AN electors’ vote to change the City of Stirling’s name because it is insensitive to Indigenous people has certainly poked the bear, but mayor Mark Irwin says it would take years to implement anyway.
Last Monday Coolbinia resident Jeff Bullen moved at the city’s elector’s general meeting to rename Stirling because of former governor James Stirling’s ties to a bloody colonial history (“Time of reckoning,” Voice, May 22, 2020.
Stirling – WA’s first governor, arrived in 1829 with the first fleet and led the mass killing of Noongar people in the Pinjarra Massacre.
After the meeting, the City of Stirling released a Facebook post to inform citizens of the road that lies ahead of voting on the proposal.
“We understand that any proposed renaming will be of significant interest to our community, however given the state-wide influence of Admiral Sir James Stirling, advice and direction will also need to be sought from the State Government,” it read.
The Facebook post attracted dozens of comments reflecting a divided community.
“Retain the name and be proud of it,” Steve Danaher posted in response.
“He and the other early immigrants did a great deal of good work, exploration, mapping and made the beginnings of the great state that we enjoy”.
Another, Ric Turren, said changing the name was a “great opportunity to remove the colonial influence and misdeeds of Stirling and his bunch of murderers”.
Dorinda Cox is a Yamatji Noongar woman who has advised governments on social issues and policy since 2013, and has been preselected as the lead Greens (WA) Senate candidate for the next Federal election.
Ms Cox said the name should be abolished if Stirling was serious about its commitment to reconciliation, because it is part of the truth telling process.
“Colonial names are used in order to recognise and pay respect to colonists,” she said.
“Continuing to celebrate colonialists like Stirling, who was directly responsible for massacring First Nations people, sends a clear message to our communities that the intergenerational pain and trauma First Nations people experience, simply doesn’t matter.”
Ms Cox said renaming the Stirling in consultation with traditional owners would acknowledge WA’s “dark past” and invite the community to engage with and learn about First Nations history.
“The WA McGowan government and local government councils must move to replace names like Stirling Highway and Governor Stirling High School to names that are inclusive of our First Nations communities,” she said.
Stirling Progress Association president Robert Paparde thinks the name change is “a slippery slope”.
“We need to take a careful approach and balance actual outcomes and let the ratepayers decide,” he said.
“Are they willing to pay for it in a rate increase?”
“What [is the City of Stirling] going to cut to allow the tens of millions on the rebrand?”
Mr Paparde said the cost of the name change would only be clear after some “real work” ahead of the meeting in June where the council will consider the electors’ vote, but has “no plans to change the name Stirling Progress Association”.
“It’s been the City of Stirling for many, many years,” he said.
Stirling is the largest local government area in Western Australia with 220,000 residents.
Mayor Mark Irwin told the Voice he wanted to assure Stirling residents they would be consulted in the decision-making process if the council verdict in June supported a name change.
Mr Irwin said it could take years ensuring all stakeholders had a voice.
“We’d have to go back to our reconciliation action working group,” he said.
Mr Irwin said in his most recent consultations, Aboriginal stakeholders had said “they want to make sure the community is brought along the journey, and they don’t want the decision to be made without that process.
“I think we’ve made it really clear that the acknowledgement of the injustices of the past, is what helps us all to learn,” Mr Irwin said.
“And that’s part of the discussion that we all have to have”.
by KELLY WARDEN