Racist Place Names

Today Abigail spoke in support of a motion that recognised the violent history NSW has against indigenous people, land and culture and the need to change offensive place names that idolise those who perpetrated historical violence and/or honour traditions or ideals that are symbolic of the dispossession of Aboriginal land. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (20:40:18): In July this year the Government of Western Australia announced that a mountain range in the Kimberley region would be officially renamed to the Wunaamin-Miliwundi Ranges, in line with calls from multiple traditional owner groups. The name incorporates the traditional names of the range, with Wunaamin coming from the Ngarinyin people and Miliwundi coming from the Bunuba people. The range was renamed by a white "explorer" in 1879 as the King Leopold Ranges, after the second King of the Belgians, Leopold II, who oversaw the brutal colonial oppression, enslaving and the systematic rape and murder of millions of people in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In New South Wales we have places similarly named after those who knowingly participated in or oversaw acts of violent colonialism, rape, murder and genocide. We do not need to look far. In fact, we just have to look down the hallway or out the window. We heard that Governor Lachlan Macquarie oversaw acts of terrorism and genocide, which would now be considered war crimes. He ordered soldiers to kill or capture any Aboriginal people they encountered and to desecrate their bodies to create a sense of terror in survivors. He ordered the abduction of Indigenous children and violently forced Aboriginal people off their land.

If we can recognise that the success of Belgium under Leopold II does not justify the desecration of the Congo, surely we can do the same for Macquarie in New South Wales. Claiming that the act of naming a place after a person is some neutral recognition of history rather than a celebration of their actions is disingenuous. If that was the case, we would be using street signs, university names and statues in recognition of significant figures in Australia's history whose actions, however negative, have shaped our nation. For example, Martin Bryant, whose murder of 35 people at Port Arthur was a direct catalyst for the complete overhaul of gun laws across the country certainly had an enormous impact on the shaping of modern Australia.

But we do not commemorate those figures and we should not. So why should we continue to commemorate people and events that have inflicted pain? It is well past time that we give a platform and power to the people who have been historically victimised and who are the traditional owners of places with offensive and out-of-date names and allow them the agency to determine who is commemorated on their land and in their histories. For those reasons I support the amendments made by the mover of the motion and for the reasons set out by my colleague Mr David Shoebridge I give my support to the amended motion.

For the full transcript of the debate visit the NSW Parliament website.

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