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Byron Shire
December 7, 2023

Push to change Mullumbimby street name that has racist connotations

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Changing the name of a local street because it is derived from a racist slur might seem a simple decision at first glance.

But the reality has proven more complicated when it comes to Hottentot Crescent in Mullumbimby’s Tallowwood housing estate.

The street was given its name because of the hottentot fig trees that were planted there in 1993.

‘La Venus Hottentote’. A handcoloured engraving by George Loftus showing an African woman being racially depicted. Image: Royal Museums Greenwich

But the word ‘hottentot’ itself is a racial slur that has been directed toward members of the Khoisan tribe in South Africa for hundreds of years.

Earlier this year Byron Council was approached by a local resident who argued that the crescent should be renamed.

In response to the approach Council sent letters to the 23 houses on the street asking for their views.

It received a wide range of responses, from those who felt the strongly that name should be changed, through to those who strongly believed it has become part of the local identity that has nothing to do with its racist derivation.

‘Generally speaking, the submission arguments for retaining the current street name were based on the name referring solely to a tree species,’ Council’s Director of Infrastructure Services Phillip Holloway said in a written report to this week’s Council meeting.

‘Doubtless there are many residents in the area and within the Byron Shire more broadly who are unaware of the name containing any other meaning beyond naming the relevant tree.’

‘Against this, the resident opposing the name argues that the tree name itself is racially loaded (whether this is broadly understood or not), because it is linked to the South African first nations people group the subject of the slur – the Khoisan people – who used the tree for food during South Africa’s colonisation.’

Mr Holloway noted that the resident who contacted the Council started a petition in late June which, at the time of writing, had 370 signatures supporting the renaming.

However, he pointed out that it was impossible to determine where the petition supporters lived.

Mr Holloway also noted that the proposed name change would come at a cost to the residents of the street in terms of administration and inconvenience.

There was also a regulatory cost to Council in following the proper process to change the street name.

‘These costs should be balanced against the hurt caused to people impacted by racially loaded language; even in an instance like this where the difficulties associated with the name have their origin some way from 2023 Mullumbimby, where the road name doesn’t “speak” directly to anyone, and where people use the name in good faith only for the purpose of naming a tree,’ Mr Holloway said.

‘Equally, it is acknowledged that in a culture where much communication happens online, there is arguably a higher risk of someone discovering the street name’s existence and feeling the weight of its alternative meaning than in years gone by.

‘The potential audience for the harm is located both within and beyond the Byron Shire.’

Mr Holloway said it was a decision ‘on which reasonable minds can differ’ but that his report erred on the side of replacing the name.

‘It does this on the basis that there is more lasting value (however difficult to measure) in trying to minimise the type of hurt this particular name could cause some people over the long term, over the value in avoiding the (largely short run) costs to Hottentot Crescent residents who oppose the change.’

The matter will come before Council for determination at this week’s Council meeting.

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  1. We are not South Africa. We are not responsible for the feelies of everyone on the planet. If they do not like our customs and traditions, they are the bigots. There are town names around the world that are offensive to English speaking White people, but we are smart enough to realise that it means something different in their country. Don’t be like the people of the village of Fucking. It has been Fucking for a thousand years, and will always be Fucking to me.

  2. Left wing cancel culture at its best (worst)! The street was named after a tree, not a racial slur. How is it ‘harming’ or ‘impacting’ anyone? Seriously, there are bigger issues in the world and in our shire that need our attention much more than this rubbish.

  3. You can find drama, racism and offense in anything if you,

    1. look hard enough and
    2. are easily offended.

    Perhaps we should get rid of the name “Council” thanks to it’s Latin origins and connections to the church.

    Or “Byron Bay” because it was named after some white guy.

    Also, Councillor “Holloway” needs to check his Anglo-Saxon surname origins. The mere mention of the name is sure to cause offense with someone…somewhere…..

    Glad to see so much effort going into this important issue…while the rain causes life threatening pot holes that the council can’t keep up with.

    So much for sticks and stones hey!

  4. Seriously…with what is going on in Palestine, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen we have nothing better to do than dig for reasons to be affronted by the name of a street…..how about we direct our efforts in a more constructive way that will help those suffering far more serious trauma than a name

  5. Maybe all words like white and black and colour, should be eradicated from languages throughout the world.
    Then we’d all feel very nice, but possibly stupid too.
    What about the words hot and air ??!

  6. The original ‘Hottentot Venus’ Sarah Baartman was no doubt exploited and most possibly forced into her exhibition role, but she was in fact a legend. Inspiring one of the worlds biggest fashion trends – the Bustier, a look that is still desired by many women today, and embraced by the men who love them. Indeed some women pay a small fortune to emulate the original. Kim Kardashian has indeed made a fortune as a lookalike. Perhaps Sarah Baartman should be honoured and remembered for her role in the world of influence, (she was not just a tree) instead of being be cancelled out of our memories because of our own guilt. Perhaps Sarah Baartman Terrace might be a fitting street name for those so easily offended by history..?

  7. Using the derogatory term “Hottentot” was legislated against in 2006 in South Africa. The term was commonly used during the Apartheid era. A sensible change of name for the Hottentot bean tree is to use its alternative name, Parrot Tree.

  8. A proud day for those whom have been affected, transgenerationally by the traumas of racist and offensive treatment by colonial diempowerment worldwide. We are here and we remember. If you are a white Australian, with the mentality of ” get over it, mate,” you simply do not have the inter-generational memory and experience to understand, and so humble yourself. Change is made by a simple step. This messaging, sends a loud word to the wise.


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