Two central Queensland mountains will be renamed back to their Indigenous titles, in a move that local groups say will rid them of links to an oppressive, racist past.
The Darumbal people in the Rockhampton area have been pushing the state government to change the names of Mount Jim Crow and Mount Wheeler, north-east of Rockhampton.
Aunty Sally Vea Vea said they had “always thought about” changing the names, but being awarded Native Title for the region in 2016 had been the turning point that pushed them to lobby.
“The original names had been that way for 60,000 years but in the last 150 years they were changed,” she said.
Aunty Vea Vea and another elder, Aunty Nickki Hatfield, were concerned the mountains’ names had possible links to the Jim Crow racial segregation laws in the US and a police officer named Frederick Wheeler, who was involved in Aboriginal massacres in the 1860s and 1870s.
“They speak of atrocities and there’s a lot of hurt with those old names,” Aunty Vea Vea said.
“Generation after generation has continued to have that hurt, deep within them, because of what took place there.”
The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that on Friday, Mount Jim Crow’s name will be legally changed to Baga, while Mount Wheeler would become Gai-i.
Aunty Vea Vea said the two mountains are connected in dreaming stories, so they needed to have their names changed together.
“In between both mountains, there was a big corroboree ground, so this is where our people always met at Gai-i.
“It was a place where we had people come from our different clans to organise marriages, exchange weapons, and ceremony.
“This is why it’s significant to us and we don’t want to just leave it to the name that it was.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction. Things are changing.”
Elders now want name change of Rockhampton’s river
Malcolm Mann from the Darumbal Aboriginal Corporation said it was exciting news.
“On one hand it doesn’t change anything for us because those names have always been [but] it does show a move away from a fairly traumatic past,” he said.
“It’s about making a stand, rectifying the past.
“It’s a really good move for the local community to really get back to the true history of our place and understanding of our place, rather than a reminder of something that has been oppressive for our people for quite some time.”
The elders now have other name changes in their sights.
“I’ve never been happy with Black Gin Creek Rd at Alton Downs, and I’d also like to see the Fitzroy River changed to Tunuba, which is its original name,” Aunty Vea Vea said.
The local council has put up a sign recognising the prominent river’s name, however Aunty Vea Vea said it should be changed completely like the mountains, because the big river is “very important” in Darumbal culture.
“There could be a fight on our hands but we’d be happy to change it,” she said.
“If we don’t have a go, we’ll be nowhere.”
State Member for Keppel, Brittany Lauga, said it was another step towards reconciliation.
“It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad that we’re here,” she said.
“I think it’s important that we recognise the traditional names as being the rightful names and the traditional owners in those communities work together with the council and state government to do that.”