Page 2678 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 21 September 2022

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The bill amends the Public Place Names Act 1989 to remove the word “colonisation” and replace it with “reconciliation” when it comes to a minister determining the name of a public place. Currently, the minister must have regard to certain matters such as the names of persons famous in Australian exploration, navigation, pioneering, colonisation, administration, politics, education, science or letters.

It is striking how far we have come since 1989, the year that this act was put in place—a time that most in this chamber do not regard as being in the very distant past—when we consider the word “colonisation”. The 1995 edition of the Macquarie Dictionary—which has been with the Greens in the Assembly since time immemorial, passed down through various officers!—defines “colony” as “a group of people who leave their native country to form in a new land a settlement subject to or connected with the parent state”.

Today, in striking contrast, the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines “colonisation” as “the act of taking control of an area or a country that is not your own, especially using force and sending people from your own country to live there”. It would behove us in this place to at least keep pace with the painfully considered word of lexicographers.

We acknowledge every sitting day in this place that this is Ngunnawal country. It is no more than a long overdue step that we stop commemorating the acts of colonisation and, directly from that colonisation, the violence of First Nations dispossession. This of course will not complete the work when it comes to justice for First Nations people. There is an enormous amount of effort to be applied at all levels of government, but it is a small step on the path of a longer journey.

Perhaps when we have made this amendment we can begin to address the colonial and at times painfully boring nature of some of Canberra’s place names. As but one example, the world is littered with Black Mountains. Indeed, the entire nation of Montenegro takes its name from one of the innumerable protuberances bearing this name. Many of them, including ours, are not even technically mountains at all.

Our Black Mountain was known to the early European settlers as Black Hill, which indicates that we can survive changes to the names of our landmarks. Possibly in the future we can consider its Ngunnawal name of Galambany. I think these are the sorts of changes that reflect the true history of our region, recognise the first peoples who inhabited what are now often referred to as the Limestone Plains, and give us a strong sense of having names of places that are of relevance to this region and reflect the unique nature of our region and its history and the particular features that are here.

The names we assign to places do reflect our values as a community and they do change over time. It is not a revolutionary act or a destructive one; it is simply a reflection of our evolving community, and that is where I think this amendment bill is a welcome one. It does seek to pick up what we have learnt. It seeks to think about how do we commemorate things, what parts of our history do we want to emphasise and what parts perhaps do not warrant further commemoration? That, of course, is what naming things is about: creating that sense of ongoing commemoration.

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