While many street names and suburbs across the country are named after famous people, events and individuals who have helped shape the country, one Labor MP is calling for those with “offensive” names to banished from the ACT.
Labor member for Murrumbidgee Bec Cody appeared on ABC Radio in Canberra with Dan Bourchier to argue that suburbs and streets named after people who have behaved abhorrently should be changed. In fact, she’s taking the matter to the ACT Place Names Committee so all existing streets and suburbs can be reviewed.
Cody explains in her Notice of Motion that many areas and streets in Canberra are named after historical people, but argues the behaviour of some of these people was criminal, reprehensible and abhorrent. She wants to ensure names meet community standards and that villains aren’t celebrated as heroes. Although she wouldn’t specifically name names on the show, she said that Haig Park, named after World War I figure Douglas Haig, had been brought to her attention. Although thought by many to be a Great War hero, others believe Haig was ruthless and uncaring. He is known by some as “the butcher of the Somme”.
Jeffrey Brown – co-chair of the ACT’s Place Names Committee – also appeared on the show and explained that people aren’t commemorated until 12 months after their passing.
“It’s very unusual to change names,” he said. “It’s a complex thing because – even when we change a single street name – we actually have to contact every person who is on that street and it’s only been done about twice in the history of the ACT.”
In the formal name-changing process, the recommendations made by the committee go to the minister or his delegate to approve. If a person has been commemorated with a street name or place, their family also has to be contacted and significant research goes into each decision.
Cody said now was a good time for Canberra locals to look at place names and think about them.
“Some of them are not the heroes that they were when the places were named after them,” she claimed. “I’m just calling for a review of those places and asking the community to have a think about how some of those names of places affects them.”
Despite being pressed by Bourchier, Cody refused to single out place names and insisted she wanted the community to get involved and have their say on what offends them.
“There are examples out there,” she said. “I just don’t want people to think I think there’s one that is more important than the other. I think it is up to the community to make that decision.”
She also insisted she got the idea from talking to members of the community as part of her job.
“People have raised with me some of the issues that affect them quite deeply, more than I think the average person realises how much some of these place names can have an effect on people,” she said.
Angry listeners sent messages into the station, questioning why the elected officials weren’t focusing on real issues such as broken health, failing education system and ensuring rubbish was picked up on time. Others accused Cody of trying to rewrite history.
Her motion is set to be debated in the ACT Legislative Assembly on November 28.