Indigenous affairs

Stirling up controversy

The City of Stirling, named after Sir James Stirling, is considering changing its name to recognise the area’s traditional owners. 

On Monday May 17, the city passed a motion to rename the area to ‘reflect the long-standing and relevant history of the land in a way that is inclusive and in recognition of the Noongar community’. 

Sir James Stirling was Western Australia’s first governor, having formed the British settlement in 1829.  

In October 1834, Stirling led the Pinjarra Massacre on the orders of Thomas Peel, which is where the Peel Region gets its name. 

Emeritus professor Simon Forrest says this is an excellent first step, but more needs to be done. 

“The whole issue around Stirling, not just the town but the roads, the Stirling Arms Hotel, the Stirling Ranges, lots of things are named after this guy as a way of bringing Noongars into line, massacred Aboriginal Noongar men, women and children,” he says. 

Professor Forrest says the Pinjarra massacre was a catalyst for how others in and around the colony dealt with natives. 

He says from an Aboriginal perspective, Stirling tried to give the killings a sense of legitimacy by using the word battle when referring to the massacre.  

“That way, when he sent his messages back to London about the colony, he had this legitimate battle, a battle between two armies of warring men,” he says. 

“It certainly wasn’t this, it was an early morning attack on a group of Noongar people camped on the banks of what’s now on the Murray River. 

“In terms of changing the name of these colonial people, like Stirling and Peel, would you name your suburb after a mass murderer?”  

Spokesperson for Stirling Ratepayers Association Simon Wheeler says AGM’s are vital to the democratic process. 

“They allow electors to raise motions that might otherwise not pass the filter of governance,” he says. 

“Such a sensitive issue will see the mayor and council dancing on hot coals trying their hardest to not appear to have an opinion whilst welcoming the conversation.” 

An alternate name has not been suggested yet, as the council awaits consultation with the local elders.

The motion is now subject to consideration and a decision will be made at the next ordinary council meeting on June 8, 2021.

Professor Forrest discusses changing town names