In a move that is way overdue, the controversial (read: racist) title of Ben Boyd National Park is finally going to be renamed in the language of traditional owners, as it should be.
Benjamin Boyd, a Scottish colonist from the 19th century who is known for being Australia’s first ‘blackbirder’, currently holds the honour of having an actual national park named after him. Which I wish I was shocked about, but that sadly tracks with Australia’s denial of slavery in this country.
Blackbirding refers to the practice of luring, tricking or kidnapping Pacific Islander people and shipping them to work in the colonies/Australian farms. The workers were subject to abusive conditions and paid a tiny, woeful wage. The ‘pay’ and contracts made their status as workers rather than slaves seem legitimate, creating a legal loophole for what many argue was just modern slavery. It’s an issue that is ongoing, with Pacific Islanders still being treated badly in their jobs as seasonal workers.
Now, Ben Boyd National Park, on New South Wales’ far south coast, is finally going to renamed over these links to slavery.
The decision follows an independent, in-depth historical review of Boyd by Dr Mark Dunn. I wish it didn’t require such extensive research just to remove a coloniser’s name from Indigenous land, but alas, here we are.
Anyway, Dr Dunn’s report confirmed Boyd’s history of blackbirding, which seems to have been the final push to get approval for the name change.
Now, the park will be renamed in the language of traditional owners.
“Mother Earth, to Aboriginal people, is our teacher and she contains all our knowledge and our laws,” Chairman of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council Uncle BJ Cruse said, per the ABC.
“When we give a name to something like a national park there’s got to be a reason why we give it that name, not just because it sounds nice.”
Environment Minister Matt Kean said that it’s about time we drop Boyd’s name from the park.
“It is time to acknowledge the real history of Ben Boyd and remove his name from the national park,” he said.
“It is clear from the expert historical analysis that Ben Boyd’s association with ‘blackbirding’ should not be reflected or celebrated in any way in our National Parks.”
Community consultations with local Aboriginal elders to decide what the park’s new name shall be will start in the next few weeks, though Uncle Cruse says it’ll take some time given differing languages and dialects of different tribes.
Either way though, this is the first step in reclaiming land as what it is — Aboriginal land. Always was, always will be.