Public Art : Yagan Statue
Sculptor : © Robert Hitchcock
Date Unveiled : The Yagan statue was officially
unveiled by Yagan Committee chairperson Elizabeth Hanson, on 11th September 1984.
Description : A naked life size bronze of
Aboriginal warrior Yagan, resting a spear across the back of his shoulders. It is quite evident that the
head of Yagan is not the original one (rather oversized, has a far too long a neck and is
an altogether different shade). I must say that because the statue's head has been stolen twice (and
given the way Yagan died), the sculpture now takes on a strange and
Location : All on its lonesome (with the exception of
a few roos) on Heirisson Island, Perth Western Australia. You have to go on foot across the causeway bridge to find
him and he isn't easy to spot, so be wide eyed and bushy tailed. From the entrance gate of Heirisson Island it is a
fair hike to find the statue.
Who was Yagan ? : Yagan (c.1795-1833) was an Aboriginal
Leader of the Nyungar (Noongar) people in Western Australia. In 1829,when Captain James Stirling
established a colony on the Swan River, he proclaimed the Nyungar people British subjects, giving them little
choice but to accept the decision.
Over the following years, Yagan, who was keen to know more about the new arrivals, learnt to
speak basic English and often conversed with influential settlers about the inequality and injustice placed on
his people. The Nyungar people struggled with the settlers taking over their hunting grounds and fencing off
important areas such as the river. The result was that the Aboriginals began to steal the settlers
food and kill livestock, which the settlers weren't too happy about (especially as many were struggling for
their own survival).
In the pursuing years Yagan found himself in trouble with the law and in 1832 was sentenced to exile on the
uninhabited, Carnac Island. Yagan had other ideas about his sentencing and it wasn’t long before he
had escaped off the island.
In 1833 Yagan was amongst three Aboriginal Tribal leaders who were declared outlaws when two white servants were
speared on the Canning River. A bounty of £30 was put on his head.
On July 11, 1833 Yagan was shot and killed by brothers, William and James Keats, while they shared
a meal together. Nineteen year old William Keats who fired the gun was killed by Yagan’s friends whilst James
escaped via the river. Yagan’s head was later cut off by soldiers and preserved by smoking it in a hollow tree
stump for several months.The rest of his body was buried near where he was killed in Belhus (near
Eventually Yagan’s head was sent to London where it was exhibited at various museums before being buried at Everton
Cemetery. That was until a group of Aboriginal Elders, led by Ken Colbung, located Yagan’s burial site
and demanded Yagan’s remains to be returned to his homeland. In 1997 Yagan's head finally returned home. To this
date the head has not been buried, as all efforts have failed to locate the body of Yagan.
History of the Yagan Statue : During the mid 1970's
the Noongar community lobbied for a statue to be created as part of the 1979 sesquicentennial celebrations (150
years) in Western Australia. Of course the mere suggestion of having a statue of Yagan erected in Perth was going
to raise a storm of controversy. However I would have thought the embarrassment alone, due to the appalling
treatment of the Aboriginal leader, would have been enough to make the government agree. After being advised
by a local historian that Yagan was not important enough, the then Premier of Western Australia, Sir Charles Court,
denied the request (ouch!). Not to be put off, the Noongar community set up a Yagan committee and began fund
raising themselves.They eventually raised enough money to commission local artist and sculptor Robert Hitchcock to
design a statue.
In Commemoration of
Tragically Killed July 1833
Erected by the Yagan Committee
Mrs E.M. Hansen Mr H.P. Hansen
Mrs L.J. Hume Mr S.P. Hume
Mrs R. Pell Mr K. Colbung
Mr L. Hill
With Assistance From W.A. Labour Government
Officially opened by Mrs Elizabeth Hansen M.B.E.
11th September, 1984
Sculptor : Robert Hitchcock
Controversy Controversy Controversy : In 1997,
following the return of Yagan's head from England, vandals armed with an angle grinder, removed the head from
the statue and took it. A new head was later placed back on the statue and that too was hacked off and
stolen. To this day the police are still none the wiser as to who or whom the culprits were or where the two bronze
heads are. This seems all the more surprising, considering the building with the best view of the island
is the Police Headquarters !. You would have thought someone would have seen the sparks a flying under the cover of
night. An unknown "British Loyalist" has several times laid claim to the act, saying it was done in retaliation for
comments made by Ken Colbung about the death of Princess Diana (who died on the same day as the handing over
ceremony). Colbung later said that his comment "Because the Poms did the wrong thing they have to
suffer. They have to learn too, to live with it as we did and that is how nature goes." was taken out of
Too Nude Too Rude : In 2002 Janet Woollard (Member of
the Western Australian Legislative Assembly) requested that Yagan's exposed private parts be covered up. The
request fell on deaf ears. Three years later Richard Wilkes also called for Yagan to be covered up, his agrument
being that such a depiction would be more historically accurate as Yagan would have worn a covering for most of the
year. No action has yet been taken.
Tidbits : There are rumours that a new Yagan statue is in
the pipeline which will depict a more lifelike warrior now that they can forensically
reconstruct Yagan's head.
The Worst of Perth blog describes the most recently attached head of Yagan as looking "a lot like
Ridge Forrester from The Bold and the Beautiful".
Believe it or not a short film called Confessions of a Headhunter was inspired by the statue head hacking incidents on Yagan.
Yagan isn't the only memorial to lose it's head, the Maitland Brown Memorial also had an over zealous protestor take to it with a
Other Works by Robert Hitchcock : Mark of the Century (Fremantle)