Turnbull said.
“What this offers us is the opportunity to show the view from the ship and the view from the shore.”
Pastor Ray Minniecon, an Aboriginal activist who has helped to organize “Invasion Day” protests on Australia Day, said it was upsetting.
“It’s still an invasion and it’s still an unwanted invasion,” he told Reuters by telephone on Sunday
Cook, best known by his later title as Captain Cook, claimed Australia as a British territory on Aug. 22, 1770, at Possession Island.
British colonization brought Australia into the modern world with a successful economy, new technology, an independent judiciary, a democratic parliament and a documented land-ownership system; but it also dispossessed the tribal first Australian people of their sovereignty.
Australia has had protests in recent years over its colonial past, similar to the furor over Confederate monuments in the United States.
A complaint was made last year over a Captain Cook statue erected in 1879 in Australia’s largest city Sydney, because the engraving on the monument’s base says: “Discovered this territory, 1770”.
Aboriginal people had lived on the continent for an estimated 60,000 years before Cook dropped anchor in Botany Bay.
The statue was vandalized along with those of other prominent early British settlers such as Lachlan Macquarie, the fifth governor of New South Wales.
The prime minister said at the time that calls to replace or modify statues of English colonists, including Captain Cook, were tantamount to a “Stalinist” rewrite of history.
Reporting by Alison Bevege