'Racist' Queensland places that could be renamed


Some of Queensland's biggest regional centres would have to be renamed in a bid to wipe the horrific history of slave trading off the state's map.

Townsville, Mackay and Gladstone are just some of the places named after figures who supported blackbirding and slave trading, which existed in Queensland up until the late 19th Century.



Townsville was named after blackbirder Robert Towns. Photographer: Jack Roache
Townsville was named after blackbirder Robert Towns. Photographer: Jack Roache

It comes after the Palaszczuk Government says it would consider changing the names of places associated with British aristocrats and politicians who were in favour of slavery following calls from Queenslanders.

A petition from 400 people lodged with the parliament has requested the move, starting with Russell Island - named for Lord Russell who voted against slavery abolition.

The industry would eventually bring 63,000 exploited labourers to the state.

Towns' company was responsible for blackbirding, or the forced kidnapping of South Sea islanders including adolescent men.

A statue of Towns stands in Townsville's CBD, and has been defaced numerous times.

Mackay likewise was named after Captain John Mackay, who conducted multiple blackbirding voyages in the Pacific in the late 1800s.

The federal seat of Dickson, currently held by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, is named after James Robert Dickson, who supported bringing Pacific labourers to Queensland.

Three-term premier Sir Thomas McIlwraith lost power over the issue of slave labour in Queensland, at one stage attempting to get the state to annex New Guinea to promote the trade.

The tiny township of McIlwraith is named in his honour, and several streets around the state also bear his name.

In 2017, a number of racist location names across Queensland, particularly in Cape York, were relabelled.

Earlier, Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said he had told the petitioners they can send more information on their suggestions to his department.

"I am aware that some place names chosen in the past might not be considered appropriate today," he wrote in a response tabled in parliament on Monday.

"In recent years the department has been removing racist names that are clearly inappropriate."

He said his department had processes in place for raising matters for consideration and members of the community were welcome to make suggestions.

The petition seeks to bring to the attention of MPs places in Queensland that "have been named after British aristocrats and politicians who were slave traders or pro-slavery in their public life".

Russell Island lies in southern Moreton Bay.
Russell Island lies in southern Moreton Bay.

"Your petitioners, therefore, request the House to discover and rename all places named for British aristocrats and politicians who were in favour of slavery or who voted against the slavery abolition laws introduced in Britain in the early part of the 19th century.

"The first to be considered should be Russell Island named for Lord Russell who voted against slavery abolition."

The petition was signed by 393 people and lodged last month, with the government's response to it released Monday morning.

"It is important to remember that regardless of their origins, any place name changes need to be thoroughly considered," Mr Lynham wrote.

He asked the petitioners to "provide more information" to the department if they wished to make naming suggestions.

The Minister said the names of two mountains in the Rockhampton area - formerly Jim Crow Mountain and Mount Wheeler had their Indigenous names of Baga and Gai-i reinstated in the past year.

Queensland resident Tony Magrathea, who lodged the petition, said he started it after the Black Lives Matter movement began.

He said Russell Island was the main place he wanted to see have its name changed.

"If that goes, the rest should fall," he said.

Mr Magrathea said Australians "shouldn't be tied to the Pommy aristocrats," and would be writing to the State Government later today about the issue.

"I think I'll be writing to the department and seeing if they take on the Aboriginal name (for Russell Island)," he said.

"I think most people would agree it should be changed."

Mr Magrathea said he wasn't expecting anywhere near the 393 signatures the petition garnered.

"It surprised me really," he said.