Herald Sun: Indigenous names reflect history too — Marcus Stewart Op-ed

Last week when Australia was discussing racism following the report commissioned by Collingwood Football Club, a coastal council was copping it for the “crime” of showing a willingness to acknowledge the truth of thousands of years of Aboriginal culture and history.

The sin of the Mornington Peninsula Council was to bring a motion that would have prioritised First Nations place names for landmarks within its boundaries.

The motion to change the name of a place to one favoured by the local Bunurong/Boon Wurrung people, or to have a dual name was ultimately defeated by Council.
Councillor David Gill said the move had partly been prompted by the council’s Reconciliation Action Plan and a commitment to acting on the intentions in the plan rather than it being hollow sentiments.

“One of the best ways to do that is by place naming and recognising of the First Nations and the names that they used on the Peninsula many years ago,” he said.
Outrage soon followed.

Steve Price stepped up in a column in the Herald Sun and, without a hint of irony, he suggested the proposal was an attempt to erase history.

“What I do have a problem with is this idea that we should be involved in the wholescale erasing of history,” he wrote.

But in case you thought he was referring to the erasing of thousands of years of Aboriginal history, he made it clear that his anger was “about erasing European history in this country”.

Dual names or whole new names are feasible and have worked. In the Northern Territory, all but the most determined stragglers refer to Uluru instead of Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta instead of the Olgas.

It’s likely that most people wouldn’t know the inspirations for these European names.

Should we really have a stronger connection with those European stories than those of our Aboriginal nations?

Back on the Mornington Peninsula, Arthur’s Seat had a name long before Acting Lieutenant John Murray arrived in 1802. To the Boonoorong people it was Wonga. Not so hard to spell or sound out.

Murray gave it the name Arthur’s Seat after a similar feature in his hometown of Edinburgh.

Two hundred and twenty-odd years is a long time to have a name, but not when compared to a few thousand years.

All the stories are part of the rich history of these places though and all should be told.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is working to ensure future treaties between our Aboriginal nations and the state government will lead to truth-telling and will be underpinned by our stories and our shared histories.

– Assembly Co-Chair Marcus Stewart

Opinion piece, Herald Sun, 19 February 2021