Byron Mayor Michael Lyon says he hopes to meet with residents of the leafy Hottentot Crescent in Mullumbimby this week to discuss a name change.
Byron Shire resident John Simons and another resident, both born in South Africa, petitioned the Byron Shire Council last year to have the street’s name changed owing to its deeply racist heritage.
Although said to technically be the name of flora native to South Africa, Mr Simons and supporters say it is mostly used as a racist insult there.
Locally it was reportedly named in honour of a fig tree decades ago.
But information abounds online describing the term as highly racially offensive.
Councillor Lyon says he has been unable to find evidence of any other places in the world named Hottentot, besides a few venues, with Mullumbimby the first.
Rescission motion withdrawn
Councillors voted unanimously in November last year to have the name changed in response to a staff report on the matter.
Around 370 people had by then signed a petition in support of the change but councillors did not discuss the matter.
By December, the mayor was expressing a revised view of the issue and was to move for a recission of the vote last week.
Cr Lyon said the decision for a change had been made without proper consultation with residents of the street and at least some had since said they didn’t support it.
Changing names of streets and other places wasn’t a simple process, the mayor said in December 2023, rather, it could be costly and administratively painful for people.
But at the council’s planning meeting in February 2024, the mayor had another change of heart after hearing Mr Simons deliver an impassioned speech during public access.
Impassioned speech from local migrant moves mayor
The mayor told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom on Friday he found the speech so moving he intends to have staff provide him with a copy to share with others, including the residents of Hottentot Crescent.
Mr Simons used the speech to explain how the most common usage of the word Hottentot is in South Africa is as a derogatory term for the indigenous Khoisan people.
Dutch colonialists in the late seventeenth century started using the word as a racist slur, Mr Simons said, in the same way other colonialists have used certain other racist nouns for indigenous peoples.
Information from various online encyclopedias suggests the term is used for some plants and animals but has overwhelmingly been used as a racist slur since the colonial era in South Africa.
It was first used to describe the Khoikhoi nomadic pastoralist people of southwestern Africa before being applied to the Khoisan people.
‘This racialised language perpetuates harmful stereotypes and contributes to the marginalisation of an entire indigenous community,’ Mr Simons said.
The mayor said if the vast majority of the street didn’t want to do something, generally, ‘democracy rules, right?’
‘But sometimes you do need to show leadership,’ he said, ‘and I think this was a case for it’.
The mayor said he also wanted to ‘look into ways’ residents could access ‘grant funding or some kind of way to help’ cover costs associated with the name change.
‘It’s through no fault of their own that they’re having to go through this process now,’ Cr Lyon said, ‘but I think we made the right decision and then now it’s just about communicating that and helping how we can’.
The mayor withdrew his recission motion on the name change, which had the support of Crs Peter Westheimer and Duncan Dey.
Support for a councillor to move a recission motion doesn’t always necessarily mean councillors will vote in support of the motion itself and the council’s previous majority vote to support a name change still stands.