Remember the childhood chant of “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me”? Well that’s not the case in our nation’s capital. In the latest example of political correctness gone mad, there’s a push to review suburb and street names that may be deemed “hurtful”.
The ACT Legislative Assembly will this week debate a motion by Labor Member for Murrumbidgee Bec Cody to review all place names in order to eliminate those that “cause pain” or cast “villains as heroes”.
Of course, it involves a strong degree of selective revisionist history.
Ms Cody explained to The Australian newspaper:
“I’ve had representations made to me, both as a member of the Legislative Assembly, but I was a hairdresser for 30 years before that and people were often telling me about some of the hurtful place names that we have in Canberra and the pain that they feel when they have to see them.”
She highlighted Stirling, named after a British naval officer and WA’s first governor, as an example of a suburb that should be changed. Ms Cody said Stirling’s leadership of the Pinjarra Massacre, of up to 30 indigenous people in 1834, made him a disgraced historical figure….
Another example she referred to was Haig Park, named in honour of British war commander Douglas Haig — known as The Butcher for his tactics during WWI.
Ms Cody told Radio National that the general had sent his troops into battle “just to be killed” during WWI and was not a suitable person to be glorified in such a way.”
We’re slightly doubtful that Governor Stirling’s activities in 1834 or General Haig’s battle strategy would be standard subject matter in most hair salons!
In any case, within the context of the times and circumstances in which these men performed their civic duties, it’s a pretty harsh and very, very selective outlook on the extent of their records.
The fact is, airbrushing historical figures out of existence doesn’t change a thing – it merely robs us of an opportunity to know and discuss aspects of our history. And how far do we go? Many Canberra streets are named after decorated war veterans. These men undoubtedly killed enemy combatants in the line of duty – should also they be purged? And even if they never fired a shot, the act of going to war is itself “offensive” to so many pacifists. Some would no doubt deem it “hurtful” to honour soldiers at all. Who decides?
Sounding a sensible note of caution, the co-chair of the ACT Place Names Committee, Jeffrey Brown, pointed out that place names went through a rigorous process and it would be time-consuming and costly to conduct a full review.
“There are 6,000 or 7,000 names if you include all the place names on record in the ACT. How much time would that take?” queried Mr Brown.
“The usual thing is that place names are enduring and would only be changed in exceptional circumstances.
The motion is expected to be debated this Wednesday and we’ll keep you posted. We wish we could say “only in Canberra” but we’ve seen similar attempts to expunge historical figures and appease professional offense-takers across Australia.