Suburb one step closer to changing ‘racist’ name

A locality in New South Wales is one step closer to losing its “offensive” name, after a motion passed council to begin public consultations.

Lake Macquarie councillors discussed on Monday night whether to embark on a consultation process to rename Coon Island in Swansea, 25km south of Newcastle – and ultimately made the decision to proceed. The motion was to consult the community over the locality’s name change.

“We’ll now go out to community consultation – but it was put forward very clearly that the intention is to change the name,” Liberal councillor Kevin Baker told news.com.au, with the consultation process due to take place before September.

Councillor Baker, who proposed the motion, told news.com.au earlier this week that Coon Island and the neighbouring Coon Island Point were both named after Herbert Heaney who, in 1915, was the first recorded permanent resident on the island.

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“I’m not some left winger, ‘PC gone mad’ type,” he said.

“This is a different situation to Coon cheese. Herbert Heaney was a white guy who worked in coal mines and would come out with coal dust on his face and got the nickname ‘coon’; it’s just not appropriate in this day and age.

“This name is very offensive to some in our community, has genuine racist connotations and I think there is a better way to represent the history of this island.”

Mr Baker said it was possible the island and point could be dual named with an Indigenous name and another which preserves the memory of the coal miner. He suggested “Heaney Island” could be in the running.

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The call to change the name was backed by campaigner Stephen Hagan – who was instrumental in getting the Coon cheese name axed – and chief executive officer of the Bahtabah Local Aboriginal Land Council Carol Proctor.

Speaking to news.com.au in a personal capacity, Ms Proctor said she thought it was “time for a name change” as the current name was “derogatory”.

“I am happy for the name change to go to public consultation as it gives not only our members an opportunity to make comment but also the local community as well,” she said.

Mr Hagan, a long-time campaigner for changing names with racist overtones, said while he backed the plan to change Coon Island’s name, it was “disgraceful” a consultation from the community was even needed.

“I spent almost a decade fighting to change the E.S. ‘N*****’ Brown stand name in Toowoomba back in 1999. To think that a nickname like this still exists after all the publicity I received for fighting against a racist nickname all those years ago is beyond comprehension,” he told news.com.au.

“This should not be a council meeting to vote on a motion requesting community consultation for Coon Island renaming; this should be a vote on a motion to change the racist name to a local name ‘Galgabba’ that has long been endorsed by the Awabakal people, traditional owners of the area.”

However, Councillor Baker said consultation was a legal necessity before the names of any locations or suburbs could be officially changed. It would also give local Aboriginal land councils the chance to have their say.

“Any name change has to go through the Geographical Names Board and to do that you have to present a case and show you have consulted with the community.”

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