In 1975 I went on a school bus trip to Uluru, although at the time we only knew it as Ayers Rock. What I remember from that visit was the seemingly endless, rutted roads we travelled, the mouse plague that resulted in us having to sleep in our bus, and my aborted attempt to climb the rock.
In 1999 I returned to Uluru with Peter, Louis and Yoshi. Things had changed in the intervening years, “On 26 October 1985, the Australian government returned ownership of Uluru to the local Pitjantjatjara Aborigines, with one of the conditions being that the Aṉangu would lease it back to the National Parks and Wildlife agency for 99 years and that it would be jointly managed. An agreement originally made between the community and Prime Minister Bob Hawke that the climb to the top by tourists would be stopped was later broken.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uluru
And from the same wikipedia post: “In 1993, a dual naming policy was adopted that allowed official names that consist of both the traditional Aboriginal name and the English name. On 15 December 1993, it was renamed “Ayers Rock / Uluru” and became the first official dual-named feature in the Northern Territory. The order of the dual names was officially reversed to “Uluru / Ayers Rock” on 6 November 2002 following a request from the Regional Tourism Association in Alice Springs.”
The dual naming of Uluru / Ayers Rock set a precedent for Aboriginal groups across Australia and in recent years, the push for more dual names for significant places has grown and the response to these name changes has been mixed.
In 2013, Tasmania became the last state to introduce the dual naming policy. At the time Lara Giddings announced that “Dual naming is about recognising the Aboriginal community’s rightful status as the first inhabitants of this land and celebrating their living culture, traditions and language,”
The first we knew of the existence of the dual naming policy being enacted in Tasmania, was from the way my sister Jann refers to Mt. Wellington as Kunanyi.
This year our attention has been turned to a more local push for a name change. Darebin Council has invited residents of Darebin to discuss changing the name of Batman Park. The council has voted unanimously to change the name. The local newspaper ran an online poll, with 80% of the 2000 people responding, that they do not agree with the change. One response declared that the name change was more leftist PC garbage. I beg to differ. (Okay, I may be a leftist PC type at heart, but surely someone has to be!)
Batman Park has played a role in our family history. Not surprisingly, our two sons, when they were little, were big fans of Batman, the comic book character. They loved going to Batman Park. We didn’t think about Batman the explorer, or how naming parks, and railway stations and electorates after this man might affect the local Aboriginal population. Our sons are all grown-up now and they no longer connect the park with a comic book character.
Don Watson, in his book, Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia, declares: “Yet before the pastoral interest sent in the flocks and herds and retainers, and convicts and Native Police, and the state sent in commissioners and magistrates, and the churches their ministers and missionaries, the explorer made his own kind of conquest. By naming the rivers and hills and rocks after the icons of his own culture, he began at once to paint out the past and with it the culture and legitimacy of the land’s original inhabitants.”
Angus McMillan (1810-1865) is the main focus of Watson’s book. Institutions, streets, parks and an electorate are named after him. In 2002, Andrew Rule wrote an article ‘The black watch and a verdict of history’ where he mentions “a call to change the name of the federal seat of McMillan, named after Angus McMillan, the Highlander credited with founding Gippsland but increasingly debunked as murderous exploiter rather than heroic explorer.The West Gippsland Reconciliation Group, based in Warragul, has named McMillan an “unscrupulous opportunist” whose name should be removed from the federal electorate.
This call to change the name of the McMillan electorate has been reestablished by Russell Broadbent, the Federal Member for McMillan. He believes “it would send a message of practical reconciliation, it would send a message that we actually care about these issues and if we are not responsible to our past, we don’t understand our past, and we can’t get on with our future.”
On February 13th 2008, Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. I remember the day. I was driving up to Ballarat to visit students and I couldn’t help but be moved. Finally we were taking steps to acknowledge the past. It seems to me that there is a tipping point occurring that obliges us to carry out the desire of the many Aboriginal groups across the country who would like to see the removal of the names of “those lakes and waterfalls and canyons after Wellington and Victoria and the heroes of antiquity, or some wealthy benefactor or great aunt”. (Quote from Caledonia Australis.)
In the time I have been researching this post, there is one aspect that has stood out regarding the way European place names compare with the names given by Aboriginals . For the most part, we name places after people, whereas Aboriginal names acknowledge the features, including flora and fauna, of the landscape. For example, Darebin, our local council electorate, is derived from the Wurundjeri word ‘dara-bin’ meaning swallow bird.
Maybe this resurgence, whether it be via the dual naming policy or as a complete name change, is a sign that as a country, we are growing up. I hope this is the case.