Tue, Mar 20, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Australian place names honor murderous white men and their acts

By Paul Daley  /  The Guardian

From Bennelong’s place at Kissing Point I take the ferry back downriver and into the wind toward the point, now adorned with the opera house, that bears his name. It is where the first governor, Arthur Phillip, built Bennelong a small hut in which he lived, periodically, before opting in later years for a more traditional life.

In 1788 Phillip’s fleet entered the harbor that would become the gateway to Sydney.

However, it was already a primordial city, replete with monuments testifying to the timeless occupation of the Gadigal and others.

Peter Myers, a member of the design team for Sydney Opera House, has written of how, with the arrival of subsequent fleets, the new settlement was built atop the ancient.

There was a shortage of mortar lime in the colony. The solution seemed obvious to the invaders: As glue for the new buildings of hewn timber and stone, for the seawalls and jetties, the remnants of which still abound, they used the massive oyster shell mounds that stood around the edges of the harbor.

Myers has no hesitation calling these middens “shell monuments.”

“There are recorded sightings of shell monuments 12m high along the water’s edge [… equivalent to the height of the southern podium of Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House]. Can you imagine how many thousands of years of gathering and accumulation went into their making?” Myers said.

These, not the colonial and postcolonial statues of European explorers, were Sydney’s first monuments. They belonged to the landscape of Bennelong long before they were hacked down to make way for statuary in the images — or buildings erected in the name — of the colony’s first five governors, all known to him.

No monument, it seems, is permanent. As the landscape changed, as the first monuments crumbled, so, correspondingly, did many place names alter.

Long before the arrival of the Macassan trepangers, the Dutch or the British, the landscape — north, south, east, west — resounded with stories that charted the sky and the topography, the beasts and fish and all of the humans.

The land and waters had names that came from the stories. Some — Wollongong and Werribee, Nambucca and Naremburn, Barangaroo and Bomaderry — have remained.

However, elsewhere the nomenclature whites bestowed upon the landscape honors murderous white pioneers and their violent acts. So there are unresolved suggestions Mount Wheeler in Queensland, for example, was named after a “cruel and merciless” native police officer, Frederick Wheeler, who killed many Aboriginal people.

It is not far from Mount Jim Crow, the origins of the name remaining unclear, despite the clarity of its racist intent (I recently went looking for a Jim Crow Creek just outside Daylesford in central Victoria; the identifying sign had been removed from the narrow road bridge that crosses it).

Streets in Darwin and Alice Springs are named after William Willshire and Paul Foelsche respectively. They were murderous policemen who felt Aborigines were akin to animals.

Willshire wrote books about his maltreatment, including killing of Aboriginal men and sexual abuse of Indigenous women who were, he maintained, put on earth to satisfy the needs of white pioneering males.

As you drive around Australia, stop and think about some of the names you will see on creeks, roads and beaches. It is no coincidence there are so many places named Skeleton Creek in Queensland and Skull Creek in Gippsland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

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