By Christopher Knaus Sun 14 Nov 2021 12.46 AEDT
Indigenous leaders say renaming public spaces suggests ‘we are moving forward as a society and repairing relationships’
The New South Wales government will rename Ben Boyd national park on the state’s south coast due to the pastoralist’s association with blackbirding.
The environment minister, Matt Kean, announced the move on Sunday after an independent report showed Boyd’s involvement in blackbirding in the mid-1800s was viewed by many at the time as a form of slavery.
“There are many people from NSW’s early history who are worth remembering and celebrating but it is clear from this historical analysis that Ben Boyd is not one of them,” Kean said.
Blackbirding involved deceiving or kidnapping Pacific Islanders to force them into unpaid or lowly paid work in distant lands including Australia.
Boyd, a wealthy Scottish immigrant with huge landholdings in Australia, was considered an early proponent of the practice.
The Ben Boyd national park, created in 1971, will be renamed in the language of traditional custodians.
NSW will now work with Indigenous elders and Aboriginal community representatives to find a new name. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has a policy to source the names of all new parks from Aboriginal communities.
Sunday’s announcement follows a report last year, conducted by independent historian Dr Mark Dunn, who confirmed Boyd’s involvement in blackbirding and found it was viewed as a form of slavery at the time.
Boyd arrived in Australia in 1842 with the clear purpose of building a pastoral and business empire, Dunn’s report states.
Boyd quickly amassed a huge property empire, with landholdings throughout the Riverina and Monaro regions, as well as central and south-west Victoria. He became one of the largest landholders in Australia, outside of the Crown, and complained frequently about the lack of available workers, particularly for his pastoral operations.
In 1847, five years after his arrival in Australia, he sent ships to Vanuatu and New Caledonia to source workers. He brought a total of 192 men and women to NSW to work on his estates and ships that year.
“His schemes were controversial at the time and viewed as a form of slavery by many of his contemporary critics,” Dunn wrote in his report. “His methods used in securing the labourers were considered to be coercive and the second voyage descended into extreme violence when his ships bombarded the villages, killing numerous Islanders.”
Two years later, his businesses failing, Boyd left for the California goldfields and then returned to the Pacific, where he was killed in 1851 in what is now Solomon Islands.
A number of areas are still named after Boyd. Sydney’s Neutral Bay, a wealthy inner city suburb, has a road named Ben Boyd Road, while the Ben Boyd dam and Ben Boyd reservoir in the Bega Valley were named after him in 1997.
In his report, Dunn found Boyd’s actions were the “beginnings of the idea” of blackbirding, which was later taken up at far greater scale in Queensland after his death.
The decision to rename the park has been welcomed by local Indigenous communities.
Yvonne Weldon, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and the first Aboriginal candidate for lord mayor of the City of Sydney, said the questioning of public space names showed “we are moving forward as a society”.
“We must be secure enough in our identities to continue to talk about our public spaces,” she said on Sunday.
“Questioning who and what we remember, even when it throws up contradictions, is a sign that we are moving forward as a society and repairing relationships with our communities.”
Weldon said she had been campaigning to have Aboriginal leaders recognised across Sydney without success.
“There are 25 publicly funded statues of the colony’s early leaders around the CBD. Among them are Captain Cook, Governor Arthur Phillip, Lachlan Macquarie, Queen Victoria, explorer Matthew Flinders and even his cat Trim,” she said. “But there isn’t one that recognises Indigenous leaders.”
BJ Cruse, the chair of the Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council who campaigned for Ben Boyd national park to be renamed, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “We appreciate this special gesture of respect. We are keen to promote Indigenous heritage in the local area and the name change will go a long way to allow us to achieve that.”