In an election campaign dominated by talk of tax cuts and changes, the voice of the region’s first people has cut through at the About Regional-Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce Meet the Candidates Forum.
Speaking on behalf of the Ngarigo people of the Snowy Monaro, elder Michelle Francis asked the candidates standing for Eden Monaro if they would support the renaming or dual naming for Australia’s highest peak – Mount Kosciuszko.
Polish explorer Paweł Edmund Strzelecki named the 2,228-metre mound in 1840, in honour of Polish freedom fighter, General Tadeusz Kościuszko.
Ms Francis believes the time has come to revisit the name, pointing to the acceptance of Ayers Rock in Central Australia being renamed Uluru.
“The Aboriginal name is Kunama Namadji (Pron: Koo-nar-ma Nam-a-ji), Kumama is the Ngarigo word for snow and Namadji means mountain range,” Ms Francis says.
“Its a place known to all mobs as a meeting place, they came, they met, and they traded.
“It is so rich in resources – flint and rock from Kunama Namadji has been found all the way to Queensland.”
Ms Francis hopes the proposed name change will help with the ongoing discussion about reconciliation with Australia’s first people and believes it’s part of generational change.
“We are moving through time and it starts from the top,” she says suggesting an element of symbolism.
“This is the highest peak in Australia, and this [reconciliation] will work its way down.”
Accepting that some might be resistant to the name change idea, Ms Francis suggests those people engage in the conversation.
“When people feel uncomfortable they perhaps don’t understand the full story,” she says.
“So let’s step back and share our history and knowledge – it’s time to open this up, connect and come together.”
Snowy Valley’s Council has taken the lead on the proposal so far and has commissioned a report with recommendations to guide the next steps.
All the Eden Monaro candidates quizzed by Ms Francis at the Jindabyne forum seemed supportive.
“I live in a place called Dignams Creek which is at the base of what was Mount Dromedary and now has the name Gulaga – the old Aboriginal name for the mountain,” Liberal, Fiona Kotvojs said.
“I believe both names for places can work well – I am quite comfortable working for it if that’s what people want.”
Labor’s Mike Kelly said, “This is part of that education process that we have to engage in for the broader community.”
“I think we have to make sure that our landscape reflects the indigenous culture that we have here – it’s important to me and makes us special in the context of global cultures.”
Pat McGinlay from The Greens also spoke in support.
“So long as that is the will and determination of the local Aboriginal people and they are driving it,” he said.
The Nationals’ Sophie Wade said it’s a beautiful idea.
“I haven’t heard of this idea before, I would 100 per cent support this if I have the privilege of being the Member for Eden Monaro,” she said.
“This strengthens the community and is about doing the right thing.”
Ms Francis says she applauds the support of the candidates and looks forward to advancing the conversation after the election.
Editors note: There is a lot of interest in this idea, and we appreciate the many and varied views raised in the discussion so far. A further article will follow that looks to explore some of the points raised.