Captain Cook red-faced in Gisborne rebellion

Captain Cook red-faced in Gisborne rebellion

Almost 250 years since he landed in New Zealand, Captain Cook has been left red-faced - or a statue of his likeness at least - from constant vandalism, which has spurred a debate about his place in Gisborne.

A bronze statue of the explorer at Cook's Plaza on Kaiti Hill was hit at least three times in July, including with vandals painting his face and crotch red. A white bikini was painted on him on another occasion.

Captain Cook red-faced in Gisborne rebellion

The 'Not Cook' statue (Gisborne District Council)

Then last Monday, another Cook statue and Young Nick statue at the Turanganui River mouth were defaced with red paint.

Captain Cook red-faced in Gisborne rebellion

A red-faced Captain Cook (Gisborne District Council)

Captain Cook red-faced in Gisborne rebellion

What the statue should look like (Gisborne District Council)

The paint has since been cleaned up, but it hit the council with a bill to clean it up at the expense of taxpayers.

The council says the vandals hadn't been deterred by all the work going on at Titirangi Reserve including contractors and staff working on tracks, removing vegetation and preparing for community planting days.

The rebellion against Cook is stirring in the lead up to the 250th anniversary of his landing on New Zealand shores in three years, with local iwi Ngati Oneone saying there should be more representation of Maori leaders instead.

While the Gisborne District Council is calling on the public to report any other incidents of vandalism to police, it says the protests have "initiated a good public discussion" about community art.

The statue on Titirangi, Kaiti Hill - the maunga (mountain) or Ngati Oneone - was first installed in 1969 having come from NZ Breweries in Auckland.

But it was clear early on that the statue wasn't an accurate depiction of Cook, because he wasn't wearing the right uniform.

That kicked off a debate about whether to keep the 'not Cook' or 'Crook Cook' statue in the 1980s, which hasn't stopped since.

There's been suggestions to either replace the statue with Rakaiatane - a Ngati Oneone leader from the time of Cook's landing - or have them side by side.

Iwi spokesman Nick Tupara told The Guardian that Cook runs deep in the city's veins - with streets, parks and public places named after him and his ship the Endeavour.

"We are part of Cook's lineage - that is a fact - and defacing our city is a poor method of showing dissension with our past.

"It is clear from the recent vandalism and heated social media discussion that historical wounds run deep and there is more healing that needs to happen - and I do think there should be more balance in the portrayal of our history," he says.

Mr Tupara did not condone the vandalism, but says it has started a discussion about Cook the right way to represent him.

He hoped the iwi could talk to the Council.

"We are hopeful we can pursue change that way," he told The Gisborne Herald.

A review of the Council's reserve management plan for the Titirangi Reserve was out for consultation in June and July. While there are no immediate plans to get rid of or replace the Cook statue, it is a possibility that when the new plan comes into force there could be changes.