There’s a park I often go past on my morning walks. It has a large oval of lush grass surrounded by lofty pine and eucalyptus trees. It’s an oasis. A fresh green space in a sea of pavement, bricks and bitumen. But rather than just enjoying it and breathing in its dewy air, I’m left feeling unsettled. There’s nothing wrong with the park’s facilities or vegetation. It’s well maintained and even has a playground and swing set. What bothers me is its name: Dick Piercy Park.
The connotations of the word “dick” have changed over the last several decades. Popular children’s author Enid Blyton, most recognised for The Faraway Tree series and The Famous Five series, has had many of her works altered in recent reprints to remove the name.
Journalist Stephanie Bunbury in her article Rewrites a blight on Blyton’s legacy… by golly, described how publisher Hachette UK vexed many readers when it decided to rewrite Blyton’s novels to better “align with modern audiences”.
Pertinently, the character of “Dick”, in The Faraway Tree series first published in 1931, was renamed “Rick”. Hachette UK said modern meanings of words may be “distracting or shocking” to readers and so, disappointingly to some, Dick was cut – or rather he didn’t make the cut.
In a heated 2007 discussion forum on enidblyton.net, Blyton fan Maria said: “How silly! I mean, no kid is going to think twice about Dick (I didn’t!) and even if they do, they’ll just have a good giggle.” Another commenter, Charn, agreed saying: “I think it’s a crying shame that an albeit small part of our history has been replaced with a more politically correct alternative.”
But children’s author Andy Briggs offers up a different perspective: “Language just changes, it evolves.” Briggs worries if people cannot adapt to and accept language changing, then new generations of kids could end up having nothing to relate to.
Another case, illustrating discomfort with the word dick dates back to 2009 when a council canteen in the UK changed the name of “Spotted Dick” pudding to “Spotted Richard” after customers continuously made uncomfortable cracks to the canteen cooks. However, the change was short lived due to a mass of abusive letters sent to the Flintshire council accusing them of political correctness, the uproar resulted in Spotted Dick’s reinstatement. This was followed by – one can only assume – a collective sigh of defeat from Spotted Dick serving canteen ladies across England.
A more recent example took place last year in Yorkshire where popular tourist attraction The York Dungeon received a series of complaints from concerned parents about the naming of a new ride: “The Dick Turpin”. It was named after Yorkshire’s notorious 18th century highwayman, but the choice was unpopular with parents who complained it was inappropriate for a family friendly venue and petitioned for it to be changed.
Ultimately, the parents were unsuccessful in getting the ride renamed and were accused of “wokeness”. General manager of York Dungeon, Mark Mattinson, told the media: “Despite any potentially rude connotations, we’re here to say that Dick is here to stay!” Thereby confirming his understanding of the parents’ concerns while also doubling down on his stance of not really caring.
Although we are still surrounded by prominent Dicks such as entrepreneur Dick Smith, former vice president Dick Cheney and television producer Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame, the fact that all these famous Dicks were born before colour television was invented suggests that Dick, as a name, has become too antiquated for modern parents to tolerate.
But why then is Dick Piercy Park yet to be railed against? Maybe it’s because Australia has a lot of places that are a higher priority on the renaming list. Dick Piercy Park is, oddly, not a crude outlier. In an article called Spanker Knob, Bullshit Hill and Guys Dirty Hole are all real places in Australia, journalist Calla Wahlquist lists more than a few pearl-clutching place names that give Dick Piercy Park a run for its money. It would take weeks to travel to all the destinations named after knobs in Australia and if you do, you may like to also check out “Jerking Creek” in Queensland, “Pensioner’s Bush” in Tasmania and finish off in “Lovely Bottom” in South Australia.
But who was the eponymous Dick Piercy and why was his name assigned to this park?
Ian Knight, co-author of Kardinya Rising: The Story of a Modern Suburb of Perth, Western Australia, sat down with Robert Piercy in 2009 to discuss his younger years and his father, Richard Robert “Dick” Piercy.
Robert, who prefers to go by “Bob” – a little more palatable than his father’s nickname – told Mr Knight that Dick was born in East Fremantle, the son of a produce store owner. Dick married Rita Emma Mary (née Stammers) in 1937 and together they had five children, starting with Bob who was born the same year. In 1941, amid the Second World War, Piercy moved with his family from Mosman Park to a 40-acre property in Kardinya to erect a pig farm. And although most of Kardinya was home to poultry farms, Dick’s piggery was a success. At the time, it was the biggest piggery in Perth and hosted up to 2000 free range swine across the expansive estate. In 1945, Piercy cemented his status in the community by becoming a member of the Melville Road Board and remained so for 15 years.
Piercy began subdividing his lot in the seventies. He framed the housing blocks with streets named after his pigs (Tamworth Way and Berkshire Way), himself (Piercy Way and Piercy Court), and his daughter (Loris Way). A subdivision to create a 4-acre park was approved by council on September 14, 1983. The park was briefly dubbed Harry Buckley Park until it was – some might say embarrassingly – formally christened Dick Piercy Park. “Back in those days there were greenspace requirements for suburbs,” says Mr Knight, “Someone would have to offer up a part of their land to fulfil it and Richard Piercy could have just taken it upon himself.”
But the history of the land Dick Piercy Park crowns goes back further than Piercy and even further than colonisation.
In a collaborative project with the Swan River Trust, Debra Hughes-Hallett documented that Kardinya was within Indigenous legend Midgegooroo’s territory, known then as Beeliar. In a pamphlet, Sites of Aboriginal Cultural Significance, released by the City of Melville, Beeliar Noongar people are said to have used dried red and white clay mixed with grease as body paint for ceremonies. This clay was taken from the now non-existent Wilgee Lake: the namesake of Willagee but located in what is now Kardinya. In his interview with Mr Knight, Bob Piercy discusses how he and his father would dig for water in the swampier section of their land. Dick and Bob found large deposits of red and white clay under the soil of what later became Dick Piercy Park. “That’s a sacred site I tell you,” says Bob, “More sacred than you can believe.”
Andrew McDonald, artist and owner of satirical social commentary blog, The Worst of Perth, has piped up on the issue and says: “If the park was renamed to acknowledge the indigenous use of the land, that would be far better.
“My partner is from New Zealand and that all happened decades ago. They’re so much ahead of us in terms of Maori name reconciliation. It’s embarrassing for us.”
McDonald thinks attitudes in Australia are changing, albeit slowly, and Dick Piercy Park, as well as other place names, will be changed in just a matter of time.
“We’ll get past this being a thing where it’s a controversy to change outdated place names or acknowledge history that isn’t white,” McDonald says.
In 2009, McDonald posted a blog entry to The Worst of Perth, discussing Dick Piercy Park. In the post, Mr McDonald discusses the park’s cruder name interpretation and japes however unfortunate it was for Richard Piercy to be called “Dick”, noting it doesn’t mean he can stuff his “dick down our throats” by so boldly naming a park after himself.
His views haven’t changed since. “If they just left off ‘Dick’ to begin with, ‘Piercy Park’ would have been fine,” Mr McDonald says with a boyish grin sweeping across his face.
Although Mr McDonald firmly upholds that language is fluid and constantly changing, he believes the interpretation of “dick” meaning male genitals is now “fairly well imbedded” in western vernacular.
“I think everyone who sees a sign with ‘dick’ written on it is going to think of the same thing.”
As far as suggestions, other than Indigenous names, Mr McDonald calls back to his blog post which provides one that is sure to keep the royalists happy: “Prince Albert Park”.
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.