A Scottish explorer credited as one of the founding fathers of Australia is set to have his name wiped from the map after his bloody past came to light. Angus McMillan ~ born on Skye in 1810 ~ has been celebrated with plaques, cairns and even comic strips after founding the harbour that went on to be Port Albert in South Australia.
As a tribute to his pioneering spirit the country’s most southerly electoral district ~ McMillan ~ was named after him. But now it has come to light that he massacred Aboriginal communities to the brink of extinction in a bid to seize more land for his fellow Scottish sheep farmers. His most notorious massacre occurred in 1843, when he led the slaughter of between 80 and 200 aboriginal men, women and children as revenge for the death of a single white settler.
Australian electoral authorities are now reviewing the ward’s name after activists have expressed outrage that it is named after a man known as the “Butcher of Gippsland”.
Evan Ekin-Smith of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has said a name change will be considered at the earliest opportunity. He also said that AEC guidelines clearly indicate that naming a district after a man known for mass murder is not appropriate. In fact, they state the complete opposite: “Divisions should be named after deceased Australians who have rendered outstanding service to their country.”
Russell Broadbent ~ the Liberal MP who represents McMillan ~ has been at the front of the drive to rename the district. He expressed hope that constituents would come forward to make their opinions known on the renaming. He said: “The renaming of an electorate resides with the AEC, which welcomes submissions from the general public on the matter.”
Pauline Durnin ~ a community campaigner ~ said: “I think we need to recall that when this constituency was named in 1940, Aboriginals were not included as citizens of Australia, nor had the right to vote. “I would like to see the McMillan electorate renamed in favour of the Gunaikurnai people.” The Gunaikurnai are the Aboriginal people who have lived in the district for some 20,000 years.
Photography by David Rayside
Edinburgh-based writer Cal Flyn ~ who discovered that McMillan was her great-great-great uncle in 2011 ~ also welcomed the move. Ms Flyn has written a book about her ancestor and his legacy and said: “It seems the wheels of progress turn slowly, but I’m glad to hear that the concern of Gippsland’s Aboriginal community are finally being heard.”
“Changing a name cannot change the past, but it is a symbol perhaps that the wilful blindness shown towards the darker seams of colonial history is coming to an end.”
~ Cal Flyn
Ms Flyn travelled to Australia to research her book Thicker than Water and discovered that on McMillan’s arrival in 1840 there were 2,000 Aboriginals in the area. By 1857 only 96 remained.
Professor Ted Cowan, a historian at the University of Glasgow, described McMillan’s actions as a “scar” on the reputation of Scots in Australia.
In spite of his diminishing reputation, McMillan is still celebrated in some areas. A community centre in Sale, Victoria, honours him with a sculpture featuring a thistle in representation of his Scottish roots, and a saddlebag containing human skulls, which he kept as grim trophies of his exploits.