IT'S a beautiful part of Lake Macquarie, but the name of Coon Island has ignited a debate including "horrible, hateful" comments. The Swansea landmark is named after Herbert Greta Heaney, whose nickname was "Coon" because he worked in coal mining and often had black dust on his face. The push is underway to change it.
"We're not talking about Coon Cheese here, we're not talking about cancel culture, we're not talking about woke," Cr Kevin Baker said. "Let me be clear, what is represented here is a genuine racist name."
Cr Baker's distinction between the renamed cheese brand, which purportedly took its name from a cheesemaker's surname, is pertinent. In contrast, the island's name has direct racial overtones.
Nothing had been so divisive as this issue, Cr Jason Pauling told the meeting. Perhaps that is why it must be addressed rather than allowed to fester. For some the tension of discussion is not new, but only out in the open for the first time.
Few would argue that making traditional names for Uluru or Kata Tjuta, iconic drawcards for overseas tourists, the primary ones has been detrimental. It must be remembered that the nomenclature cast aside was not a set of original names for these landmarks, but merely the ones many of us learned and that were imposed under a cultural lens that cast Indigenous heritage as a footnote for too long.
These transformative times mean that the longstanding blinkers are off on many fronts. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of a global economy and of humans as a species, and a range of social justice movements have brought plights long cast aside to the fore. Once all our eyes are open to what these sins of the past have meant to some, it is incumbent upon us to rectify what we can when we can.
Many believe the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins is far from an isolated incident in Canberra, a position strengthened by the allegations brought forward by several other women in recent days, and that changing social mores have helped spur her and other women to come forward. Changing those mores has not been comfortable or easy, but it has been important.
Discussions about changes such as the island's name are not easy, as Lake Macquarie councillors acknowledged on Monday night, but it is hard to argue they are not worthwhile ones. If the names on our maps and road signs did not matter, we would not use them as honours.
The public will have their say on how the island is referred to from here on out, which fits with Bahtabah Land Council's hope that the name is something the community agrees with. If commemorating Herbert Heaney is the objective, perhaps his actual name is a better fit than an anachronistic nickname that has lost its alleged harmlessness in our modern, multicultural nation.
Times have changed. Now, in recognition of that, some names must change too.
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