Bloody hell. As you might recall, your humble correspondent has been banging on for some time about the horrors of the Brits refusing to give back the Gweagal Shield, the defensive weapon dropped by one of the two Indigenous warriors defending the shores of Botany Bay when Captain Cook fired a musket filled with small shot at him, to clear him out of the way.
This most iconic Australian treasure is now on display in the British Museum’s “Enlightenment Room” – no, really – not far from such globally revered treasures as the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, and one of the Easter Island statues. When I last visited, before the Plague, in early January it was in Cabinet 195, barely attracting a blink from passersby.
But agitation is growing to bring it home from those who do know how precious it is, lead by Indigenous activist Rodney Kelly, and supported by the likes of Labor MPs Matt Thistlethwaite and Linda Burney, the latter a Wiradjuri woman. In December the two politicians moved a motion in Federal Parliament noting that the 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing was approaching and calling on the government to “establish a process for the return of relevant cultural and historical artefacts to the original custodians and owners”.
Exactly! The Prime Minister is yet to throw his weight behind it despite his strong interest in Captain Cook, but this week came news that the British Museum itself has blinked. It has relabeled the shield.
The new labeling has it that: “James Cook sailed up the east coast in 1770, permanent British occupation began in 1788 with a ‘First Fleet’ of ships carrying convicts to establish a penal colony at present day Sydney”.
The change, according to a spokesperson for the British Museum is because curators “were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to finally address it”.
I protest on two grounds. First, “while permanent British occupation began in 1788” is a commendable step towards acknowledging what happened, it makes it sound as if we are still British now, which we ain’t. (Despite our flag, our system of constitutional monarchy and … trust me, don’t get me started.)
The second problem is, no matter what the label, the outrage is that they still have the shield! If you Brits are truly going to respect the Black Lives Matter movement, it must include respecting black lives impacted defending Australian shores, and restoring that which was clearly stolen.
If only we in Australia had someone in London to take up the cudgels for us, someone to represent our interests on such an important matter. No, not our Head of State. When push comes to shove, the Palace always puts Britain ahead of Australia, an obvious structural problem with the whole system for an independent nation.
No, I am thinking if only we had someone of the stature of a former prime minister, thundering up and down the corridors of Whitehall, and knocking heads together to bring the Gweagal Shield home. Think . .
Here’s an idea that will make Sydney’s Circular Quay really sing
And where were we? I remember! Back in 2015, the NSW government announced a $200 million upgrade of Circular Quay. Nothing solid has happened since, bar its recent request of the NSW public to make some suggestions. I have one! It is the same one I’ve previously floated, and everyone I’ve explained it to has embraced it. See, as pushed by well-known north shore dentist David Eyles, what you do is push the ferry wharves out by a 100 metres or so, and create a world-class square that would make Vienna’s Piazza San Marco weep with envy. That’s not a square. This, this is a square! Cafes on four sides, the Opera House within aria distance, old man Harbour Bridge a yodel away, Barangaroo smiling benignly on the lot. And get rid of the whole Cahill Expressway, one of the greatest scars on Sydney.
Joke of the Week
With thanks to Jimeoin, who told this on Channel Nine on Friday. This is the best Dad’s joke of the week, for this Father’s Day.
This drunk, see, goes into the library and, slurring his words says, “I’d like some fish and chipsh, pleashe.”
The librarian, appalled, hisses at him: “This is a library!”
The drunk gets it, and leans in close, whispering: “Sorry… I’d like some fish and chips, please.”
Thank you! He’s here till Thursday! Try the veal!
Tweet of the Week
“Who among us hasn’t lined up an easy putt and ended up shooting the caddie seven times in the back.” – TV producer Krister Johnson, after President Trump tried to explain on Fox News how a police officer managed to shoot the unarmed black man Jacob Blake, by saying “They [the officers] choke, just like in a golf tournament, they miss a 3-foot putt.”
Quotes of the Week
“I just find this appointment absolutely staggering. On a personal level, I am disgusted that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, leering, cantankerous, climate-change-denying, Trump-worshipping misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.” – Emily Thornberry, the British opposition’s trade spokeswoman.
“I am also asking you … to embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that’s what is at stake right now: our democracy … Any chance of success depends entirely on the outcome of this election. This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win.” – Barack Obama to the American people.
“If this increase goes ahead, I would expect wage growth to be even lower than it otherwise would be.” – Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe in favour of the government delaying the planned increase to automatic superannuation payments.
“Pigs. Might. Fly. That is the biggest bullshit argument I have ever heard.” – Former prime minister Kevin Rudd about Philip Lowe’s thoughts.
“Under the cowardly talk of the COVID crisis, they want to gyp ordinary people by 2 .5 per cent of their income for the rest of their life.” – Former prime minister Paul Keating, also in reply to Philip Lowe.
“We have often been asked since January 2015 to produce other caricatures of Muhammad. We have always refused to do so, not because it is forbidden – the law allows us to do so – but because there was a need for a good reason to do it; a reason which has meaning and which brings something to the debate. Reproducing these caricatures this week … seemed essential to us. All the reasons that could be opposed to us relate only to political or journalistic cowardice. Do we want to live in a country that prides itself on being a great, free and modern democracy, and which, at the same time, gives up on asserting its deepest convictions? For our part, it is out of the question.” – From an editorial in Charlie Hebdo, the French magazine attacked by terrorists during a deadly wave of assaults in Paris five years ago. The magazine is reprinting its controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on the eve of a major court case.
“Just as the way we treat our koalas is a reflection on how we respect the environment, the way we treat our heritage buildings reflects how we respect the past. It is vital we pull out all stops to not only protect habitat but also the structures that help us define who we are as Australians.” – NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean as the 150-hectare Mount Gilead estate, near Campbelltown, a 19th century colonial property that also contains significant evidence of prior occupation of the land by Aboriginal people, is heritage listed by the NSW government in an effort to further preserve the area’s unique koala population following the announcement of a conservation reserve nearby.
“We’re currently working with the NSW government to determine the future of the event for 2020.” – The City of Sydney council in a statement, on the New Year’s Eve fireworks.
“In a decade, am I really going to care if I went to two or three Olympics if I’ve got a child? Being an athlete is one of the most selfish things you can do. It’s all me, me, me. It’s time to think about others.” – Sprinter Melissa Breen, currently Australia’s fastest woman, about retiring at age 29 when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed.
“I found my way through the wheels. Coming from behind, it’s a bit of a risk, but I found my way along the barrier and I came with a lot of speed and it worked in the end.” – Australian rider Caleb Ewan on winning a sprint finish to win the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday. He reached 68.8km/h.
“So many people are working from home and they’re wanting coffee in the morning and they’re wanting lunch options as well, so that’s definitely gone up for us. We’ve found the support from our local community has been awesome . . . right now being in a residential area is a gold mine I think.” – Ashley Wilderink, owner of the Brothers Ben cafe in Petersham, saying that coffee sales during the week are up “a huge amount” compared with sales before the pandemic. Cafe spending in NSW is 18 per cent higher than the pre-crisis norm.
Peter FitzSimons is a journalist and columnist with The Sydney Morning Herald.