Content warning: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
An inland highway under development in northern Queensland is set to be named after two notorious colonial settlers despite their well-documented racism and race-motivated violence.
In March 2019, the Federal Government approved the final round of funding to finish the Kennedy Developmental Road, an inland highway between The Lynd and Hughenden – about four hours west of Townsville by car.
Informally, the stretch of road is being named the ‘Hann Highway’, after brothers William and Frank Hann. Whilst the origin of the name’s use is unknown, it has frequently been used by MPs and media organisations including the ABC.
This is not the first time the Hann name has been immortalised, with a national park in southeast Western Australia officially being named Frank Hann National Park in 1970.
The Hanns were early explorers, pastoralists and settlers of North Queensland and Western Australia. Throughout their lives they ran cattle and sheep farms and were given charge of explorations into parts of Australia previously untouched by colonial settlers.
Frank Hann was also known to hunt Indigenous people for sport. His diaries from 1874 note his “hunting Blacks” and shooting at “blackfellow” simply because he saw them.
In 1909, Frank Hann caused controversy across Western Australia when he published in The Sunday Times his intentions to shoot an Indigenous person so that he could send their skull to a friend in Perth.
It was later confirmed by the intended recipient of the skull, Fred Brockman, that Hann had sent him a skull of an Indigenous man who had died “some years” ago.
Records from Carrie Creaghe, an explorer who spent time on Hann’s station Lawn Hill in northern Queensland described how Hann and his station manager, Jack Watson, had pinned 40 pairs of ears of the Waanyi people onto the external walls of the property.
These murders of Aboriginal people were allegedly committed as retribution for alleged attacks on Hann’s cattle.
Community leader Alec Doomadgee said the Waanyi people continue to hear stories of Frank Hann as “a total monster”.
Doomadgee said oral history passed down from family members about Hann include descriptions of rape, child molestation, murder and revenge.
While William Hann was less acclaimed than his brother as a pastoralist and explorer, his journeys and explorations followed a similar pattern of conflict with Indigenous peoples.
A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department for Transport and Main Roads told NIT the Department only uses the official name for what is already informally known as ‘Hann Highway’.
“The official gazetted name for the State-controlled road is the Kennedy Developmental Road. The Department only refers to this road by its gazetted name,” said the spokesperson.
However, a May 2020 joint media release from stakeholders involved in the project, including Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads Mark Bailey and Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, refers to the road as ‘Hann Highway’.
“A $50 million, four-year collaboration between all three levels of Government to seal major sections of the Hann Highway is complete,” the statement reads.
“Flinders Shire Council Mayor Jane McNamara said the Flinders Shire Council is very happy to be the recipient of the NARP funded Hann Highway works, along with the Etheridge Shire.”
The statement has no reference to Kennedy Developmental Road.
The Department did not respond to questions regarding the joint statement.
A spokesperson for Minister McCormack said the naming of highways on State road networks is “a matter for the relevant State and Territory Governments”.
“The Australian Government takes these concerns very seriously and has already changed references to this highway to the Kennedy Developmental Road for all federally-funded projects on this highway, at the request of the Queensland Government,” the spokesperson said.
It remains unclear when this terminology change occurred within the Federal Government and Minister McCormack’s Department, as another statement referring to the road as ‘Hann Highway’ remains on the Deputy Prime Minister’s website.
By Aaron Bloch