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February 23, 2024

Mayor’s change of heart on Hottentot name change

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Byron Mayor Michael Lyon speaking at Marvel Hall as part of celebrations for another newly named place in the Byron Shire,.George’s Cottages aged care village. Not the same name change as that referred to below.PIC: Treefaerie

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Rescission motion withdrawn

Byron Shire Council chambers in Mullumbimby, also known as a ‘humble vessel where councillors and staff pour the fruits of their deliberations’ (ed). Photo Hans Lovejoy

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

Beautiful Mullumbimby, the only town in the world to have the dubious honour of a street sharing a name with a highly racist slur. Photo supplied

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.


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11 COMMENTS

  1. So all you have to do is get him emotional and he will do what you want no matter how irrational the subject? Great. Did he bother to ask any Khoisan if they even care? Bet not. They have a king you know. You can email him and explain the situation. “It was named after a plant, no one here even knew it was used as a racial slur on the other side of the planet…” – And to get the response I want you to get, say “…some white south africans want to rename our stuff and put the blacks in charge of our country.”. That last bit that last bit will do the trick. They know a thing or two about that. He will give you some brown man wisdom about that.

      • Much easier to manipulate the majority of people with emotions period.

        Fear is typically the best, followed by suffering and compassion.

        This proposed name change is I’ll advised. A very slippery slope!

        There are many words and things that have potential to trigger a number of people who interpret said words and things in “their own truth” contrary to the intent and relevant meaning in the local community.

        There’s no harm intended locally. Understand that and move on, we can’t accommodate your exceptional offence unfortunately.

        For example, there is a street named “Bogan” in Los Angeles. Bogan is also used in a derogatory fashion.

        As a bonafide Bogan, I could chose to be offended, get my kickers all twisted and cause a great stir in the community of a far away land….or not.

        There’s multiple official “Bogan” street names, Towns river etc in Australia. Just one example, let you mind consider others.

        The cost, the uproar, time the effort away from issues people physically feel (i.e. bing cold, homeless) as a result is madness.

        Short term pandering is a long road to all manner of unfortunate individual triggers.

        Bogan out.

    • What silly nonsense. I knew it was a racial slur and plenty of other people would have too. It was also well-known at the time of the naming. It’s impossible to keep a name that is a deliberate racial slur and that’s all there is to it.

      • Then shouldn’t every culture in the world have to change anything that is perfectly normal and innocent to them, but offends White People? That’s going to be a lot of stuff.

  2. We lived under the shadows of the Hottentot Holland, a range of beautiful mountains in the Cape. I am 80 years of age and this is the first time I have heard that Hottentot invoked racism. Nonsense! I knew friends at home whose second name was Hottentot… an honourable name for an honourable people.

  3. The mayor listened to the information and argument presented at Open Access and changed his mind. Good on him! It is not forbidden to listen and learn and change position as a consequence. More the sign of a thinking human being.

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