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Henry Dana’s dark past drives calls to re-name one of Ballarat’s major streets

Some Indigenous rights advocates say Ballarat’s Dana Street should be renamed as it honors a man who led massacres against First Nations people in the 1800s.

Marking this year’s National Reconciliation Week, Ballarat City Council held a ceremony at its historic town hall.

Among speakers were Ange Elson from the recently-established local community organization Ballaarat Allies and proud Yorta Yorta woman Rachel Muir.

During her time at the podium, Ms Elson lent her voice to calls for council to consider re-naming the street, one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

And speaking to the ABC shortly after the official speeches wrapped, Ms Muir echoed Ms Elson’s push for not only the council, but the wider community, to reflect and recognize the brutality directly linked to the Dana Street’s name.

In December 1851, William Swan Urquhart visited Ballarat to complete the first general survey of the city for the Victorian government.

Mr Urquhart named four of the city’s central streets — Sturt, Lydiard, Mair, and Dana.

The original map of Ballaarat created by surveyor, WIlliam Urquhart, completed in 1852.(Supplied: Public Record Office Victoria)

“They were all men involved with the goldfields commission,” said Dr Anne Beggs-Sunter, lecturer in history at Federation University.

Who was Henry Dana?

Henry Edward Pulteney Dana was born in 1820 and was aged in his early 20s when he emigrated from England to Australia.

After a short time in Tasmania, Dana moved to Victoria — named Port Phillip District at the time — where he met with the state’s first lieutenant-governor, Charles La Trobe.

The pair were acquaintances, having met in London years earlier, but quickly became close friends, Dr Beggs-Sunter said.

Mr La Trobe gave Mr Dana the role of establishing the state’s first Native Police Corps in Narre Warren in 1842.

“It was a very innovative idea at the time,” Dr Begg-Sunter said.

Mr Dana quickly listed 25 young, fit Aboriginal men, and the corps was formed.

Massacres at Barmah Lake and Snowy River

Just a year after its creation, the Native Police Corps was responsible for a massacre of 26 Aboriginal people at Barmah Lake on February 1, 1843.

According to information from the University of Newcastle Australia’s Colonial Frontier Massacres website, Mr Dana and his troops were called to the area after Aboriginal men stole sheep from Moira Station.

Three years later at Snowy River, a further 15 Aboriginal people were killed at the hands of Mr Dana and his Indigenous police force.

historic illustration of native police corps in victoria
Henry Dana established Australia’s first Native Police Corps in 1842. Plate 60: William Strutt, Black troopers escorting prisoner from Ballarat to Melbourne, 1851.(Supplied: Parliament of Victoria)

Mr Dana and his force were the first police on the goldfields in Ballarat, arriving in September 1851, according to Black Gold by Dr Fred Cahir, an associate professor in Aboriginal studies at Federation University.

Their duties included checking gold licenses and collecting license fees from diggers.

But just one year later, he had died of pneumonia.

The Public Record Office Victoria states that in early 1853, the Native Police Corps disbanded due to Mr Dana’s death and the expanded employment opportunities offered by the gold rush.

Actions spark discussion

Ms Elson said Dana Street is one of several examples in the region of colonial leaders being unjustifiably honored.

“We can’t just say it’s okay because Dana was historically important so we can’t possibly touch that,” she said.

image of dana street primary school in ballarat central
Rich history lines Dana Street, including Dana Street Primary School which was established in 1857.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic)

Ms Muir said she also wanted to see traditional landowners consulted before new streets were named.

“Going forward, with new suburbs around Ballarat, we can make a change,” Ms Muir said.

But Dr Beggs-Sunter disagreed with the push for Dana Street to be re-named.

“I’m not supportive of the re-naming of streets … streets do reflect a lot about the history of the time. Leave them alone.”

image of dana street sign in Ballarat
One of Ballarat CBD’s main thoroughfares, Dana Street is sparking debate.(ABC Ballarat: Lexie Jeuniewic)

Re-naming a ‘significant undertaking’

Guidelines for re-naming streets in Victoria are set out by Geographical Names Victoria and then implemented by a naming authority, such as a council.

In April, the Hepburn Shire Council voted unanimously in favor of changing the racially derogatory name of Jim Crow Creek to Larni Barramal Yuluk.

A creek with gum trees along the bank on a sunny day.
Jim Crow Creek runs from near Hepburn to the Loddon River in Southern Dja Dja Wurrung country.(Supplied: Hepburn Shire Council)

Evan King is the CEO of the City of Ballarat and said re-naming any major street in the city would be a “significant undertaking”.

“There would need to be significant consultation, research, and communication with anyone directly impacted that has a residential or business address, as well as more generally a public notice process for submissions from the wider community,” Mr King said in a statement.

Ms Elson said a formal application to re-name Dana Street is yet to be made and Ballaarat Allies “will be guided by the community.”

“It’s something we’d definitely volunteer our time for,” she said.

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