SYDNEY, June 14 (Reuters) – Australian police said they arrested two women after a statute of British explorer James Cook, captain of the first Western ship to reach the east coast of Australia, was defaced early on Sunday in Sydney.
New South Wales police were alerted to graffiti on Cook’s statue in Hyde Park in the central district of Australia’s largest city just after 4 a.m. (2000 GMT on Saturday) before the two women in their late 20s were arrested.
The women were found with a bag containing a number of spray-paint cans, the police said in a statement. They were refused bail and will be charged with the destroying and damaging property, it said.
Anti-racism protesters, who have taken to the streets following the death of African American George Floyd in police custody, are demanding that the legacies of some of the architects of Europe’s empire building be revisited and their statues be torn down.
From Cecil Rhodes in England to Christopher Columbus in the United States and King Leopold II in Belgium, statues of empire builders have been under attack in recent weeks around the world, sometimes from the descendants of those they once colonised.
Cook’s statute was promptly cleaned by Sydney council workers on Sunday morning, a police spokeswoman said.
Police in the neighbouring state of Victoria are also investigating the weekend defacing of the statues of two former Australian prime ministers at a Ballarat park.
In New Zealand, thousands marched the streets of Auckland and Wellington chanting, “I can’t breathe” – a phrase the handcuffed Floyd repeated before dying as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protesters in Auckland carried Black Lives Matter signs and marched through the city’s central district towards the U.S. consulate, chanting “Shame”, while Maori community members danced outside the building, the news website Stuff reported.