FREMANTLE council is looking at renaming Kings Square, with 19th century Indigenous leader Midgegooroo a frontrunner to be honoured.
Mayor Brad Pettitt told this week’s finance, policy, operations and legislation committee that local elders were excited about the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to make Indigenous culture an integral part of the square’s $220 million revitalisation.
Dr Pettitt said he believed Fremantle’s “enlightened” community would support changing the 187-year-old name of the square, but he expected it would follow a “robust conversation”.
Midgegooroo, the father of charismatic resistance fighter Yagan, was recognised as leader of the Noongar people living in the Fremantle area when English colonists arrived in 1829.
He was executed without trial on the orders of lieutenant governor Frederick Irwin on May 22, 1833 – just two months after surveyor John Septimus Roe signed off on the first plan for the township of Fremantle, with “King’s Square” at its heart.
Following consultation with the elders and a working group from the South West Land and Sea Council the city’s new civic centre is also poised to be called Walyalup, after the Noongar name for the Fremantle area.
The name is pretty much locked in after the council’s project director Russell Kingdom warned the state government was only holding off announcing Indigenous names for its office buildings in the square to avoid stealing Freo’s thunder. Councillors were left to debate whether it should have “centre” or “civic centre” tacked on the end, with Cr Andrew Sullivan suggesting a style guide for Indigenous naming conventions would be useful.
But an enthusiastic staff report recommending the council “support in principle” Midgegooroo Place was watered down by committee chair Hannah Fitzhardinge, who called for more broad consultation to allow other names from the community to be considered.
Cr Fitzhardinge was supportive of changing the square’s name: “There is a Kings Square in Perth which is confusing for people,” she said.
“It is also not a square,” she said of the Freo site.
Cr Sam Wainwright said a number of sites around the state were named after James Stirling and Thomas Peel, “the architects of the Pinjarra massacre”, and using indigenous names in the square would help “redress the balance”. He also found Kings Square a “nondescript” name and doubted few would know which king it commemorated.
He was expecting some backlash but says the council is up for the debate.
“After going through the Australia Day debate, we’re not afraid of it,” he said.
Several councillors raised concerns about a long, difficult-to-pronounce Indigenous name which would likely end up shortened, saying it could affect the precinct’s branding [though the Chook notes the inglorious-sounding Midge Place does hark back to the area’s roots as a swampland], while Cr Wainwright also noted the council resources that had gone into the Kings Square branding.
It wouldn’t be the first time the square’s been renamed, as it was gazetted as St Johns Square between 1986 and 1991.
The Anglican church has owned all or part of the square since the early 1840s when the first church was built there, and current rector Patrick King said the council had let the parish know about the potential renaming.
“We would need to have a conversation as a church and a parish and I would certainly welcome being part of a broader conversation,” Fr King told the Herald.
“I am supportive of recognising that this place has a longer history than the time the church has been here,” he said.
While he wouldn’t comment on the proposed names, he said it was great to be part of the square’s revitalisation, saying anecdotally the church was already getting more visitors – often tourists who’d pop back for a Sunday service.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson was the lone voice at question time, accusing the council of “tearing up its traditions and history”.
The former deputy mayor said Midgegooroo committed three murders, reading out the testimony of 12-year-old Ralph Entwistle, who’d told a coroner he’d seen Midgegooroo spear his father before the chieftain’s wife broke his legs and “cut his head to pieces with an axe”.
“There were plenty of admirable Aborigines who did not murder and plunder but deserve memorialising – Mokare, Nakina, Warrup, Kaiber, Miago, Wylie, Weenat, Windich, Pierre and Dower to name a few,” Mr Dowson said.
“But the name Kings Square does not deserve to disappear any time soon.”
by STEVE GRANT