On Wednesday this week, students will be re-launching the #WentworthMustFall campaign which demands that the Wentworth Building at USyd be renamed and that statues of Wentworth be removed from campus.
William Wentworth is a colonial figure who is best known at USyd for his role in founding the University. The building bearing his name – the Wentworth Building – currently houses the Students’ Representative Council, AIME Mentoring, and several University of Sydney Union-run facilities.
Wentworth’s broader notability comes from his “discovery” of a crossing through the Blue Mountains, most likely by exploiting an Aboriginal guide which was commonplace practice for explorers. Wiradjuri, Gundungara, and Dharug people had been using the same crossing for tens of thousands of years, and they had even previously been used by other white people.
The route over the Blue Mountains precipitated an explosion of pastoral settlement into Aboriginal land, which in turn led to a series of brutal frontier wars that would last more than half a century.
On 10 June 1838, the Myall Creek Massacre occurred where around 10 stockmen murdered 28 Gamilaraay people at Myall Creek in north-western NSW. The approximately 28 people they murdered were largely women, children and old men. Children had been beheaded while the men and women were forced to run as far as they could between the stockyard fence and a line of sword-wielding stockmen who hacked at them as they passed. Their headless bodies were later cast into a large fire. Testimony was later given at trial that a women was allowed to run with blood spurting out of her cut throat. She was then thrown alive onto the fire. Her infant child was thrown alive onto the fire. Two young girls were raped and kept as sex slaves by the gang.
At trial, four participants were identified by an Aboriginal witness, but the law of the time did not allow Aboriginal people to give testimony in court. To rectify this and allow the white men to be tried, a bill was introduced to the Legislative Council. However, it was defeated after Wentworth gave a speech describing Aboriginal people as “wild men” and comparing their testimony to “the chatterings of the orang-utangs.” At many other points in his legal and political career, Wentworth vociferously argued against Aboriginal people’s right to justice and expressed a hateful bigotry against them, providing a legal cover for the brutal dispossession and genocide occurring in the state at the time.
This campaign is about more than Wentworth, it is about decolonising our university and our education. We must challenge our own complicity in the ongoing colonial oppression of Indigenous people. Decolonisation demands an Indigenous framework and the centering of Indigenous land, Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous ways of thinking.
For students that like Turnbull compare the renaming of buildings and the removal of statues with Stalinism… how much more intellectually bankrupt can you get? Not only is it particularly bizzare given the actual removal of statues of Stalin in the former Soviet Union, but statues are not textbooks. They are not attempts to tell a neutral perspective on events that occured. We build them to support a particular narrative that suits a specific ideological agenda.
When colonial statues were built to honour Captain Cook it is a celebration of white invasion and reinforces the idea that Australia was an empty landscape settled by white visionaries who deserve to be lauded. It also reinforces a specific vision of what Australia is and who Australia is for. It is much easier to persist with policies that enact racist policing against Aboriginal people and rob them of their land if your idea of Australia is a country built by white people for white people.
We call upon the University of Sydney to decolonise their buildings, practices and teaching. We call upon this institution to remove the statues of William Wentworth, remove his name from the building on City Road, and consult with local Indigenous communities on finding a replacement name.
Come visit us this Wednesday on Eastern Avenue and learn how you can get involved with the #WentworthMustFall campaign.
Feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any concerns or wish to get involved with the SRC. If you are experiencing any academic, personal or legal issues and wish to seek the advice of an SRC caseworker or solicitor, contact us at 9660 5222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.