Kate Golding, 'Unlearning Cook, Part Three', 2016. 16 fixed lumen prints, 81 x 102cm. From the series 'Unlearning Cook'.

Kate Golding, 'Unlearning Cook, Part Three', 2016. 16 fixed lumen prints, 81 x 102cm. From the series 'Unlearning Cook'.

Colonial Ruins on Bleached Margin


An essay by Tristen Harwood—an Indigenous writer, cultural critic and independent researcher—accompanies Kate Golding's PHOTO 2021 Commission Near This Spot.

“You can’t photograph a memory, but you can photograph a ruin” [1] begins Nathalie Léger as she describes the burning of the Tuileries Palace—a Parisian imperial palace—in her short book Exposition (2019). It’s a phrase I keep returning to as I think about colonial monuments. Image and text are the primary mode through which monuments like the Cook statue at Euro-Yroke (St Kilda) are encountered, always at a distance. Local history, identity, geology are overwritten by the statue, local residents are only incidental audiences. I’m interested in how the photograph changes, shifts, reflects and amplifies the power of such monuments. The Tuileries was burned because it had been home to the Monarchy, it was a symbol of their power, and for twelve years after it was burned its “ruins remained, right in the middle of the city” of Paris. No photograph can capture the experience of imperialists and revolutionaries at that time. Yet, in the image of the ruin, it is myopic power and not history that is destroyed.


So, I begin with the suggestion that colonial monuments are, quite simply, ruins. The power they symbolise and are mechanisms of, the power to occupy and destroy Indigenous land, positions them as monuments to the imposition of ‘civilisation’, which is underscored by the ruination of Indigenous sociocultural structures.


‘When one [the One and not the Other] says civilization, the immediate implication is a will to civilize’, [2] writes Édouard Glissant in The Poetics of Relation. Quite simply, civilisation is an operation of colonialism. It is the devastating determination to impose civilization on a territory, its Indigenous inhabitants. In the ‘Australian’ context it’s summed-up in the word ‘Australia’ and the act of settlement (programmatic murder and plunder), the coincident concealment and rejection of the lineage inscribed in the land and by necessity of the land itself.


The settlement & settler does not establish its or their sovereign (ill)legitimacy in community with and within territory, but in a rational and paralegal scrutiny, which suspects, corrects, contains, corrupts, destroys regulates, and assimilates the territory and its inhabitants to civilisation’s chronology.


In this sense, the colonial monument is a marker of time in space. The bronze figure of Cook at St Kilda, materially analogous to a bell, announces itself in effacive echoes, echoes resounding the settler claim on land. The monument instantiates civilising chronology. The settler’s predicament is an identity forever underscored with identification with civilization that is, Indigenous erasure, which precedes and predicts the nation.


Freedom to explore is a violation of Sovereignty and Avarice, and may be linked forever to loneliness, exile, and murder. [3]


Freedom to explore, to voyage, to cross & close the sea, connects you to you. There is no pain of exile bearing down on the settler of Sovereign–European origin. Instead, settlement turns exile inside-out so that as Indigenous peoples we are exiles on our own land. Faced with re-inscribing our ongoing presence in a territory against settlement and the markers that recapitulate this settlement. Sovereignty is violation and violated. It can mean all or nothing for Indigenous peoples whose task it is to painfully locate an identity in opposition to the denaturing process introduced by the coloniser. It is a foundational dispossession. Our Sovereignty is grounded in an insistent perviousness, a prior-to Sovereignty, made through the very violation of Sovereign–European claim to settlement.


Cook’s statue in St Kilda, Cooks’ Cottage in East Melbourne naturalise this denaturing process, civilisation’s Colonial Chronology. The colonial monument is an emblem of the denaturing process introduced by the masculinist, invasive, expansionist, murderous, parasitic, capitalist, lecherous, etc, coloniser. The emblematic frontier, suspended in motion, is Cook caught in the gesture of forward momentum, but where forward is, is rarely defined. The frontier, provisional and undefined is in addition an original and perpetually receding and expanding caesura, in-between exploration and settlement, in-between civilised and yet-to-be-civilised. It underlies the production of national identity, ‘the masculine erotic discovery and domination of alluring/threatening feminine territory’. [4]


I say all of this, because it’s hard to know what counter-narratives, contre-histories to try and cover, recover, convey in opposition to Cook monuments. Instead, I’m concerned with understanding why colonial monuments are preserved and the necessary concomitant question, which is: what do colonial monuments preserve? And, I’m resistant to the insistent, incessant demand on Indigenous peoples to offer up such counter-narratives, which reinscribe ancestors as historical Others, within the prevailing historical record. So long as colonial monuments stand, claim space and hold power, Indigenous erasure is the framework, which structures the relationship between narrative and counter-narrative. The One and the Other.


To start with, all one can do is try to name things, one by one, flatly, enumerate them, count them, in the most straightforward way possible, in the most precise way possible, trying not to leave anything out. [5]


Cook connects you to you. Sovereignty and Avarice.


The statue of Captain James Cook in St Kilda is a facsimile of the Captain Cook Memorial in People’s Park, West Cliff, Whitby, North Yorkshire, England UK.


The bronze statue at Whitby, and not the copy, was made by the Scottish sculptor John Tweed and unveiled on 2 October 1912. It stands on a freestone pedestal, which bears an inscription and three plaques. In the veiled language of colonial conquest, the inscription commemorates “a great Yorkshire seaman” and “Whitby; the birthplace of those good ships that bore him on his enterprises, brought him to glory, and left him to rest.”


Cook’s glory is conquest. The statue of Cook at St Kilda is an ode to this glory.


Cook tried to kidnap and ransom Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the Hawaiian leader, and he came to rest when Kalaniʻōpuʻu’s people stabbed him to death, freeing their leader. This took place in 1779 – there is a small plaque which reads, approximating the place where his colonial expeditions, but not his glory, ended:





FEBRUARY 14. 1779


The Bronze statue of Cook in St Kilda was unveiled in 1914. It’s located in what used to be called Captain Cook lawn. In October 1927 the lawn was renamed Catani Gardens, after a public servant. An on-site viewer might read the inscription, which lists the names of the crew of H.M.B Endeavour. Does the inscription preserve their memory?


Cook’s face is awash with milky green, turquoise, white, as the brittle bronze gradually oxidises. Sea spray, sea foam as waves crash over sea rocks. Bronze that’s exposed to chloride from seawater is susceptible to ‘bronze disease’, a process in which corrosion eats its way through the metal and destroys it.


This is Natures nest of Boxes; The Heavens containe the Earth, the Earth, Cities, Cities, Men. And all these are Concentrique; the common center to them all, is decay, ruine; only that is Eccentrique, which was never made; only that place, or garment rather, which we can imagine, but not demonstrate, That light, which is the very emanation of the light of God, in which the Saints shall dwell, with which the Saints shall be appareld, only that bends not to this Center, to Ruine; that which was not made of Nothing, is not threatned with this annihilation. All other things are; even Angels, even our soules; they move upon the same poles, they bend to the same Center; and if they were not made immortall by preservation, their Nature could not keep them from sinking to this center, Annihilation. [6]


Sea spray licked-off the ocean in an afternoon breeze, gently corroding Cook. The monument receding into the earth, or an emblematic settler symbol preserved against nature. Pain nailed to the landscape in time.


I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy. [7]


What sleepless ghosts roam the moors looking for the impossible edges of the cottage that was built by James and Grace Cook, the parents of a glorious explorer? ‘Cooks’ Cottage’ was constructed in 1755 in North Yorkshire.


In June 1933, Russell Grimwade, a wealthy Melbourne business owner, read in the Melbourne Herald that the cottage was for sale, on the condition that the building remain in England. Yet, Grimwade’s bid of £800, which was almost triple the highest local offer helped persuade the owner to change the clause from England to Empire. Home is the ship, Empire expands across the sea.


So the cottage was deconstructed. Each brick was carefully numbered, packed into cases and then larger barrels, and then loaded aboard a ship bound for Australia.


Grimwald donated the cottage to the people of Victoria for the centenary anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne in October 1934.


Cook never lived in his parents’ home, and all that exists to suggest he ever even visited the cottage is the aspirant speculation of the settlers in the colony who long for a piece of the real Cook, an emblem of empire in the ‘new land’. The cottage was rebuilt in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, and initially was deceptively named Captain Cook’s Cottage, as if to suggest the place was a residence of Cook himself.


Inside, small domestic items are strewn about the space, fresh picked flowers, an unmade bed, a chair pulled out from the table, all signs of occupancy that personalise colonialism for the visitor. These innocuous items make the place feel lived in. This relic doesn’t embody what Cook left behind, rather what was imposed in the colony. Domesticity is integral to the formation of the settler-colonial nation and its claims to civilising authority. The cottage is a scene where terror can hardly be discerned – a perfect colonial monument.


The carefully curated quotidian mess in Cooks’ Cottage is in stark relief to the meticulous domestic order Indigenous women were trained in, in the missions, before being placed in white homes to work as domestic servants.


Indenturing schemes that placed Indigenous young women – my nana was one – in white homes was a key strategy of official policy in Australia. The civilising state constructed and controlled relations between white women and Indigenous women in the domestic space. In her rigorous 2019 article ‘Domesticating Colonizers: Domesticity, Indigenous Domestic Labor and the Modern Settler Colonial Nation’ in The American Historical Review, historian Victoria Haskins explains: “by prescribing and demanding from employers demonstrations of domesticity, the state was engaged in perfecting white women as well as Indigenous women, the latter as the colonized, to be domesticated, and the former as the colonizer, to domesticate.”


It is through the memorialisation of these domestic relations we come to understand the worlding nature of colonial monuments. As ambiguous or out of place the colonial monument may seem it exists as an instructive, which operates to maintain and direct the relations between Indigenous and white peoples in the settler state.


Bronze melts, stone crumbles, the ocean churns, ships sink, the Endeavour memorialised in St Kilda, along with Cook, was renamed the Lord Sandwich 2, before it was sunken on the order of the British Navy. Decay is the common centre, the ship connects you to you, sinking to the centre of annihilation.


Coda: aftermath afterlife antimyth.


Time needs fire, rain needs fire

Sky eyes had to have sun’s fires.


No poetry is alive without fire,

Words are fires written for action.


Ghosts are fire death in tales

Ghosts knows fire, but are not creator of fires. [8]


In these scattered excerpts from, the poet Lionel G. Fogarty circumambulates the errant, centreless movement of fire.


In late 2019 & early 2020 concrete-pollution-industrial grey smoke from the bushfires drapes the sky. In 1770 smoke notched the sky too, messages sent from mob-to-mob warning of a ship on the coast – the Endeavour, Cook’s arrival. Diverse temporalities enfold in the fire.


Bushfire smoke carries message too, sixth mass extinction messages, messages beyond human comprehension. Burned leaves are perfect precarious ash sculptures of afterlife on the brink, dissipating with touch. These ghost leaves are antimyths, against memorialisation & monuments, not the solid fired bronze of Cook statue, brick of cottage carried across the sea:


Fire burns under waters.


1 Léger, Nathalie. Exposition. Translated by Amanda DeMarco, Les Fugitives, 2019.

2 Glissant, Édouard. The Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing, University of Michigan Press, 1997.

3 Howe, Susan. My Emily Dickinson. With a contribution by Eliot Weinberger, New Directions Publishing, 2007.

4 Ibid.

5 Perec, Georges. quoted in Léger, Nathalie. Exposition. Translated by Amanda DeMarco, Les Fugitives, 2019.

6 Donne, John. Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions – Together with Death’s Duel, University of Michigan Press, 1959.

7 Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights, Penguin Press, 2009.

8 Fogarty, Lionel G. Eelahroo (Long Ago) Nyah (Looking) Möbö-Möbö (Future), Vagabond Press, 2014.

Tristen Harwood is an Indigenous writer, cultural critic and independent researcher, a descendent of Numbulwar where the Rose River opens onto the Gulf of Carpentaria. He lives and works as a freelance writer in the Northern Territory and Naarm. Tristen’s writing is published globally, in publications including The Saturday Paper, The Monthly, ArtReview, Metro Magazine, Art + Australia, and others.


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01–24 March