The towering Captain Cook statue bordering one of Cairns’ main drags has been a hotly contested talking point, if not an eyesore to many, since the early 1970s.

Questions surrounding the statue’s future have swelled in recent years, not least since James Cook University (JCU) bought the land it stands on earlier this year.

At the height of the global Black Lives Matter movement, a petition calling for the seven-metre statue’s removal garnered over 19,000 signatures.

A counter petition also collected more than 5,000 signatures, describing the structure as an ‘iconic figure of the area’.


But as the new Cairns University Hospital development progresses, JCU has announced it is seeking a new home for the figure.

While the statue isn't for sale, JCU’s Cairns Director Dr David Craig said the university will seek an ‘appropriate location’ for it to be moved to, with public submissions of interest to open this weekend.


“A Request for Proposal advertisement will be published this Saturday in The Weekend Post,” he said. 

“The formal process of considering proposals for removal of the statue to an appropriate location is expected to be completed early next year.

“The statue’s removal will make way for a key element of the Precinct, the Cairns Tropical Enterprise Centre.”

The divisive figure has remained in the same location beside Sheridan Street for almost 50 years.

It was originally built in 1972 as an advertising gimmick to promote the Captain Cook Motel.

Legend has it that a council officer approved the structure after mistaking its given measurements to be imperial, rather than metric.


In January 2017, a massive banner brandishing the word 'sorry' was placed on the statue in an Australia Day protest. 

Kaanju, Kuku Ya’u and Girramay woman Emma Hollingsworth, who launched the petition demanding the statue's removal in June last year, said the statue is 'a slap in the face to all Indigenous people.'


“I am calling on Cairns Regional Council and Cairns Mayor Mr Bob Manning to take action today and remove this statue,” her petition read. 

“This would be a huge step forward in uniting the community and honouring our First Nation’s people.

“Make history and remove this reminder of this country’s horrible wrong doings to their own Original Custodians.”

The petition wasn't met with warmth by Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch. 

“This is just another example of a noisy few trying to whitewash and rewrite our history with their change-culture mentality,” he said. 

“But, unfortunately, they don’t represent the views of the vast majority.

“Ironically, these noisy few seem to conveniently forget or simply do not know the history of Cook’s 1770 scientific voyage and its lasting impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as our nation as a whole.

“In fact it’s widely accepted that the first recorded active reconciliation took place in Cooktown between the Bama people and Cook’s Endeavour crew.”


Main points

  • JCU is seeking submissions for a new home for the controversial Captain Cook statue on Sheridan Street
  • The university purchased the land the statue is on to build a Cairns University Hospital precinct
  • The statue is not being sold, with JCU seeking 'an appropriate location' for it to be moved to
JCU intends to call for submissions from anyone interested in acquiring the larger-than-life statue.
Dr David Craig
JCU Cairns Director
For us it represents dispossession, forced removal, slavery, genocide, stolen land, and loss of culture – among many other things.
Emma Hollingsworth