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Sydney Council's rejection of Patyegarang statue labelled 'atrocious'

From Captain Cook, Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria and her dog, there are 25 statues of colonial figures in Sydney's CBD. Yet there's not a single statue commemorating an Aboriginal person.

The City of Sydney Council has rejected an Indigenous councillor’s calls for a statue to commemorate Patyegarang at Dawes Point.
On Monday evening, councillors along with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore rejected calls from Councillor Yvonne Weldon to erect a statue as soon as possible.

Whilst the city is committed to installing public art at Dawes Point, the wait is on to see if it'll include statue of Patyegarang.
Fifteen-year-old Gamaraigal woman Patyegarang is recognised as the first ‘teacher’ of language.

She formed a strong bond with Lieutenant William Dawes, a First Fleet naval officer. The pair spent time together at Dawes Point, where Patyegarang shared knowledge and language with the Lieutenant.

Dawes recorded their conversations in his notebooks, which are now recognised as the earliest recorded, first-hand accounts of Gadigal language.

Traditional Owners want input

This is the second time the City of Sydney has opposed the installation of a statue commemorating Patyegarang at Dawes Point.

The statue was first considered in June 2020, when a motion for the erection of a statue was put forward by Councilor Kerryn Phelps.

It was recommended that Council work with local Aboriginal groups, including the MLALC to “identify potential options to commission a public artwork commemorating Patyegarang”.

Council later rejected the motion.

Despite the recommendation to work with local Aboriginal groups, Traditional Owners say they've yet to be involved.

Gadhungal man and Traditional Owner, Michael Ingrey said it is “really disappointing” to see Traditional Owners being excluded in conversations of commemoration.

“Deciding which one of our ancestors is commemorated on our Traditional Country should be a matter for Aboriginal people with a traditional connection to Coastal Sydney," said Mr Ingrey.

“I hope that the City of Sydney Council demonstrates some leadership on this issue and engages meaningfully with the large group of Coastal Sydney Traditional Owners which have been identified as part of the Kamay Botany Bay Aboriginal Owners Investigation.”

'Insulting' and 'atrocious'

Wiradjuri woman and City of Sydney Councillor Yvonne Weldon told NITV News the Lord Mayor's opposition to the statue was "atrocious".
"The thing that I find it so insulting is that the Lord Mayor used her casting vote to vote against a statue," she said.

Ms Weldon said the Mayor's decision counteracted her commitment to addressing Aboriginal issues. 

"I thought if she was saying that she's doing all these wonderful things and committing to Aboriginal issues and people, then why not start with a statue in the city that has none."
When the statue was first proposed in 2020, Council recognised that there were only “four statues nationally representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

With 25 publicly funded statues of colonists, including Captain Cook, Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria, Matthew Flinders and his cat, instead being positioned in Sydney’s CBD.

'We are here'

Lord Mayor Clover Moore told NITV in a statement that in 2019 the Council committed to “a major public artwork commemorating Patyegarang at Ta-ra (Dawes Point)”.

“Funding for the work was included in this year’s City budget, which was passed unanimously by all Councillors,” she said.

“What form that commemoration takes has not yet been determined by the City’s curatorial team – it may be a statue, a monument, or some other art form.”

She said that the City is consulting a “broad range of Indigenous voices” to ensure that the memorial “reflects the community’s wishes”.

Ms Weldon said public art does not have the impact reserved for statues.

"Patyegarang is the first step," she said.

"I'm sick of people thinking we're figments of people's imaginations. We are here, we have always been here but they don't see that. They see fishhooks, art and symbolic things. 

"The viewpoint needs to change so that we appear as real people."

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