Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Viewed from All Sides: Statues, Sport and Eddie Gilbert

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Viewed from All Sides: Statues, Sport and Eddie Gilbert

Article excerpt

The Aboriginal reserve Cherbourg (Barambah) has a sporting record probably on par with that of Cummeragunja [reserve in Victoria], Albeit with a much larger population, it has produced some outstanding football teams and innumerable boxing champions. (Tatz 1995:75)

Abstract: A bronze statue of 1930s Indigenous cricketer Eddie Gilbert was unveiled in Brisbane in 2007 to commemorate his life and legendary sporting achievements. It is one of only a few monuments to Indigenous sportspeople in Australia and the only statue dedicated to an individual Aboriginal cricketer. Previous studies of sport statues by historians typically focus on semiotic readings, largely interpreted through the historians' eyes, and neglect the vested interests of those who create the work and audience responses to it. Recognising these limitations, this paper analyses the cultural significance of the Eddie Gilbert statue through three vignettes, or perspectives. First, we examine the types of knowledge that shape our understandings as historians and influence our approach and the questions we ask about the monument. Second, we consider the motives and contributions of the sculptor and activist groups that were responsible for the statue. And, third, we engage with the feelings, impressions and opinions of Aboriginal community members from Cherbourg, the former Aboriginal reserve and home of Eddie Gilbert, who visited the statue with us and shared their reactions in a focus group discussion. Through this three-fold approach, we argue that the multiple possible readings of monuments such as statues are not random, entirely open-ended or limitless, but are strongly prefigured by the social, cultural and political perspectives of the viewers.

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In addition to the success of football teams and boxers, Cherbourg (Barambah) has produced local, state and national representatives, male and female, in other sports. In many ways, as Tatz alludes to, Cherbourg has an incredible sporting record in relation to prominent sportspeople and, as such, sport has played a central role in the lives of its people and has been important in creating a sense of identity for this Aboriginal community. Cognisant of the importance of sport to Cherbourg, we embarked on a project, funded by AIATSIS, to examine the history of sport since the establishment of Barambah in 1904.

As part of this project, we are examining the ways in which athletes from Cherbourg have been remembered through artwork, material artefacts, museum displays and built structures. The contributions of sportsmen and women have been acknowledged through the dedication of sports ovals and bridges, the creation of museum displays at the Ration Shed Museum, and their depiction in artwork and murals (O'Neill 2004). Each one

of these dedications represents sportspeople who have meant something very significant to those from Cherbourg during different historical periods, but only one person has been simultaneously seminal to Cherbourg identity and acknowledged in the white community. This sportsperson was cricketer Eddie Gilbert. Cherbourg residents still point to the stump of a pine tree that Gilbert used to practise his bowling against and his burial plot stands out from most other graves, which are characteristically marked in the grass only by a white cross, because it is one of the few ornate graves in the cemetery. The respect for Gilbert at Cherbourg was acknowledged with the invitation to his three, elderly half-sisters from Doomadgee in far north-west Queensland to attend the opening of the Ration Shed Museum in 2009. At this event, we discussed their memories of their famous older brother.

Gilbert's cricketing talent was recognised and commemorated in the white community by the creation of a bronze statue that stands at the Allan Border Field in Brisbane. (2) This is one of only a few monuments dedicated to cricketers in Australia and the only statue dedicated to an individual Aboriginal cricketer. …

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