THERE are calls for the official removal of the Sir Edmund Barton statue from Town Green in Port Macquarie.
The monument of Australia's first prime minister is positioned centrally at the northern end of the Port Macquarie's Town Square overlooking the Hastings River.
The statue also sits on land acknowledged as a traditional Birpai burial site.
The petition went public at the Black Lives Matter rally in Port Macquarie on Saturday, June 6.
Launched by Arly Mehan, a proud Birpai woman, the statue is considered an offensive acknowledgement of the White Australia Policy's founding father.
"The presence of this statue on this site is highly offensive and represents that Port Macquarie is not a culturally inclusive town," Ms Mehan said.
"It is offensive to glorify this man who represents racist ideologies on this sacred site."
Ms Mehan said the petition will be taken to council where open and robust conversations can begin about the region's cultural history and more inclusive ways of acknowledging it.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council commissioned the sculpture from renowned artist Carl Merten in recognition of Barton and his role in "forging the nation" as part of the centenary of Federation celebrations. It was dedicated in December 2001.
The project was supported by the Federal Government through the Federation Fund and community sponsorship.
In a garden 100 metres behind the statue, a small plaque acknowledges the site as being sacred to the Birpai people.
It reads: "Here beneath lie the remains of Birpai people dated approx 1850 years old. The Birpai numbered over 6000 in population prior to the European settlement of Port Macquarie in 1821. Birpai tribal boundaries include all of the Hastings district Wauchope, Port Macquarie, and the Camden Haven. The discovery is evidence of the Aboriginal occupation of the area before contact with British colonisation."
Ms Mehan finds it difficult to put into words the impact of the statue.
"Ever since it's been there it's been offensive to my family, being traditional owners from Port Macquarie," Ms Mehan said.
"Edmund Barton is representative of racist ideologies and the systems and structures in Australia that have stemmed from these ideologies.
"It's a constant reminder that reinforces a history that has been very oppressive. If we accept these statues and what they represent we don't change anything.
It's okay to think about our positioning of history, it's okay to be disrupted in our thinking patterns. If we go with the status quo we are not making any positive change in our communities or other people's lives.Arly Mehan
"People have an opportunity to dig a little deeper and start looking at what's enabling and reinforcing these ideas in our community.
"We need to think about how we represent ourselves as community. We are a multicultural community and there's so much rich diverse culture here.
"We have a real opportunity to celebrate that and think about our sense of place.
"It's okay to think about our positioning of history, it's okay to be disrupted in our thinking patterns. If we go with the status quo we are not making any positive change in our communities or other people's lives.
"Even though it might be a small thing to do, if everyone has a look for an opportunity to dismantle these racist ideas and stop the glorification of these explorers who openly put it out there to order the murdering of Aboriginal people."
Ms Mehan refers to Lachlan Macquarie, the governor of NSW from 1810 to 1821 and orders in 1816 that led to the deaths of Gundungurra and Dharawal people in Appin - 14 men, women and children were shot or driven off cliffs.
"Being the second penal colony in Australia, our region really celebrates its colonisation," she said.
"We still feel the hurt and trauma of colonisation happening in our lives.
"But I feel so overwhelmed by the community support. The presence of people at the rally on the weekend has shaken me a little bit because I didn't know there was going to be that response from the Port Macquarie community.
"The timing had never felt right, but this is definitely the right time. The conversation is so open right now and so is the extent of media coverage about racism.
"People are having open conversations and wanting to support and be an ally in these spaces. This is just one small act we can do in our community."
Ms Mehan said the statue of Barton must be moved elsewhere and she is open to having respectful conversations about why.
"The people who want to critically think about the representation of things in our public spaces have that lens and believe this (statue) is highly offensive," she said.
Ms Mehan works with her culture and mother tongue, Gathang, and teaches Indigenous Australian Studies at Charles Sturt University.
"It is time to be more culturally inclusive and start thinking about place and streetscape and how glorifying the father of racism reinforces outdated narratives," she said.
"Let them remain in the history books, but out of our shared spaces and First Nation's sacred places."