Global statues controversy hits Alice Springs

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – I am sending the following letter to the members of the Alice Springs Town Council.

 

I am writing to you as a resident of The Gap to ask you and our council to rename Willshire Street.

 

The street is named after William Willshire, a police constable here in Central Australia from 1882 to 1895.

 

As police constable here he was responsible for a number of murders and rapes of Aboriginal people.

 

Records state that he was responsible for the deaths of 13 Aboriginal people, however it is believed that it exceeded this number.

 

He is famous for having said of Aboriginal women: “Men would not remain so many years in a country like this if it were not for [Aboriginal] women, and perhaps the Almighty meant them for use as He has placed them wherever the pioneers go.”

 

Missionaries in the Hermannsburg area made complaints to South Australian authorities that Willshire used brutal and unnecessary force towards Aboriginal people who speared cattle.

 

He was the first policeman to be charged with murder in Australia. This was for the murder of two Aboriginal men who were asleep at a camp near Tempe Downs.

 

To me, it seems egregious to have a street named after such a man, and an insult to the Arrernte people, on whose land this town is built.

 

The Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd has meant that countries across the world have had to look at their own police forces, their own histories, their own statues and street names that commemorate slave owners and other murderers of people of colour.

 

It is time that our town also examines our past and makes the difficult decisions about how we can commemorate it.

 

We are a town that is at the centre of Aboriginal and white relations in Australia, and, what better way for the town to show our solidarity with our Aboriginal community during this time than to take down the name of this murderous and racist man.

 

Some may say that in taking down these names, we are “whitewashing” history, however, as journalist Michael Bradley pointed out in his article “No Statue Should Last Forever, No Matter How Tall,” we are ironically whitewashing history more if we keep this man’s name on our street because we are effectively glorifying him and pretending the murders and rapes he was responsible for did not occur.

 

Indeed, if we do not want to erase history, why not name the street after one of the people he murdered?

 

At a time when police brutality against people of colour is in the spotlight, we must have the courage to be honest about our history.

 

Suki Dorras-Walker
Gap resident

 

 

State Library of SA images, captioned (top) “Mounted Constable Willshire, with members of the Aboriginal police contingent under his command; a staged studio setting” and (bottom) “unpopular because of his ill treatment of the Aboriginal people”.

 

 

 

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12 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Paul Murra
    Posted June 25, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    I work with immigrants from all over the world.
    We need to stop the feeling sorry for ourselves and join in Australia.
    Migrants do not know I am Aboriginal and they ask why Aboriginal people cannot work and are always protesting about the people who built Australia.
    They are just being honest on what they see in the media. We are 3% of the Australian population, immigrants are now 25% of the Australian population.
    They will only grow larger and I can tell you now they will not support Aboriginal people unless we work alongside them and contribute positively to Australia.
    Time to get our kids to school, educate all Aboriginal people and join in the great Australian way of life!

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  2. Jungala King
    Posted June 24, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Reinforcing perpetual actions which have culminated in mass murder and extreme irreparable ecological damage should never be glorified with plagues, statues or any public recognition at all.
    Glorifying evil actions promote racism on a perpetual level but that “chain” is now ready to be broken. White Australia has a black history!

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  3. Posted June 19, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    I’ve been reminded of a third street name change, that of Nicker Place to Hawkins Court, which adjoins Nicker Crescent.
    When the street names for the future suburb of Gillen were gazetted in late 1962, apparently the cul-de-sac off Nicker Crescent (probably the first in Alice Springs) was simply considered a part of the same street.

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  4. Mark Sinclair
    Posted June 18, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    What a sad state of affairs:Division politics of Aboriginal Australia.
    We had serious murderous issues with the Japanese with beheadings en masse, torture and cruelty to our Diggers that beggars belief. We did ugly things too.
    However, because we both have educated minds we now forgive and are best friends. My grandson is Australian – Japanese and our nations have the intellect to trade and enjoy a beautiful relationship.
    Why cannot we do the same at home?
    Because uneducated minds who deal in blood and misery divide Aboriginals against mainstream Australians with obtuse ideas that serve the Aboriginal blood money industry.
    COVID19 happened and there’s no more money, a blessing in disguise, watch the Aboriginal industry rats desert Alice Springs as funds dry up.
    Maybe then we can have education back for Aboriginal kids and the leeches cut from their skin.
    Then we can all be united as multicultural Australians including Aboriginal Australians.

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  5. Posted June 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    @ Alex Hope (Posted June 18, 2020 at 2:39 pm): You’re correct, Lionel Rose Drive was adjusted to Colonel Rose Drive to avoid confusion with the nationally recognised Aboriginal singer / boxer of the same name; however, there’s no change of the person who is commemorated by that street name.
    I think you’re a bit harsh about the motivations for that adjustment; the intention was to name that road in honour of Col. Alfred Lionel Rose, which runs along the south boundary of the Arid Zone Research Institute which he had lobbied the Chifley Government to reserve as a base for primary industry research in 1947 – the first such facility established in the NT under Commonwealth control.
    Colonel Rose, a veteran of both world wars, made an enormous contribution to the NT, especially the Centre, of which I’ll note just a few:
    • Foundation director of the Animal Industry Branch (precursor to the current Dept. of Primary Industry and Research) which provided the underpinning for sustained economic viability of the pastoral industry in the NT for the first time, including initiating the world’s first successful national animal disease eradication program and assisting the establishment of the CSIRO in Alice Springs.
    • Member of the Reserves Board of the Northern Territory and chairman for most of its history (precursor to the long-running Conservation Commission of the NT, now Parks and Wildlife), overseeing the rise of the parks and reserves system so vital to the NT’s tourism industry;
    • Served as an Official Member of the NT Legislative Council in the 1950s, and as the elected Member for Alice Springs 1962-65.
    Colonel Rose died in early May 1980 and was given the NT’s first state funeral – and that leads to another point, it’s normally the rule that street names are allocated in honour of deceased persons of note, not those still alive (yes, there have been exceptions).
    Lionel Rose, the boxer / singer, with all due respect, had no association with the Centre or NT, and passed away in 2011.
    I have the same problem with the name of Ruby Willshire to replace that of her father, William Willshire: What is her connection or role in Central Australia?
    Finally, with regard to a statue of an Aboriginal person to “balance” that of John McDouall Stuart, we overlook the monument to Albert Namatjira (designed by Rex Battarbee) on Larapinta Drive just outside of Hermannsburg, one of the earliest (July 1962) and largest in Australia in honour of an Aboriginal person; and we have the William Rickett’s sculptures featuring likenesses of real Aboriginal people from the early 1950s, languishing at Pitchi Richi Sanctuary that is crying out for more financial support.

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  6. Alex Hope
    Posted June 18, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    @ Alex Nelson: I have not checked, but my memory is that Colonel Rose Drive was originally Lionel Rose Drive, in honour of the local veterinary pioneer.
    However most people thought it was in honour of the better-known Victorian Aboriginal singer and world championship boxer.
    I am not sure whether the change came about because of the embarrassment of the local ruling class at inadvertently honouring an Aboriginal, or that the family objected to kudos going to the wrong man.
    @ Logos: My point is that, ironically, the periodic controversy is effective at raising consciousness about our violent history and thus does more good than changing the name will.
    And taking the cue from Rose Drive, I like the idea of changing the person honoured to a pioneer with the same surname, a very neat solution!
    Meanwhile, do we not need to balance the statue of Stuart with one of a subject chosen by the traditional owners of Alice Springs?

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  7. Posted June 17, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    @ Alex Hope (Posted June 15, 2020 at 5:12 pm): It’s very rare for street names to be changed, I’m aware of only two examples from Alice Springs – and one of these, as it happens, adjoins Willshire Street.
    The original name for Traeger Avenue was Pedler Street but this was changed in early 1967. As far as I can make out, Pedler Street was originally intended to provide the direct road link across to the new suburb planned for the Connellan subdivision – this is indicated by the fact that the existing Pedler Avenue in Gillen is directly in line with Traeger Avenue.
    The second example is the sudden change of Aranda Terrace to Palm Circuit by the NTG in 1987.
    This was intended to benefit Mecca Date Garden which was a popular tourist attraction at the time but didn’t go down well with the lessee of Pitchi Richi Sanctuary who faced the inconvenience of replacing all its stationery and publicity materials.
    I think the case for changing the name of Willshire Street is justified; and I don’t think by doing so that the unpleasant history of William Willshire’s role in Central Australia will be erased as a consequence.
    Keep in mind that we have other place names in honour of far more admirable individuals from that time who are associated with events connected with Willshire.
    For example, the Telegraph Station master Frank Gillen, also special magistrate and sub-protector of Aborigines, ordered the arrest of William Willshire on murder charges. He is commemorated with Gillen Park in the old Eastside, Gillen suburb and Gillen Primary School.
    Similarly, Mounted Constable Bill South was the officer who arrested Willshire and transported him to trial in Port Augusta.
    Bill South also prevented the felling of the Todd River’s red gums for timber supplies by early European settlers. His memory is honoured by South Terrace which runs beside the Todd River and the trees he helped to save.
    So there are means available for ensuring the full history of Alice Springs is acknowledged but in such manner to avoid offence to many people confronted by the record of such as Willshire.

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  8. Logos of Araluen
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I can’t find logic in the reasoning behind why changing this street name isn’t a good thing for our town.
    History isn’t being erased by this movement – it’s being brought into balance.
    There is always another side to a story, different to whose perspective we’re being taught.
    In 1970s schooling, what we heard was very much one side of the story. Thankfully, this is changing and global eyes are opening to what is true.
    As for a metal directional plate fixed to a pole, I’d be curious to know how prevalent in the minds of GenY/Zs are Google searches for street name histories, because I am struggling to imagine any young resident driving past Willshire Street and, being suddenly possessed by intrigue, having the fortitude to then Google the name to learn its history.
    An Arrernte street name stands a far better chance of being researched by, perhaps, a new resident keen to learn and understand more about this ancient country.
    Ex-COVID, these people are a substantial portion of our modest population’s natural ebb and flow.
    I also feel, the right to rename sits with Willshire’s victims.
    Invite the most senior Central Arrernte custodian to present an appropriate new name, and then together we celebrate the renaming.
    I’m sure the residents of Willshire Street would rather be associated with a positive recognition.
    Then hang a little metal plate, under the official street name plate, that says “formerly Willshire”.
    Now, you’ve provided a third solution: Anyone struck with the curiosity bug upon seeing this dual naming can then Google both names and perspectives of this story.
    Who knows, they might then learn to see with two eyes.

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  9. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    Statues, street names should remain and be used to teach history. We cannot change what has be done, but learn for it and be honest with the truth.
    Examples: For centuries along the West African coast, millions of Africans were sold into slavery and shipped across the Atlantic to the Americas.
    That crime is usually blamed entirely on the European outsiders who inflicted slavery on African victims. But Africans should share the blame for slavery.
    It was the Africans themselves who were enslaving their fellow Africans, sending them to the coast to be shipped outside.
    Enslaved Africans came primarily from a region stretching from the Senegal River in northern Africa to Angola in the South.
    The Atlantic slave trade grew at a time when many African states were at war with each other, taking prisoners that could easily be sold to traders in exchange for guns.
    For over 200 years, powerful kings in what is now the country of Benin captured and sold slaves to Portuguese, French and British merchants.
    The slaves were usually men, women and children from rival tribes — gagged and jammed into boats bound for Brazil, Haiti and the United States.
    Therefore instead of destroying statues, should the descendants of slaves blame the African nations? Demanding compensation?

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  10. Sue Fielding
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    We shouldn’t have to wait for a political movement to get rid of the street names of oppressive and murderous white people, like Wilshire. Public debate in this town too often reflects racist bias and white privilege.
    The suggestion to replace certain street names has been raised over and again.
    It is usually shot down in flames by a loud and racist minority.
    That is why Council must show leadership and put its egalitarian values behind egalitarian action. And if not, the question is: What is Council protecting in its refusal to budge?
    As a non Indigenous person I am deeply ashamed for the actions of Wilshire and the many others like him. If Council does remove the honour of his name from the street, Council approves of Wilshire and what he stood for.
    Come on ASTC! Lead so our town can progress, come together, engage in healing, and exchange real histories. There is no better time than now to step up to this.

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  11. Robert Read
    Posted June 16, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    I knew that this one was due to erupt again.
    It is wrong for a street to be named after a man with such a record.
    However renaming streets is a nuisance.
    Why not name the street after his daughter, Ruby Willshire who to the best of my knowledge has never been accused of murdering anyone.

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  12. Alex Hope
    Posted June 15, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests I have been waiting for this topic to re-emerge, so good on you for bringing it up, but I think you are wrong and the street name should stay.
    In discussing this we should remember, before we lynch him posthumously, that
    Willshire was tried and acquitted by a jury, who presumably were not sufficiently convinced by the evidence to convict him.
    However, although I have not done my own original research, and have only read secondary sources, there are enough of these to convince me that Willshire was guilty of the murders he was charged with, and numerous others as well.
    Paradoxically, this is why the street name should be retained.
    In the 35 years or so I have lived in this town, the question of renaming Willshire Street must have come up three or four times.
    Each time there is publicity, public debate, and a revisiting of the violent invasion and appropriation, without compensation, of the whole of Central Australia.
    For many people over the years this has been an eye-opener, and the fact that individual deaths in this colonial war can be attributed to this named agent of the White State can bring the reality of this history home in an almost personal way.
    Erasing Willshire’s name from public view may have the unintended consequence which is the opposite effect to the one you seek, as the periodic public revisiting of this history will no longer happen.
    If we are to have reconciliation with Aboriginal people as a society, then non-Aboriginal Australia has to acknowledge and own its dark past. For too long have we tried to pretend it didn’t exist.
    So yes, by all means, please name some new streets for those brave Aboriginal warriors who resisted the invasion of their land, but let us not consign our troubled history to oblivion under a layer of red dirt.

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