Ben Boyd's questionable history leads to renewed calls for national park name change

Thaua man Steven Holmes has been driving a call for the name of Ben Boyd National Park to change for many years and was disappointed not to be included when the matter came before council last week.
Thaua man Steven Holmes has been driving a call for the name of Ben Boyd National Park to change for many years and was disappointed not to be included when the matter came before council last week.

Ongoing calls to alter the name of the area known as Ben Boyd National Park are gaining momentum.

Although Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) resolved at their most recent meeting to write to the Minister for Energy and Environment and show support for the Indigenous community to be involved, it may not be in the same vein traditional owners have been hoping and fighting for.

Boyd is documented as being one of the largest landholders and graziers in New South Wales during the mid-1800s.

However he is also known for "blackbirding" South Sea Islanders in the 1840s, bringing 65 men from Lifu Island to work as slaves in his pastoral and whaling operations, working alongside Aboriginal and Maori labourers.

Steven Holmes, founder of Thaua Country Aboriginal Corporation has been driving a call for the name change for many years, stating the history of the land is not represented in the name of the national park, which was established in 1971.

Minister Matt Kean responded to contact from Mr Holmes in February, stating he was, "concerned that a National Park in NSW could be associated with 'blackbirding'".

Minister for the Environment, Matt Kean MP responded to Steven Holmes, informing him any discussion on the appropriateness of the current name should be preceded by an independent assessment in relation to Ben Boyd's historical record with 'blackbirding'.

Minister for the Environment, Matt Kean MP responded to Steven Holmes, informing him any discussion on the appropriateness of the current name should be preceded by an independent assessment in relation to Ben Boyd's historical record with 'blackbirding'.

Born on the south end of Wonboyn Beach, despite his active role in advocating for the name change as a traditional owner, Mr Holmes was not aware of the matter appearing before BVSC, nor invited to attend.

A representative for Mr Holmes said he was very disappointed he hadn't been included.

"He has been pushing for the change for over five years on behalf of Thaua people," the representative said.

The letter from BVSC to Minister Kean will request that "local Aboriginal people be involved in the current independent historical review of Ben Boyd's activities and the appropriateness of the name of Ben Boyd National Park".

Additionally, BVSC will provide a copy of its correspondence to the Member for Bega and the Sapphire Coast Area Manager of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Councillor Robyn Bain requested a third point be added, namely that council also "advise Minister Kean that it wishes to advocate for dual/shared naming of the national park as recognition of our shared history".

Cr Bain said this dual naming to include both Indigenous and European representation is consistent with other processes for renaming in the area such as Biamanga/Mumbulla and Gulaga/Mt Dromedary.

Mr Holmes' representative said that while he had been open to the idea of dual naming when the name change was first discussed, once he had read more about the history of Boyd and his practices, he felt the name should be completely removed.

Minister Kean's correspondence states he supports the "principle that any new name should have strong Aboriginal association and connections," and that he would ask National Parks and Wildlife Service to seek the advice of the Aboriginal community on any such proposal.

Monaroo Elder BJ Cruse, chair of Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, has also spoken against Boyd's name remaining tied to the national park and has been contacted for comment since the council meeting last week.

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