Historic statues rebuilt with careful hands

Striking statues that have kept watch over Warriu Park in Western Australia’s majestic Kimberley for 28 years are being restored to their former glory after being vandalised and damaged over time.

Reggie Birch, a Wyndham man and a member of the Stolen Generation, said he hoped the restoration of the copper artworks depicting an Aboriginal family would rejuvenate the park at the town, 2210km north-east of Perth.

Mr Birch, 77, was one of the people behind the original commissioning of the statues that took Fremantle sculptor Andrew Hickson a year to create as part of a bicentenary project in the 1990s.

The park became a tourist stop and also a meeting point for local Aboriginal people, but fell into disrepair.

Mr Hickson, who is based at Fremantle, a port city south of Perth, was this week back at Warriu Park working with a team of local men to repair damage to a spear, dingo, snake and child.

There are eight statues in total — a man, woman, child, dingo, puppy, goanna, kangaroo and a snake.

“They were damaged something awful,” Mr Birch said. “They were damaged to blazes by rocks and sticks and everything like that.

“A statue standing two-and-a-half times (as big as) a man – it had spears broken, a boomerang broken, dents all over.

“There’s a woman and a child, severely damaged.”

The statues sit on about six hectares of land, which is also being brought back up to scratch.

Mr Birch said the statues were a tribute to his parents’ generation.

“We asked the generation before ‘What would you expect?’” he said. “They said the culture has gone, the tribal people have gone, if you can put something like that.”

Mr Birch, who served on the World Council of Indigenous People for nearly a decade, said it had originally been hoped the statues would stand in the heart of Sydney.

“We actually wanted to build something like this in Sydney, on the north side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” he said. “We got permission to do the research on that, but when people saw the extent of it they didn’t accept it so we got moved out of there.

“Then in Perth, the same thing. Another sacred site. We got moved away from there. They didn’t want it.

“So we brought it home to Wyndham. Australia is a weird country. It’s got a lot to answer for.”

Sculptor Andrew Hickson was in his 40s when he built the statues with two local men. Now aged 68, working on the statues over the past month has been the first time he has seen his artwork since it was completed.

He said a woman from the Wyndham Tourist Information Centre had applied for ‘Royalty for Regions’ funds to rejuvenate the area and the town had rallied around the project.

The restoration is expected to cost about $10,000.

Wendy Caccetta

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