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Blacktown name change down to ‘backroom horse trading’ says federal MP

Blacktown councillors are gathering on Wednesday night to debate a referendum to change the name, a move which has sparked allegations of playing politics in the 15-member council.

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The push comes from the council’s seven Liberals and lone independent Russell Dickens, who has been pushing for a name change for two decades.

Cr Dickens wants to undertake community consultation seeking alternative names such as West Sydney City Council before holding a referendum alongside the next local government election next year.

However, federal Labor MP and former Blacktown councillor Michelle Rowland has dismissed the proposal as “utterly ridiculous”.

Ms Rowland told SBS that the push for a referendum was not only costly, but politically motivated.

“The motivations behind this are purely backroom horse trading about the upcoming mayoral election,” she said.

Ms Rowland said that there had never been strong support for the notion, despite Cr Dickens campaigning for change on numerous occasions.

Liberal councillor Karlo Siljeg denied that the referendum was related to winning over Cr Dickens, whose vote will be essential in the mayoral election next month.

Cr Siljeg told SBS that his party’s support for a referendum on the name change was about giving locals the opportunity to choose a name which may better suit the changed nature of the area.

“Blacktown has grown,” he said.

“… The name of Blacktown doesn’t really signify the region, there’s a lot of development that’s happening and the suburb of Blacktown doesn’t really have that kind of attachment to the name.”

Indigenous community backlash

The push to change the name has angered the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, the largest in NSW.

Local Elder and Darug Tribal Aboriginal Corporation chairman Gordon Workman said the proposed referendum was “an insult to the Indigenous people of Blacktown”.

“We have no problems with the word Blacktown, no problem whatsoever,” he said.

“We don’t want it. We are quite proud.”

The origins of the name Blacktown are tied with the Indigenous population, many of whom worked 30 acres of land or attended the Native Institute nearby during the early years of settlement.

Historian Jack Brook said the name first appeared in writing as Black Town in 1822, and was not considered derogatory at the time.

Mr Brook – who is personally opposed to the name change – told SBS there had been attempts to change the suburb’s name dating as early as 1878.

“People were writing in the local newspaper, seeking a name change,” he said.

“I reckon at that time, it was without a doubt racist.”

Protesters to target council meeting

Blacktown councillors will meet to debate a motion to quash the proposed referendum on Wednesday, where they will be met by protesters opposed to the change.

Blacktown Residents Voices spokeswoman Indira Devi said protesters would rally outside the council chambers ahead of the meeting, calling on Cr Dickens to back down from his campaign.

Ms Devi – who stood as an independent candidate in the NSW state elections earlier this year – has also started an online petition against the change, calling it “disrespectful to the community and inconsiderate”.

“The Blacktown is our heritage, it is a story of where the name came from, how, when and why,” she said.

“Our children and grandchildren need to know the story.”

The motion to quash the proposed referendum is expected to fail, with Liberal councillors joining Cr Dickens to vote it down.