Emotional push to return iconic landmarks to Darumbal names
IN the shadow of one monolith and Gai-ee (Mount Wheeler) firm in her gaze, Aunty Sally Vea Vea feels goosebumps riddle her skin; Baga (Mount Jim Crow) was calling her.
She is standing on sacred Darumbal ground alongside fellow Indigenous elder Nhaya (Aunty) Nicky Hatfield, a woman fluent in the language she hopes to revive.
"This is Baga, Jim Crow, Mount Wheeler is Gai-ee," Nicky explained of the traditional names both elders hope to return to the mountains with the help of Keppel MP, Brittany Lauga.
Aunty Sally explained last year's landmark Darumbal People Native Title Consent determination spurred the long-desired next step in moving forward as a people.
"All of these mountains out here, there's always something special about them," Aunty Sally said.
"And you can feel it, and you start to get goosebumps because you know there's something here that still belongs to us, and that calls us here."
Her voice slightly wavering after she shared the Dreaming creation stories of the two mountains, both traditional gathering places, Nhaya Nicky remained firm in her desires.
"I just want them changed back to their original names," she said.
"And we understand people may not like the change and you know that's fair enough. People get used to things and want to keep it the same way, but again this is home to all of us, to all community no matter who you are. This is our home.
"It's very deep in here that, we get these names changed," she says clasping her chest.
"But for others who don't have that connection to country, even though this is their home, they would probably like the change too; they would welcome the change and they would be proud to be calling these mountains their original names."
Mrs Lauga shares Aunty Sally and Nhaya Nicky's desire to restore community pride in one of the longest surviving cultures in human history, but the MP is also deeply shamed by the negative racial connotations associated with each site.
Though the Department of Natural Resources and Mines do not hold records of how the English names came to be, Ms Lauga says their belief is Mount Jim Crow is a throwback to the archaic US racial segregation laws of the 1940s to 1960s; Mount Wheeler, they speculate, was named after Sergeant Wheeler, an officer who ordered the massacre of hundreds, if not thousands, of Indigenous people on and around the site.
Ms Lauga believes "to truly reach reconciliation, we must first be honest about our past".
"I think the fact that Mt Jim Crow, a place of significant cultural heritage to our traditional owners, by its name, refers to racism and segregation, is a great shame," she said.
"As a community representative, I am ashamed that we have an iconic local place, which is named after racism and segregation.
"I want a community that celebrates our Indigenous cultural heritage, our diversity and promotes inclusiveness. So I believe it is important to rename Mount Jim Crow to its traditional name, Baga, in the spirit of reconciliation.
"I want our local Indigenous community to be proud of this iconic natural place as opposed to being constantly reminded about a horrible, racist and archaic policy of segregation."
Ms Lauga drew comparisons between the local initiative and the return of Uluru (Ayres Rock) to the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal people.
"Definitely," she said of the likeness.
"I would also like to see maps and signage also refer to places by their traditional names.
"The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are the two, longest ongoing cultures in the world, for over 50,000 years.
"Renaming official places, which were named after colonisation, back to their traditional names, which have existed for tens of thousands of years, is, in my opinion, the right thing to do and a step in the right direction towards reconciliation."
Ms Lauga last year took Aunty Sally and Nicky to meet with the Department of Natural Resources and Mines to discuss the name change.
She explained there are a number of ways in which a place can be renamed, as was the case with Uluru.
"A place can keep its original name but have a second name in brackets after it," she said.
"For example, Mt Jim Crow (Baga). Or, the place can have its name completely changed.
Ms Lauga explained ultimately the decision to move forward with the renaming process lies with the Darumbal people.