Bastards of our past

Townville’s new statue of Robert Towns has only been standing five minutes and it’s already covered in poo – and not a pigeon in sight, either.

And my money says there’ll be more to follow before the birds get their chance.

It was bound to happen. Got to hand it to the city council – it might be run by socialists but thank God they’re sensible socialists. If they were the politically correct kind we wouldn’t even be living in Townsville by now.

They would have erased the name because of the stigma of being associated with the man who brought South Sea Islanders to work in the cane fields.

‘Slave trade’, protestors called it when Cr Jack Wilson unveiled the Robert Towns statue this week. And yes… it probably was.

But how much does it matter?


Like Jack said: it’s history.

I have no problem if someone wants to develop a guided tour of Townsville called: Bastards of Our Past. I’m sure we’ve got plenty. And you don’t have to go back very far to find them. There were a few in the days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen whose names are still hanging around on parks and streets. Russ Hinze is one example.

I have a sneaking suspicion that people who get things done don’t so much just bend the rules as iron a crease into them. And history is written by the survivors.

If the Germans had won the war we’d have a Hitler Street instead of a Victoria Street.

But the point is – it’s who we are. We are the offspring (in all kinds of tangential ways, if not directly) of a bloke who might have tricked or forced whole societies of people from their homes to work the Queensland cane fields.

And if he didn’t, he probably knew a bloke who did.

But here we are. Now. Maybe we just need to move on.

That’s easy for me, I hear you say. I’m not a South Sea Islander.

True, but half my ancestors were Irish, and those that didn’t starve to death in Ireland under British rule were shipped out in large numbers by the British judiciary to — surprise, surprise — Australia. In 1672 more than 6000 Irish women and children were sold as slaves to Jamaica. I am writing to the British government insisting they remove all statues of Charles II, who was king at the time.

I have a friend who was shipped out from England by the Dr Barnardo’s orphanage authorities (may all their statues be dynamited!) and guess what – she’s glad!

She wasn’t at the time, but that was only 50 years ago and she’s been glad for the past 30 years. She wouldn’t go back if they gave her money.

Hands up everyone who wants to go back to the South Seas…

So what are we going to do? Erase from our history all the nasty pieces of work who did stuff we don’t like?

I hope not. We need to remember. We need to keep it in mind so we don’t do the same sad things again.

This is not to say that I am a fan of our Bob, or his new statue. I am not.

I went and had a look. He looks like a smug, supercilious bugger to me. I am quite ready to believe he would have sold his granny if he thought she could wield a cane knife. I would have liked a little less of the affluent superiority and little more of the weather-beaten battler.

It would be a lot easier to like an ancestor who created the city by the sweat of his brow than one who did it with money.