Costuming St Paul's Anglican Cathedral Captain Cook statue an act of social justice

James Cook’s 1770 arrival on the continent now known as Australia transformed the southern land forever.

Almost 250 years later, his likeness is being used as a conduit for change in Bendigo. 

The Very Reverend John Roundhill and a team of parishioners from St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral are provoking conversation in Bendigo by dressing a statue of Cook in politically-charged outfits. 

In the last three years, the sculpture has been adorned in rainbow attire during Mardi Gras and sported yellow clothes in support of the Believe in Bendigo movement.  

“We wanted to say to people that we are concerned about a whole load of things here,” Mr Roundhill said. 

“It’s designed to entertain and, on another level, to gently provoke and get people thinking about issues.”

The sculpture was first used by the congregation to communicate their support for asylum seekers, with Mr Roundhill calling Cook “one of the original boat people”.    

During the past fortnight, passers-by will have seen the Cook sculpture dressed in a poncho and flippers, a stand against climate change.  

Asked about the wet weather costume, Mr Roundhill said caring for the earth was a central teaching of Christianity. 

“When the planet is going through a tremendous change because of climate change, when we are mucking it up, the church should try and speak out,” he said. 

“We try and model good behaviour in our own community.”

Mr Roundhill admitted some Bendigonians were perturbed by the statue’s re-purposing, saying Cook was a figure that conjured “great affection” among many Australians.

“But I think we can, after this length of time, actually have a bit of fun with a statue of James Cook,” he said. 

The statue has stood inside the church’s grounds since 1901, when vestryman John Emery bequeathed a sum of cash to the parish. 

An admirer of Captain Cook, Mr Emery asked that his inheritance not only fund church renovations and a Sunday school, but also a statue of the maritime explorer. 

Future plans for the Cook statue include a lycra get-up during the Bendigo Bank Fun Run, and more efforts to promote inclusion and diversity in the city.

“The cathedral is opening up on June 5 too, and we want him resplendent on that day, dressed in all his finery,” Mr Roundhill said.  

This story Captain braves sea of controversy first appeared on Bendigo Advertiser.