WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned the following story contains images of deceased persons.
Recent news coverage of London stockbroker and colonist Ben Boyd's "blackbirding" of South Sea Islanders may lead to a culturally sensitive name change of the national park bearing his name.
Thaua elder Steven Holmes raised the idea for a name change for Ben Boyd National Park in 2018 after years of discussion among traditional custodians, and said he's "over the moon" the idea has now gained traction within the state government.
Mr Holmes said recent reports he wants Boyd's name removed from all landmarks in the region are incorrect.
I want to see it done before I leave this earth.- Thaua elder Steven Holmes
"I don't want to pull the tower down, it's just the name of the park I want changed," he said.
Since the issue has again made headlines following recent Black Lives Matter movement protests and comments on slavery in Australia by the Prime Minister, NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said he will be briefed on the name change issue, and in the future discuss the possibility with elders and the community.
"I am very concerned about this issue. I have a huge amount of respect for our Indigenous people and their living history," he said.
"Our national parks are about connecting people, not dividing them."
In 1847 Boyd brought 65 men from Lifu Island as shepherds or labourers on his properties.
Around 200 in total were brought to the state before workers protested, saying the move threatened their standard of living.
The islanders either died, vanished, or fled north to Sydney in an attempt to get home to what is now called New Caledonia, leading the colonial government of NSW to ban the practice. There are even anecdotal reports some were killed.
In 2018, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service said it could consider the change "if deemed in the public interest".
A spokesperson said national park names "are expected to be enduring and renaming of these can at times be confusing and disruptive".
"The process of name changing is by public exhibition and must conform to the Geographic Names Board of New South Wales naming principle requirements," they said.
Mr Holmes said he is confident the issue will progress given Mr Kean's interest in discussing a new name.
"I want to see it done before I leave this earth," he said.
Mr Holmes' ancestor Budginbro, or Chief of Twofold Bay, forged a strong relationship with Boyd and his friend, marine painter Oswald Walters Brierly.
Budginbro also forged such a close relationship with Brierly, he named his son, born at Boydtown in 1843, after him.
He said without the shared knowledge from his people, Boyd would not have been able to profit from the land. In 1842 he showed the colonists pathways from the coastline to the escarpment.
Ngarigo elder Aunty Iris White is chairperson of the Southern Kosciuszko Executive Advisory Committee, set up to help joint manage Kosciuszko National Park with the state government and traditional custodians.
She said a debate over a dual name for the park has long been under discussion.
"The importance of naming is significant as the name attributed in language is usually linked to story connecting people to an event or a resource associated with that place," she said.
"My personal perspective is the name Ben Boyd, for Aboriginal people, reminds us of a time of great sadness and hardship, not only those people on the coast but also for Monero-Ngarigo people."
Mr Holmes said, while he was initially open to a shared naming of the park, after reading a book on Boyd's activity around Eden his view changed completely.
They were tricked to come here. They thought they would have a good life, but their life turned to hell.- Steven Holmes
"After I read about him I decided I want his name gone from the park, which sits on Thaua country," he said.
"Boyd took the land, and bought everything with stolen money."
Author Tom Mead's book Empire of Straw details the life of Boyd, who fled Australia bankrupt after years of access to seemingly endless credit from the Royal Bank, of which he was a director and his brother the manager.
Mead discusses a lengthy investigation in England into Boyd's dealings with the bank which uncovered a staggering shortfall of 740,000 pounds, the equivalent of around $100million today.
Mr Holmes said Boyd was driven purely by "greed", and would have done whatever he could to make money from any industry.
Google search interest in Ben Boyd hit a high all along the East coast of Australia on June 16 after Mr Holmes' push for a name change again hit the news headlines following the Prime Minister's comments on slavery.
"These fellas he brought here were islanders. They'd never seen sheep," Mr Holmes said.
"They were from the tropics, so they'd likely freeze to death up there in winter.
"They were tricked to come here. They thought they would have a good life, but their life turned to hell."
When Mr Holmes saw the Prime Minister say Australia "did not have slavery", his cup of tea nearly went through the television.
"I just dropped my jaw, and thought 'where the hell has he been?'," Mr Holmes said.
"Then, when you look on Facebook you see horrible comments. They are all in denial.
"There were thousands of my ancestors here. Where did they all go?
"They didn't just walk off somewhere.
"We need people who understand bones and forensics to come down and help discover the colonial history."
Mr Holmes said he is "amazed" at the level of hatred thrown towards his people, especially on new platforms like social media.
In recent times, interpretive signs educating the public on the traditional heritage of the land around the historic Davidson Whaling Station, which sits inside the park, have been vandalised with racist comments, Mr Holmes said.
"The more you make a noise about things, the more people resist change,' he said.
"A lot of people have their heads stuck in the sand. The South Coast needs to know the truth."
Mr Holmes said the summer bushfire has uncovered the largest midden he has ever seen, with ocean species found along the edge of the freshwater Wonboyn Lake.
After evacuating his Eden home due to the summer's bushfires, Mr Holmes said the park was once not overgrown with tea tree, a plant his grandfather would tell them to pull out of the ground due to its flammable qualities.
"Stopping it happening again is about more than just cool burning, it's about land management,' he said.
He said he will soon be helping educate students during future camps within the park, providing an opportunity for the next generation to learn the true heritage of the area.
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