Former Prime Minister Paul Keating has taken umbrage at a plan by NSW Planning Minister, Frank (‘Get off your black ar-e’) Sartor, to name a new 22-hectare commercial district in Sydney’s East Darling Harbour region ‘Barangaroo’.

The word ‘Barangaroo’ is the name of the woman who was married to Bennelong (after which Bennelong Point, which houses the Opera House, is named). Sartor rejected other names like “The Hungry Mile”, the area’s name during the Depression.

Describing the name Barangaroo as “Aboriginal kitsch”, and noting it has no real geographical association with East Darling Harbour, Keating suggested that “if the NSW Government is having pangs of colonial conscience, it can support the Perth Aborigines against the Western Australian Government in the Noongar appeal. That would be useful rather than trivial.”  

The former PM makes an excellent point. White Australia has a very nasty habit of embracing Aboriginal culture when it suits, then stomping all over it when it thinks there’s cash or land involved.

The SMH reports that “Barangaroo was respected for her strength of character and was known for wearing nothing aside from a small stick through her nostrils”. How quaint. Bronwyn Bishop is also a woman with great strength of character and she’s known to walk around with a bug up her a-se. So does that mean we should name a whole commercial district after her?

For a start, it’s grossly offensive to Aboriginal people to name someone who is deceased (which is why place names have almost always been based not on Aboriginal words, not individuals). But given that the average blackfella spends as much time worshipping the memory of Bennelong and his wife as they do handing out how-to-vote cards for John Howard, it probably won’t offend too deeply.

Because, you see, to quote the Herald, Bennelong was “the Aborigine adopted by the first white settlers.” In other words, he was a ‘jacky jacky’. A blackfella who gave aide and comfort to the enemy.

It’s no coincidence that the first black man to help the white invaders has been immortalised by that most odious of institutions, the Bennelong Society. And it’s ironic that his wife is now being immortalised by that other great western institution, the shopping mall.

It’s a very ‘white’ thing to honour Aboriginal culture with the name of someone who helped decimate it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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