Community split on proposal to rename ‘offensive’ Blackfellow Creek

In Australian Cultural Exports, Community, Featured Home Page News, Queensland

The local community is split on the debate on changing the name of Blackfellow creek. The Queensland government’s place name register shows it is one of 41 places across the state containing the word “blackfellow”.

Traditional owner and Gimuy Walubara Yidinji elder Gurrabana Mundu said the creek was seen as a post-colonial boundary to his ancestors.

“There was no room for us to be in the township where the rest of society was,” he said.

“Everybody used to camp down there because when their ancestral homes were destroyed and they had nowhere to live they had to resort to going somewhere with water.”

 

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Winding through the southern suburbs of Cairns is a pristine creek at the heart of a statewide debate over derogatory and offensive place names.

Blackfellow Creek snakes its way from the foot of the mountains out to the coast.

Its cool waters provide relief from the sweltering summer heat of the tropics, but for the Indigenous people of Cairns its name is a constant reminder of the suffering colonialism inflicted on their ancestors.

The Queensland government’s place name register shows it is one of 41 places across the state containing the word “blackfellow”.

Cairns and District Historical Society records show the creek was given its name sometime between 1876 and 1883 in reference to several Aboriginal camps along its banks.

Traditional owner and Gimuy Walubara Yidinji elder Gurrabana Mundu said the creek was seen as a post-colonial boundary to his ancestors.

“There was no room for us to be in the township where the rest of society was,” he said.

The Queensland government is considering a proposal to rename the waterway Bana Gindarja Creek.

The proposal is currently open for public consultation and has been met with some opposition in the community.

Call for two names

Edmonton resident Fran Lindsay spent 17 years as a councillor on the Cairns and Mulgrave shire councils, and does not want the creek’s current name removed.

“To locals in the Edmonton area that creek is traditional to us as well,” Ms Lindsay said.

“I’m over 70. I swam there as a kid as everybody else did, and I don’t see why [the council] can’t use the traditional name alongside the historical name.

“The creek, to a lot of people here, has its own personal memories and stories of what happened when we were kids in the area as well.”

An adolescent cassowary peers through a small gap in the fence of its pen at the Garners Beach Cassowary Rehabilitation Centre.
Bana Gindarja translates as “water” and “cassowary” in the Yidiny language.(ABC Far North: Mark Rigby)

Gimuy Walubara Yidinji elder Buliyir Mundu said the years that the creek had retained its Anglo-Saxon name were insignificant in comparison to the Indigenous history of the area.

“We’re not here to change the name of the creek,” he said.

‘Work in progress’ to remove other offensive names

A proposal to rename Black Gin Creek, near Longreach, to Watyakan Creek is also being considered by the Queensland government.

A brown body of water snakes through an outback landscape
A proposal to rename Black Gin Creek neare Longreach to Watyakan Creek is on the cards.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

“This is about respecting traditional owners and the names that they’ve had for thousands upon thousands of years,” Queensland’s Resources Minister Scott Stewart said.

Mr Stewart said there were countless other places across Queensland with names that “are very offensive in today’s society” and opportunities to change them could be available in the future.

“Part of our reconciliation plan is recognising that we need to change some of these names that we’ve held on to for quite some time,” he said.

“This is a work in progress and it’s not something that will sweep in and happen overnight, but rather it’s a progressive change.”

Gurrabana Mundu said the proposed name of Bana Gindarja — bana meaning water and gindarja meaning cassowary in the Yidiny language — better reflected the creek’s Indigenous history and connection to land.

“The cassowaries are the original guardians of the rainforest, distributing the food out,” he said.

“This creek is where they all used to gather and the old people, our ancestors, used to see them all the time.”

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