Macklin / Rising out of the dustbin of history

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THE Americans are getting their knickers in a terrible twist over the removal of those grandiloquent statues to the generals who sent thousands to their death in support of slavery.

Robert Macklin
Robert Macklin.

And for some strange reason their President seems to be lending moral support to the fascist fringe that is protesting. From across the Pacific it all looks a bit silly. But perhaps we could take a lesson from it.

We aren’t big on statuary. There’s a few in Canberra, my favourite being that of John Curtin and Ben Chifley caught “walking” from the Kurrajong Hotel to Old Parliament House. Sydney has some pretty awful ones, mostly of Queen Victoria, but only a couple that modern Australians might find offensive.

However, our map is a horrible mishmash of place names that “honour” characters who are either already forgotten or who did things that deserve their being consigned to the dustbin of history. In fact, if you take our state capitals – mostly named for second-rate English politicians – the only one worthy of remembrance at all is Darwin!

Lord Sydney (Tommy Townsend) according to Manning Clark “scarcely rose above mediocrity”. Lord Melbourne spent half his time in parliament involved in sex scandals. Lord Hobart was just another minor aristocrat who died at 55 after falling off a horse. Adelaide was a Queen… enough said. Even Perth got its handle from a silly old buffer, Sir George Murray, briefly the Colonial Secretary, who was born in the Scottish town of that name. And he’s commemorated (outrageously!) in the name of our greatest river, which was initially named the Hume for his father by our greatest Australian explorer, Hamilton Hume.

In fact, it was Hume who persuaded the surveyor-general of the day, Thomas Mitchell, to order his assistants that wherever possible they should discover the Aboriginal name for natural features and plant that name upon them. But Mitchell spent much of his tenure back in England and underlings curried favour with their bosses by naming places after them.

One of the worst examples is Brisbane, whose namesake was one of the worst of a bad bunch of governors. He only came to work on Tuesdays. He spent the rest of the week at his Parramatta observatory naming 7385 stars in the southern sky. However, it was probably just as well, since when he did come to work he ordered hellish things done to the convicts and the Aboriginal people.

He was not alone in his attacks on the First Australians. His predecessor, Lachlan Macquarie, actually declared war on them and the massacres that followed set the scene for a frontier war of extermination that has been deliberately hidden from our school history books ever since.

So perhaps the time has come to take another look at the map of Australia through 21st century eyes. Perhaps we could take Hamilton Hume’s suggestion to Mitchell and work with the Aboriginal people to rename at least some of the rivers, mountain ranges, towns and cities that commemorate some of the more ridiculous (and offensive) people of our past. It would, of course, be a bit controversial, but on the way we’d learn a lot about our hidden history.

And we could do it without getting our knickers in an American twist. After all, when Ayers Rock became Uluru, no Australian ran his car into a bunch of demonstrators.

robert@robertmacklin.com

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Robert Macklin
Journalist and author. Contact robert@robertmacklin.com

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