By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
A man has been charged with wilfully damaging or defacing a protected place after he allegedly urinated on a statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park.
According to a statement released by NSW Police, the incident occurred on 6 August 2020 when three men visited Hyde Park.
Just after 11pm, one of the men – a 21-year-old from Collaroy Plateau in Sydney’s north – allegedly urinated on the statue.
Police advise he was also breaching bail at the time he carried out the act.
Officers arrested the man and took him to Day St police station where he was charged.
He was refused bail.
The Captain Cook statue in Hyde Park, Sydney, commemorates the explorer, who chartered and claimed the east coast of Australia for the British Empire in 1770.
The statue stands on a large, cylindrical granite shaft and tiered granite base, that were bought from a quarry at Moruya in 1878.
The monument faces towards Sydney Heads, while Captain Cook is shown holding a telescope in his left hand, and pointing his right hand skywards.
On 26 February 1879, the colossal figure – erected by public subscription and supplemented by government grants – was unveiled in a ceremony attended by around 60,000 people, while 12,000 joined the procession and 200 children sang the National Anthem.
The procession comprised of marines, volunteers, and societies, and was the largest ever witnessed in Sydney.
According to reports from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW), the Governor at the time, Sir Hercules Robinson, unveiled the statue, and in doing so, made a speech in which he recounted Captain Cook’s life.
Sir Hercules Robinson characterised the explorer as a humane, just, and God-fearing man.
To his narrative, he added that it would be well for the youth of Australia to imitate the nobility of character.
Not the First Time Captain Cook Statue Damaged: Public Attention Turns to Defacing Monuments Linked to Slavery and Racism Amid “Black Lives Matter” Protests
In recent months, as communities around the world unite in grief and rage to protest against police brutality and racism amid Black Lives Matter protests following the death of African American man George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, so too has the attention turned to damaging and defacing monuments associated with slavery and racism.
In fact, in June 2020, a protest linked to the Black Lives Matter movement saw tense scenes in Hyde Park as police formed a barrier around the Captain Cook statue in an attempt to dissuade those campaigning from attacking the monument.
About 600 police officers were involved in the operation, many of them seen guarding the statue.
Just days later, two women, aged 27 and 28, allegedly defaced and damaged the statue.
NSW Police were alerted to the alleged vandalism and arrested the women on a street near Hyde Park.
While it is unclear how the statue was defaced, they were found with a bag containing a number of spray cans.
The pair was charged with destroy or damage property and possession of graffiti implements.
Following the incident, police said they would continue to patrol the area over concerns about protests against historical statues.
Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison has assured that Captain Cook was no slave trader, many people still believe the statues serve as a bleak and callous reminder of the ongoing mistreatment of black communities.
What is a “Protected Place” in NSW?
In NSW, as outlined in section 8 of the Summary Offences Act 1988, a “protected place” is understood as a shrine, monument or statue located in a public place, and (without limitation) includes a war memorial or an interment site.
Along with the statue of Captain Cook in Hyde Park, other examples of protected places in Sydney include the Anzac Memorial, also in Hyde Park, the monument of Queen Victoria at the Queen Victoria Building in Town Hall, and the Martin Place Cenotaph – which has also been the target of multiple defacing acts.
In NSW, it is an offence to damage or desecrate a protected place.
This is reflected again in section 8 of the Summary Offences Act 1988, which makes clear that a person is prohibited from vandalising, damaging or defiling any shrine, statue or memorial that is situated in a public area.
This includes urinating on, or in some other way tainting, a public monument.
If a person wilfully damages or defaces any protected place, the maximum penalty they can face is a fine of $4,400and a criminal conviction.
Furthermore, as per section 8, a person must not commit any nuisance or any offensive or indecent act in, on or in connection with any war memorial or interment site.
A breach of this carries a maximum penalty of $2,200.