The Lake Macquarie community will be consulted over the potential renaming of Coon Island after a heated debate among councillors over the issue on Monday night.
Councillors voted to commence a consultation process, including with the Local Aboriginal Land Council, to investigate alternate names for Coon Island and Coon Island Point.
The matter was raised as a notice of motion by Cr Kevin Baker, who declared a non-pecuniary, less than significant interest in the matter as his wife and children are Aboriginal.
Cr Baker said the current names of the site were "not inclusive of all members of our society".
The Swansea island is named after Herbert Greta Heaney, whose nickname was 'Coon' because he worked in coal mining and often had black dust on his face.
"We're not talking about Coon Cheese here, we're not talking about cancel culture, we're not talking about woke," Cr Baker said.
"Let me be clear, what is represented here is a genuine racist name.
"This brings severe hurt to some members of our community.
"What really upsets me is people marginalised in our community are getting horrible hateful comments said to them.
"That's not okay, no matter what side of the debate you're on.
"I would like to recognise the hurt this has brought to some members of our community, I apologise for that hurt. It is important though that we have this conversation so we can hopefully move forward."
But fellow Liberal councillor Jason Pauling came out strongly against some of those comments and called Cr Baker "a former champion of the Coon Island Management Board".
"We talk about hurt, I have not known anything to be as divisive in our community as this issue," he said. "It was private, council started speaking to the land council about this last year.
"Where has the hurt come from? Making this damn thing public."
Cr Baker said he did not go to the media with the story, but was approached for comment about it. He said he had been working behind the scenes over the issue for many years, but that the Coon Cheese debate had brought it to a head.
Cr Baker did mention some possible alternative names for the island, which drew criticism from some other councillors for raising suggestions before the community had been consulted.
Cr Pauling said he had spoken to former residents of the island along with descendants of Herbert Heaney, who he said expressed concern they hadn't been consulted about the issue.
He asked for the motion to include consultation with those parties, which was agreed to.
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