Re-naming of a Mountain July 2009
Kath has been lobbying for a name change of the Niggerhead mountain range for 10 years, and finally the quiet voices and persistence of the Elders of the Indigenous Reference Group, formed after the 2003 bush fires, made her dream a reality!
Kath’s first reaction on seeing the sign ‘The Niggerheads’ at the Tawonga huts site on one of our first rides in 1986 was disbelief. It went against the fabric of her being and the values she was bought up with, by the progressive nature of her parents. For years, Kath lamely explained to her riding guests, the history and origin of the name, knowing full well the mountain’s geographic features resembled proud strong indigenous heads, especially when viewed from the West Kiewa River valley and the Fainters, and that the name “Nigger “ is a racist term. Research soon revealed it was time to reconcile and give the mountain a new name. She discovered that over the past 30 years letters were documented with the registrar of place names objecting to the name of Mt Niggerhead dating back to 1977.
Finally in 1999 there was an opportunity for change. There was a new State Government and a political shift towards reconciliation, so Kath embarked upon a lonely campaign for name change. The issue was even discussed in parliament in 2000 and recorded in Hansard.
With reference to the historical name (named by stockmen Jim Brown and Jack Wells in 1852) and the mountain’s features, Kath’s first inclination was to suggest the name be changed to “Koori Heads” as suggested in her first correspondence to Mr Parker, the then Registrar. During one of many sleepless nights some weeks later, it occurred to her that the most appropriate name was “Yitmathangs” (sp.), in recognition of the original indigenous inhabitants, and suggested this as documented in another letter to the Registrar of Place Names in 1999. It was her hope that the community would embrace this name and that the heritage and stories of these people not be lost. It proved a difficult and intense campaign and after many letters the idea of renaming the mountain to the Yitmathangs(sp.) seemed unlikely, due to all the negative reactions received. Kath was shocked at the reaction and attitudes of some people in the community! And despite some encouragement, negative feedback is always difficult to handle.
It was quite by accident 8 years later (on National Sorry Day, the apology by the Federal Government) that Kath re-ignited the issue on A.B.C. local radio, and was promptly contacted by the Chief Ranger of the Alpine National Park, to be informed the renaming of the mountain was happening and the chosen name was THE JAITHMATHANG! KATH WAS ECSTATIC!
It was disappointing for Kath to have been side lined by the bureaucracy and not ‘kept in the loop’ but she immediately wrote to the Victorian Alps Indigenous Reference Group (whom, until then, she had no idea existed) and congratulated them for driving this change. Kath is so proud of what she was able to achieve and even though she was not officially recognized by the government for her ideas and drive on this issue, was most definitely embraced and thanked personally by the Elders of the Indigenous Reference group at the re-naming ceremony in November 2008. Kath’s proud to say the story of the Jaithmathang people can now be told openly without prejudice and with integrity that honors their great traditions.