After several months of reviewing place names in the ACT, William Slim Drive is set to be renamed “to ensure our public place naming does not cause ongoing hurt to Canberrans,” the ACT Government said.
Following an ACT Legislative Assembly review into place names in the ACT and in particular Haig Park and William Slim Drive, the ACT Government will rename the busy Belconnen road but Haig Park will retain its name despite its namesake’s use of questionable war tactics during the First World War.
Last year, concerns were raised about William Slim Drive which was named after Australia’s 13th Governor-General who has been accused of committing sexual abuse against children.
ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman said he intends to rename William Slim Drive following careful consideration including allegations made to the ACT Government, a submission made by the Slim family and the recent Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
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Mr Gentleman asked the Place Names Committee for further advice on the process and new naming options and plans to formally rename the road on duplication in the next 12 months.
“The Place Names Review found robust processes exist for place naming in the ACT,” Mr Gentleman said. “The ACT Government is ensuring that commemoration of people through our roads, parks and public places is consistent with a modern, inclusive and progressive Canberra.
“Child sexual abuse is abhorrent and we need to ensure our public place naming does not cause ongoing hurt to Canberrans.”
Haig Park will keep its name but will see new signage installed telling the contested history of Field Marshal Haig’s wartime legacy, which Mr Gentleman said will help inform discussion around Australia’s experience in WWI.
Mr Gentleman also said he would ensure the Committee has processes to ensure place names meet community standards and will help improving avenues for community input into the place naming process.
ACT Labor MLA Bec Cody has been calling for change to the place names and said the announcement was a “victory for truth and honesty about our past”.
“Today, Mick Gentleman has delivered. When place names are offensive or hurtful to members of the community, there should be a process available to them,” she said. “I believe the Canberra community is kind enough to listen to victims and help heal the wrongs of the past.
“I have spoken to people who have been advocating for the change this morning and one person who has been really driving this change for a very long time, he almost couldn’t speak. He was so emotional and grateful for the Government actually listening to him.
“There have been people struggling with the name of William Slim Drive for decades, and trying to get someone to change the name has been hard for them and devastating for them.
“For the Minister to come out today and announce those processes will be easier is just wonderful.”
Dr Cathy Kezelman, who is CEO of the Blue Knot Foundation – Australia’s National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, said the minimal act of changing the name has a significant effect on survivors.
“When someone has been sexually abused, particularly as a child, it takes away their very sense of self and their ability to live their life as it was meant to be lived,” Dr Kezelman said.
“For victims, it is incredibly confronting to see an alleged perpetrator being honoured and acknowledged by having things named after them. A perpetrator is someone who steals their innocence and their future and from that point of view, they should not be honoured in any way.
“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.
“It is hard enough living day to day with a history of child abuse let alone being reminded of it on your everyday activities.”