29 January 2022

Is renaming Aspen Island really a win for acknowledging women's achievements?

| Suzanne Orr MLA
Join the conversation
Aspen Island

Aspen Island will be renamed in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Glynis Quinlan.

After a statue of Andrew Ellis Clarke was unveiled on Constitution Avenue in 2020, the public conversation on the underrepresentation of women in our public memorialisation has steadily grown.

On 1 January, the Federal Government announced Aspen Island would be renamed ‘Queen Elizabeth Island’. While some might say this is a win for the commemoration of women in our public art and placenames, it shouldn’t be taken as that.

It would seem the Federal Government understands the high value of conscientious public representation, and it was encouraging to see the most recent commissioning of a bust of Marion Mahony Griffin, located at the lookout on Mount Ainslie.

Marion Mahony Griffin was a largely overlooked figure until recently, despite her significant role in developing the winning design for the city of Canberra, which was won only under her husband’s name. Marion’s former absence in our national consciousness is particularly galling when one looks to just a sample of her contributions to this nation over a distinguished career.

We now know that early on in her relationship with Walter Burley Griffin, she rendered his plans for the Australian Government’s international competition for the design of our new capital to a remarkably fine degree despite having never seen the landscape.

READ ALSO Aspen Island to be renamed after Queen Elizabeth

However, Marion was a trailblazer in many other respects. She was the first licensed female architect in her home state of Illinois. NCA curator Roslyn Hull has described Marion as “the first woman as far as we know working — that is, actually having a job — as an architect anywhere in the world”.

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ has been the guiding creed for my work in this space these past few years. It is my strong belief that this turn of phrase is best applied when we memorialise art, places, and any other form of public commemoration after women and other marginalised groups who have achieved great things.

To get our own house in order on this issue, so to speak, I have made the case in the Legislative Assembly for better representation of women in our public memorialisation. Noting that at the time of Art ACT’s listed gendered sculptures, 16 were male, 10 of which depicted historical figures. 11 were female, of which 1 was a historical figure resulting in a 10 to 1 gender imbalance.

Shortly after this, Jasiri – organisers of ‘Girls Take Over Parliament’, launched a petition I sponsored, calling on this Government to: “look to promote equality and diversity in the people we recognize through public commemoration; increase the prominence of women in place naming conventions across the territory; and identify opportunities to increase the representation of women, especially of diverse backgrounds and First Nations leaders in our public statues.”

Consequently, the Standing Committee on Economy and Gender and Economic Equality resolved to inquire into memorialisation through public commemoration, submissions for which are still currently open.

The Minister for Arts has begun to address the disparity within the Art ACT’s collection, announcing in our most recent budget $200,000 dedicated to a new public artwork commission by a female or non-binary artist to represent and celebrate women and/or non-binary people.

We have also seen great progress in recent times from the Deputy Chief Minister, with two of our new schools named after women, taking the total from one to three. Every student who hears the name of these schools will know women can succeed in equal value to the men who have been named after schools.

This brings us back to ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ Island.

Queen Elizabeth II was born into the most powerful position of any person in the Commonwealth. While many will rightly argue that she has performed her duties in a commendable manner and is a worthy candidate for memorialisation, many others can similarly assert she already enjoys significant recognition.

We would do well to put a comparable effort into naming things after women who have not had the institutional backing it takes to be recognised for achievements which we would recognise in many of their male counterparts without fuss. If we are going to recognise and memorialise women, it should reflect the diverse contribution made by all females.

After all, names, and things that are named, have meaning. Otherwise, we wouldn’t bother naming them at all.

Suzanne Orr is the Labor Member for Yerrabi. She is a member of the standing committees on the Economy and Gender and Economic Equality and Planning, Transport and City Services, of which she is Deputy Chair.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Now there’s a cost effective tribute. Don’t do anything. Just rename something else. Surely we can do a bit better than rebadging a small island to honour Her Maj?

Sure, we could rebadge something else. I like the cheap part.

I suggest a random flagpole would be suitable, because it won’t have an existing name whose change might upset anyone, and when King Charlie comes here he can run a flag up it. Everybody’s happy.

Might as well rename everything once that person fades from memory. Like how many young people even know of Scrivener etc etc

Aspen Island is artificial (in an artificial lake) and was supposedly named after the Aspen tree. So there is no geographical or cultural link or rationale for calling it Aspen Island. It could be called Gilligan’s island or treasure island and it would not really matter. Naming it after a foreign dignitary is a useless and symbolic gesture. Lets just leave it alone.

No disrespect to Marion Griffin, whom I believe was the senior partner in Canberra’s design. The Queen would neither know nor care for this empty gesture. Why don’t we call it Mother Island. It will represent over 50 percent of our population, honour both Indigenous and non-indigenous women, and recognise the significant contributions that women have (and continue to) make to society. It does not need a statue as it has a Carillon which is much better. You would have to be a hard person to not acknowledge the impact (sometimes good, sometimes bad) your mother has had on your life. My late Mum (who lived in Canberra from 1963) would be pleased. Seriously.

I can’t believe of all the significant issues affecting Canberra and Canberrans, this is the topic that the MLA decides to write an article on now.

And it’s one of a few recently in a similar vein.

So woefully out of touch, if only we had a decent opposition to hold them to account.

We could call it the ‘Island of Dr Moreau’ and put the Coalition Government there. We would not notice the difference between the inhabitants.

Hey Suzanne.
With your local pool closed for two years, roads full of potholes, Yerrabi Pond full of algae, over grown grass, weeds and rubbish everywhere, hoons and massive trucks racing along our roads evey day and every night, hospital waiting times the worst in the country, living costs spiralling upwards (while they fall in other jurisdictions), why don’t you focus on issues that matter – i.e. the basic functions of government which your government is failing at spectacularly.

With all of the Royal names within the triangle, another Royal name is consistent with that naming protocol.
As for comment about 10:1 names being male, seriously? Should ratios even be a consideration?

It would be great to consult the aboriginal communities in the area to find out about leaders who have contributed to their lives and communities, particularly looking to ensure female leaders are not ignored or dismissed. All too often the model of leadership considered worthy is a male model, yet it is often women who contribute the most to community life.

ChrisinTurner3:22 pm 30 Jan 22

Naming schools after men or women is meaningless and not helpful to anyone.

What is the obsession of renaming our islands, streets, monuments etc. They were all originally named for a reason and if our standards have changed then they may change back again in years to come. Leave Aspen island alone. The Queen has enough things named after her already.

Peter Graves11:48 am 30 Jan 22

Thanks for your comments, Suzanne

It would be useful to recall the ACT Assembly’s pre-existing Motion for greater recognition of both Marion and Walter. On 19 February 2020 (HANSARD page 449 onwards), it approved Mr Raj-Gupta’s motion partially reading:
“calls on the ACT Government to:
(a) acknowledge the significant contribution to our capital and consider naming future public places, for example, street names after Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin; and
(b) investigate how we can see further recognition of Walter Burley Griffin’s gravesite in Lucknow.”

Unfortunately, the Government’s response was quite minimal and inappropriate for Canberra. The Planning Minister’s response related to Melbourne:
“In Canberra, I am pleased that the ACT Place Names Committee has been able to recognise a different aspect of Walter Burley Griffin’s architectural contribution by endorsing the naming of Knitlock Street in Taylor. The name commemorates the modular concrete construction system developed by Griffin comprising mortarless interlocking wall blocks and roof tiles. Two prototype Knitlock cottages, “Gumnuts” and “Marnham”, were built at Frankston, Victoria, in 1919. “

As a construction method, KNITLOCK was not used in Canberra, is otherwise an unknown name and also ignored Marion.

The Marion Mahony Griffin View from Mt Ainslie was distorted by the National Capital Authority’s approval to demolish the building ANZAC PARK EAST. With its companion Anzac Park West, they formerly “anchored” the bottom of Anzac Parade and continued the harmonious proportions of that View to Parliament House.

Apart from a private mural in Kingston of Walter and Marion, there is no visual reminder in Canberra of Marion – the person. We have reminders of Curtin and Chifley – the people – together in the Parliamentary Triangle.

What did the ACT Government do to implement the Assembly’s will ?

Peter Graves
Chair, Canberra Chapter
Walter Butrley Griffin Society

Stephen Saunders11:46 am 30 Jan 22

It sure isn’t a “win for women”. It is a full-on grovel by Chief Royalist Morrison and a casual insult to Canberrans. Who weren’t at all consulted, and were just fine with Aspen Island and its lovely carillon, donated I might add by the Brits.

I mean, how many thousands more items in British Australia need the QE II label attached to them? I’m still recovering from the day when Gillard did the full-on grovel for Charles and Camilla, renaming part of Parkes Place as “”QE Terrace”.

But… It’s in Canberra but on Commonwealth land…

Renaming Aspen Island or anything else in the name of gender equality is about as stupid as renaming one or more of our states to have a male name.

After all, we have two of our six states named after woman (or iirc woman).

There are none named after men. Surely as part of the gender equality push it is time to even that up and have at least one with a male name?

Nah, of course that is a stupid idea!

Surely they’ll rename the top end to “Kingsland” once Charles becomes king?

Considering we have had kings since Queen Victoria, I doubt it will be renamed Kingsland.

Though if they plant heaps more trees we could rename it to Kingswood when we get a king. That would be an Australian name.

If we become a republic we could rename it to “Land” or perhaps” Sland”

Warren Brompton8:04 pm 30 Jan 22

None named after men?

And poor old Tasmania gets forgotten about again…Abel Tasman.


Poor Tasmania. 🙁

Still 2 to 1

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.