Sunday, 27 August 2017

We need to rename Sydney Eora

The image that accompanies this blogpost is a photo of Archer Russell, an early Australian naturalist and journalist. I wrote about his political views about five years ago at the time when I accessed his papers, which are in the State Library in Sydney. I had already written a story for Australian Geographic about Russell, in 2011, and I had been thinking at the time I visited the library of the possibility of writing something more substantial. But I never got around to it. I read through my notes from that library visit this morning, though, and it made me think about Russell and what he stood for. I remembered one of the newspaper clippings I had seen in one of the boxes of his papers the library holds, which showed Sydney Harbour - in black-and-white of course, but still a photographic reproduction - and which had labels on it indicating different places in the city with their original Aboriginal names.

This brings us back to current events in Sydney, where the prime minister has voiced the opinion that the vandals who defaced the Hyde Park statues of James Cook and Lachlan Macquarie were doing something reminiscent of 20th-century Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

If you read the 2012 blogpost about Russell, you'll know that in later life he was politically active on the left, and participated in the literary life of his country with vigour and dedication with a view to helping people to live better lives. So he was "Green" generations before today's term was invented, in more than one sense.

But the thing about the left is that they always seem to end up on the right side of history. This is something that the prime minister should keep in mind when he labels people with terms of opprobrium without necessarily understanding their motivations. The fact is that Stan Grant is right and that James Cook did not discover Australia (as we were taught to know in school). The Aborigines were here 60,000 years before Cook came ashore, and it's time we renamed the places we think are important to reflect that reality. So let's start by renaming Sydney Eora, as a friend suggested to me on Wednesday night.

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