Statues on Campus: Preserving our History

Since the dawn of time, societies have erected statues to those whom they considered worthy of veneration and remembrance. In the western world, universities have been a long-standing canvas for the existence and upkeep of statues and monoliths dedicated to great thinkers and figures of history.

Many would be surprised to learn that medieval centres of education held busts of the likes of Socrates long before the memory of the classics was revived during the renaissance. Some similar examples still exist on the reliefs of the old cathedrals and universities of Europe. However, they are joined by empty spaces where various iconoclasts have done away with works of art and remembrance. It is in those empty spaces that society today must direct our thinking carefully when reconsidering our historic monuments.

For throughout the extensive history of the University of Sydney, great monuments and statues have been erected across out decadent campus. They serve as a reminder of our heritage not just as alumni sidneienses but as human beings and a part of the global human story. Examples include the extensive heraldry adorning the quadrangle and other historic buildings, that have been added to as time progresses and promote the continuity of heritage of our university right back to the founding of oxford a near thousand years ago. Along with the statues and paintings of the Great Hall that feature past chancellors and others who during their time contributed much to the development of out institution.

One such statue in particular has attracted much attention over the past few years. This is the marble monument to the universities founder William Wentworth (1790-1872). Wentworth was a prominent figure in 19th century New South Wales, responsible for free public education, and our university, amongst a long list of other things. It was the founding of tertiary education in Sydney that would be the shining example of Wentworth’s pioneering beliefs. The new institution was to be secular, the first of its kind globally, and open to young people of all social classes. Wentworth also talked about a multicultural university with students coming from around the world, something that has been realised today.

With so many positive attributes to Wentworth’s life, why has his image become something so controversial on campus? Is it because it is unlifelike? Inaccurate to his true image? From the photographs that exist of the statesman, it is obvious that it is indeed none of these things. Rather it is the fact that it simply exists and is prominent in the Great Hall on campus, that it has become the target of a new wave of iconoclast, attempting to imitate movements across the world.

In an attempt to gain relevance (and perhaps something to do) a social movement appeared on campus in 2019 named ‘Wentworth must fall’. The movements demands were simple, remove the statue of Wentworth from the great hall and rename the Wentworth building. The rationale was more complex, and after an intense internet investigation, it became apparent that there is no serious reason other then that he exists on campus. Monikers such as ‘racist’ have been applied to him in several publications but no serious evidence is ever really presented. This claim is especially dubious when compared in light to the aforementioned ecumenical sentiments that Wentworth shared when laying out the universities foundations. More so when we examine who the proponents of the movement were; members of the socialist alternative and other fringe groups associated with the far-left on campus. It is unsurprising that such groups would seek to advocate against such an important piece of public memorialisation to someone who has contributed so much to our present.

However, our university’s statues continue to remain here on campus, standing tall and proud telling the story of our past. Meanwhile the advocates of iconoclast have moved on to other things. Let us be thankful that their campaign stifled and that we still have the ability to look up to Wentworth, and remember our shared heritage and not a sad empty pillar.  

Jack Haritos is a Member of the University of Sydney Conservative Club.

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