Slings and Arrows: Indigenous Names and Catholic Claims in Adelaide’s Park Lands

Ash looks into the politically correct mechanics of naming parks and the machinations from schools to build on the Park Lands thanks to a $20m lucky dip redevelopment fund.

Names, give us names

Visitors to Adelaide must wonder at the way the many parks in our famous park lands are often (but not exclusively) signposted with Aboriginal names, reflecting the original locals, the Kaurna people. It started many years ago and, while terribly respectful, has had the potential to baffle unless one speaks the Kaurna language. Try this one: Ityamai-itpina Park. That’s a translation of the name of an indigenous man of stature at the time of Adelaide’s settlement (1836) and whom the English locals mistakenly described as a king. King Rodney. Anyway, more than 175 years later, those words will be the proposed additional name for what is park 15 on the park lands’ southern edge.

But the bid to add more plain English names to the parks (Possum Park, Bullrush Park, etc) has not been without much introspection. For several years tiers of bureaucrats have agonised over the task, first among a naming committee and then via a council ‘Internal Reference Group’. Political correctness quickly infected each tier as nervous nellies realised that someone or something might be omitted from the final mix and stall the whole exercise for more years.

Someone eventually drew up a safety list that would embrace all options. Names had to fit at least one of seven categories: Kaurna lauguage; Kaurna community; gender balance; people who have made a contribution to the park lands or the community; prominent features in a park; and unique links between a park and an influential person. From this, ideas emerged, but the eternal quest for ‘gender balance’ (today’s ‘must do’ obsession) put much pressure on the politically pure among the selectors because, while men’s history chokes our local archives, women’s is more difficult to identify.

Brush with fame

Among a clique of ‘prominent’ names chosen to tag long-unnamed parts of the park lands has emerged Denise Norton (first SA woman to represent Australia at the Olympics); Josie Agius and Gladys Elphick (prominent Kaurna elders); Helen Mayo (medical campaigner); Mary Lee (suffragette); and Kate Cocks (first female constable in the British Empire and an advocate for women).

The most curious nomination is that of North Adelaide-born artist, Stella Bowen (1893–1947). At 21 she bolted from Adelaide, never to return. Her art career included marriage to famous English author, Ford Maddox Ford (for nine years) then eking out a living in London and Paris art circles. Her most prominent gig was as a war artist (mainly portraiture) in 1944. She created some respected portraits. Within three years she was dead, and the Australian government was too mean to pay her way home as she fell ill. So much for a ‘prominent’ South Australian park lands connection!

Catholics win on tactics

It must have been a challenge to identify those whose ‘contribution’ to the park lands was something worth noting for posterity. It’s also going on elsewhere, too, but in reverse order – ‘How can the park lands contribute for the benefit of others?’

The state government has a $20m lucky dip bag for major recreational redevelopment of various park precincts. There’s a flurry of fresh (self) interest emerging for the private building of new recreational sport hubs on free land and locking in fresh, long leases on exclusive terms for wealthy schools and sports clubs.

Segmenting the groups by religion is revealing. Both Anglican and Catholic bodies are in the queue, parties that have enjoyed park lands leases for years on which some already had built modest change rooms (of the beach shack variety) while others had built larger bunkers, with toilets and showers. The South Australian Cricket Association (Anglican) is already through the gate, having gained permission to replace their beach shacks with a multi-million-dollar, two-storey pavilion off West Terrace. Similarly, the Prince Alfred College Old Scholars (very traditional Anglican) is patiently awaiting approval for its own two-storey, big-dollar proposal off MacKinnon Parade, North Adelaide. Both will be palatial by comparison to what went before, and very definitely mark the public land sites as territory all their own.

But, tactically, these self-funded bids can’t compare with the most recent bid, by Prospect’s Blackfriars Priory School (Catholic), to build on park lands adjacent to the Aquatic Centre (Fitzroy Terrace frontage). It already has a large, relatively modern bunker there, but there’s now a quest for something more expansive. There’s no self-funding plan here. The school has its eyes on a $7m dip into the state government’s $20m kitty. There’s already been a row within the city council because there appears to be enthusiasm within council to push this one through itself, rather than initiate the usual procedures, checks and balances of the Park Lands Authority before any ‘lucky dip’ is explored.

If council continues on this curious path, it could feature one of those occasional park lands trifecta wins, a long-shot plunge based on timely Opportunity, Free Land, and (free) Taxpayer’s Money. Can’t do better than that.

As they say in the Sunday mass, the Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves.

Ash Whitefly is Executive Director of the Adelaide Whitefly Institute of Diplomatic Studies

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