Elizabeth Quay, reflecting Perth

Australia has maintained a long, complex history with the British monarchy since it’s colonial beginnings. Queen Elizabeth II was the first monarch styled as sovereign of Australia in 1953, but public attitudes have shifted during her decades long reign.

In the wake of the Queen’s passing, Indigenous Australians and supporters took to the streets in protest of the monarchy and Australia’s colonial history. Whilst some mourn the loss of a powerful figurehead, for many the Queen represented a brutal period of colonization that resulted in the loss of Indigenous life and land.

Western Australia first received visit from Queen Elizabeth in 1954 and she returned another fifteen times before the end of her reign. To commemorate her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Former West Australian Premier Colin Barnett named Perth’s new waterfront development ‘Elizabeth Quay.’

Elizabeth Quay Ferry and Bridge
Elizabeth Quay has hosted continuous development since it’s opening. Photo credit: Callum Van Waardenburg

The Quay is one of the most recent additions to a list of nearly two dozen Australian geographic locations, buildings and monuments named in the late Queen’s honour.    

The development’s name was immediately controversial, Aboriginal Former MP Ben Wyatt said it did little to develop West Australia’s identity. Former Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi said, “it would have been a fantastic opportunity to have branded WA through the choice of a more uniquely WA name.”

Mr Barnett defended his decision at the time and said he “[didn’t] believe a long debate or consultation with so-called stakeholders [was] the way to go” in an interview with 6PR radio.

Presently, local businesses aren’t entirely satisfied with the Quay. Tour Guide Tabatha Markwater who operates boat tours on the river said, “Elizabeth Quay doesn’t represent the wide range of values that Perth has to offer, it’s often really quiet and just doesn’t have much of its own culture yet.”

As a tour guide for the area, Ms Markwater acts as an ambassador for the space and said she is a huge advocate for using indigenous names. The tours cover the colonial history of the region, so she believes it’s of utmost importance to recognise the traditional owners of the land.

Jacqueline Chester, a supervisor at Elizabeth Quay’s Gusto Gelato said that Elizabeth Quay is “still a foetus in terms of its potential as a location” and needs a lot more time to develop into something that truly represents what Perth has to offer.

Six Degrees Bar Manager Kadek Daramawam said that “having the queen’s name attached to the Quay gives the area a lot of value, it holds a lot of prestige.” He believes that tourists and customers are familiar with the name, and the royal associations impart value directly to businesses in the area.

The waterfront views and iconic arches make for a prime photo opportunity. Photo credit: Callum Van Waardenburg

A representative from the West Australian Visitors Centre said that as there are two sides to Australia’s history, an effective way to acknowledge both sides is the use of dual naming for prominent locations.

According to Landgate guidelines, dual naming is the approach whereby geographical features or places are officially recognised by two distinct names. One name is usually of Aboriginal language origin and the other of non-Aboriginal origin.

Where a feature such as Elizabeth Quay is currently identified by an existing non-Aboriginal name, an Aboriginal name can be put forward to be assigned as a dual name and sit alongside the existing non-Aboriginal name.

Former MP Ben Wyatt said that there was scope for an indigenous name because of the importance the river has to Aboriginals. He adds that “It’s just the fact that we are, as a State, very well removed now from the monarch in our day-to-day life.”

A publication from the South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council says the Swan River and its tributaries hold great significance to the Noongar people as being created and sacred to the rainbow serpent ‘Waugal’. Elders taught Nyoongar people that the Waugal created creeks, waterholes, lakes and valleys on its journey to the ocean.

A Walyunga National Park sign telling the story of the Wagyl/Waugal. Photo credit: user ‘tocworth’

Despite significant changes to the landscape, many Nyoongars continue to access the river for sustenance, knowledge, and spiritual renewal, and practise distinctly Nyoongar cultural associations with the river environment, according to the publication.

There are no current plans for renaming or integrating dual names for Elizabeth Quay, but shifting attitudes towards the monarchy and the acknowledgement of traditional landowners speak to a spreading awareness of Indigenous culture and the possibility for change in our future.

This article is part of a larger project called Where What Why. You can find the whole collection of stories about places and their names here.