Content warning: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.
A Perth school has taken a stand to ensure its students no longer chant the name of a historic figure who led a massacre of Aboriginal people.
Across WA, Stirling is a common name for factions within schools.
The groups which students are separated into which are signified by a bright colour worn at sports carnivals, are usually named for prominent figures in local history.
Like many other schools in WA, one of Mosman Park Primary School’s factions was Stirling, named after Captain James Stirling — the State’s first governor and commander- in-chief.
The colonial administrator helped establish the Swan River Colony in 1829 but just five years after, he led a violent attack against the Bindjareb Noongar people, now known as the Pinjarra Massacre.
While historical records from the time stated somewhere from 15 to 20 Bindjareb people were killed, the story passed down through Indigenous families has it that there were more than 20 people murdered that day.
Mosman Park Primary School Associate Principal Pamela Chatfield said it was a letter from one of the school’s Year One students asking for the name to be reconsidered that prompted the change.
“The student had wanted to know who her faction was named after. When she read about Captain James Stirling, she was disappointed to hear what he had been involved in,” Ms Chatfield said.
She said discussion about the matter had been sparked the previous year when she visited the Pinjarra Massacre site as part of a professional development day.
“Hearing about Stirling’s involvement sparked that discussion about whether a change should be made,” Ms Chatfield said.
She said the letter gave her and the principal the confidence that it was a matter the school community wanted addressed. After consultation with the students, staff, and board a decision to change the name was made.
“We can’t stand there and tell students that this person did this awful thing, and it is OK to have a faction in his name,” Ms Chatfield said.
Bindjareb Noongar woman Karrie-Anne Kearing is the director of Bindjareb Park where she conducts tours of the Pinjarra Massacre site. She welcomed the name change.
“James Stirling is inseparable from the full story of the Pinjarra Massacre, so we do mention him several times (in the tour) as he was the governor of the Swan River Colony and many of the final decisions sat with him,” Ms Kearing said.
“I think that anything that honours the perpetrators of this massacre needs to be weighed up. We don’t need another generation not learning the true history when it is available to them.”
She said the change of the name was an important step.
“It shows our communities understand how this is disrespectful to Aboriginal people to honour these people . . . It does not alter or write their name out of history,” Ms Kearing said.
In June, councillors representing WA’s most populous local government named after Stirling voted to keep the City of Stirling name.
“Many things are named after him, but I do think it needs to be reassessed. I think part of the process of change should be the education of why it is getting changed,” Ms Kearing said.
She was not surprised the council chose not to change its name “but was encouraged that at least they had the conversation, and it is a big step to take”.
Ms Kearing commended the school and its “young leaders of the future” for changing its faction name from Stirling to Balbuk, in recognition of Noongar woman and resistance fighter Yooreel Fanny Balbuk.
“I think the movement will start in places like this school making a change and in the end it will be a safe place for others to step into,” she said.
By Aleisha Orr