Australian colonial statue toppled before historic ruling

Vandals toppled a colonial-era statue of Australia’s former prime minister, mutilating the body of an Aboriginal man before it had to be removed.

Wednesday’s decision confirmed a major decision to permanently demolish William Crowther’s monument in Tasmania. This ends years of controversy.

But a few hours before that, ruling protesters cut down the structure, sawing off its legs.

The graffiti was then left on a pedestal with the words “what goes around” and “decolonize”.

Crowther is accused of cutting off and stealing the skull of Tasmanian Aboriginal leader William Lanne, known as “King Billy”. His body was dismembered and used for scientific research after his death in 1869.

Crowther is said to have swapped the skull for another body in an attempt to cover up his actions. It is believed that Lanne’s skull was then taken to the Royal College of Science in London.

First Nations supporters have long campaigned to remove the statue, which has been in Hobart’s Franklin Square since 1889, saying it is a symbol of violence.

And for the first time in Australia, a city council decided to do just that in 2022 – triggering a lengthy legacy petition that has now been resolved.

Hobart Mayor Anna Reynolds said she was “incredibly disappointed” to learn the statue was targeted “before the decision was made public”.

“This is a very important decision for Hobart’s commitment to telling the truth … about our colonial history,” he told a news conference.

“We strongly condemn vandalism – it does not build bridges or create goodwill,” he added.

According to local authorities, an investigation into the damage to the statue is currently underway.

In a statement, the council said it plans to commission new works to replace the Crowther monument, which will “tell a wider and truer story” about the city’s past.

In the meantime, a temporary marker will be installed to give a “deeper insight” into the activities and influence of William Crowther and his treatment of Aboriginal remains.

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