William Slim Drive in Belconnen has been renamed, as promised in 2019 by the ACT Government, in response to claims that the former governor-general, in whose honour the road was named, sexually abused boys at the Fairbridge Farm School in NSW in the 1950s.
The abuse claims came to light when victims gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, although the Slim family has denied the allegations, which were never proven.
Sir William Slim was a former British military commander and the 13th governor-general of Australia. The abuse was alleged to have occurred when he visited Fairbridge, which was a notorious home for British child migrants who were trained as farmers and servants.
A media report pre-empted a planned announcement of the name change to Gundaroo Drive, as a continuation of that road to Ginninderra Drive and coinciding with the start of duplication works.
Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman said the renaming followed careful consideration of representations from the community alongside findings from the Royal Commission’s final report, which found institutions should review their existing institutional honours, dedications and memorials.
”The ACT Government is making sure that the commemoration of people through place names is consistent with an inclusive and progressive Canberra,” he said.
The 2019 decision also followed an ACT Legislative Assembly review into place names in the ACT.
Mr Gentleman said at the time that the government needed to ensure ”our public place naming does not cause ongoing hurt to Canberrans”.
Dr Cathy Kezelman, CEO of the Blue Knot Foundation – Australia’s National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, said then that the minimal act of changing the name had a significant effect on survivors.
“Each time a survivor confronts a reminder of their trauma, it can throw them back and be a trigger. Seeing William Slim Drive would be a fairly significant trigger for many people,” she said.
Roads Minister Chris Steel said Roads ACT would commence an audit to identify all the road signs that reference William Slim Drive.
“Once the legislative process has taken effect and the change of name is formalised, a procurement process will commence to update all the required road signage,” he said.
The 3.2 km dual carriageway project between Ginninderra Drive and the Barton Highway will also include intersection upgrades at Dumas Street, Owen Dixon Drive and Chuculba Crescent, and on-road cycle lanes in both directions.
It has been split into two stages – the Barton Highway to Chuculba Crescent and Baldwin Drive to Ginninderra Drive, and Chuculba Crescent to Baldwin Drive, for which a tender has recently closed, with work due to get under way by the middle of the year.
The upgrade will provide access to new housing, reduce traffic congestion and improve safety.
ACT Minister for Transport and City Services Chris Steel said the ACT Government was investing significantly into road network upgrades to keep Canberrans moving and to support better public transport and active travel, and providing employment opportunities in the process.
“As Gungahlin continues to grow, and with the future release of several new suburbs on the former CSIRO site, we are acting to augment this important arterial road to Belconnen,” he said.
“With more than 20,000 vehicles on the road connecting Belconnen and Gungahlin daily, this duplication will ensure that we have greater road capacity to keep the northern part of our city moving.”
The Federal Government has contributed $20 million to the $44.5 million project, which is due to be completed by mid-2023.