Dear Editor,

Five years ago (in 2019) I wrote the Daylesford Secondary Council as a long time and current Hepburn Shire resident, former parent of three children educated at Daylesford Secondary College, as well as a former teacher and School Council President of the College. I urged the College to reconsider their ‘House’ names: Hume, Sturt, Burke and Flinders. For those who don’t understand the House system, all students are allocated to one of four Houses for all team events for their life at the school.

These four names were selected from a short list of eight ‘heroes’, created in 1944 by Charles Daley and Sir James Barrett, who wrote that pre-European Australia was characterised as possessing ‘no evidences whatever of bygone civilization or vanished empires such as distinguished the four continents’. The list included child stealer, Major Mitchell as well as now discredited leader of many massacres, Angus McMillan. All were then regarded as exemplary, White, male, mainly British explorers from the 18th Century and ‘explorer’ heroes in the Australian colonial terra nullius narrative. Several of these men have since been implicated with incidents of frontier violence associated with Indigenous dispossession.

I have provided brief histories of each below. None of these four men have any clear links to this region or its history. Two (Sturt and Flinders) were British explorers. Burke’s role on his tragic inland exploring expedition is far from heroic.

  • Charles Sturt (1795-1869) was an Indian born British explorer whose exploring was mainly on the Murray and Darling Rivers between the late 1820s and 1840s. He returned permanently to the UK in 1853. In September 1841, Sturt chaired an official inquiry into the circumstances of the infamous Rufus River Massacre inquiry concluded that the massacre was ‘justified’.
  • Matthew Flinders (1774-1814) was an English navigator and cartographer who led the second circumnavigation of New Holland. He was born and died in the UK.
  • Robert O’Hara Burke (1821-1861) was Irish born. He died at Coopers Creek on an expedition he headed up (with Wills) that was poorly led and equipped. A Royal Commission report conducted upon the failure of the expedition censured Burke’s judgement.
  • Hamilton Hume (1897-1873) was born and died in Australia. He overlanded from Sydney to Port Phillip in 1824.

I received a polite response, thanking me but suggesting such a change was not then timely or appropriate in 2019. I am airing my views in The Wombat Post in 2024 hoping that there may be others in the community who are similarly uncomfortable about perpetuating these frontier myths by signing up future young Daylesford children to belong to Houses named after men with no connection to Daylesford, several with odious colonial connotations, and be expected to barrack under their names.

In my opinion, in 2024 it is well overdue that the appropriateness of these ‘House’ names be seriously reconsidered. Ideally the House names might changed to be more in tune with contemporary community attitudes. They might instead be representative of men, women and places (particularly from Australia), including from recent decades that have local, contemporary or regional significance.

I could suggest several names of other Australians (including from this region) who have made a huge contribution to the nation, as well as local Dja Dja Wurrung place names that might be acknowledged as part of the well overdue process of Reconciliation with local First Australians.

However I suggest instead, when it is ready, the School Community led by School Council might begin a conversation with students, parents and the wider community about what House names might be more appropriate into the future.

Professor Barry Golding AM