QUEENSLAND is setting out to eliminate Blackfellow Hill, Nigger Head Island, Chinkie Creek and some 170 similar place names whose racist overtones are no longer acceptable.
Once Australia's most conservative state until Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's regime fell five years ago, Queensland's Labor government under Wayne Goss has announced legislation to clear the way for changing names of capes, bays, waterfalls, mountains, streams and towns whose origins stem from a frontier era when Aborigines, Chinese and Pacific islanders were regarded almost as sub-human.
The bill results from a review of government departments and regulations. Sensitive officials winced at place names that computers compiled from Queensland's vast hinterland.
They discovered, for example, 25 places called Blackfellow Creek and 15 named Black Gin Creek (gin is a derogatory Australian term, now very out of fashion, for an Aboriginal woman). There are 29 Chinaman Creeks and two Kanaka Creeks, reflecting the times when Chinese and Pacific islanders, or 'kanakas', were imported as virtual slave labour for sugar-cane farms. Some names, such as Gins Leap and Kanaka Release Creek, evoke sad and violent images from the colonial past.
The cleansing bill will allow anyone to propose changes to the names which the government review deemed to be offensive. Bob Weatherall, a Queensland Aboriginal spokesman, said Aborigines would be pushing for many replacements. 'These names are an absolute disgrace and give international visitors an impression of how white Australians treated their Aboriginal counterparts,' he said.
However, Geoff Smith, the Queensland Minister for Lands, said changes would not be made willy-nilly. There were some places, such as the outback Queensland towns of Blackbutt and Gin Gin, which should stay for historical reasons.
'These are the names that the pioneers gave to the scrub and vegetation near those towns.'