The state of Western Australia has confirmed that it intends renaming the well-known King Leopold Ranges as it joins the global movement to rename places that are considered offensive.
The mountains, which lie around 2 300km from Perth in the Kimberley region, were named in1879 by explorer and political figure Alexander Forrest. He called several ranges in WA after European monarchs of the time.
Leopold is regarded as having a particularly distasteful history and is estimated to have caused the deaths of up to 10-million people in the Congo Free State in Central Africa between 1885 and 1908.
New name will be Wunaamin-Miliwundi Range
Ben Wyatt, Aboriginal Affairs Minister for Western Australia, confirmed on Friday that the name will be changed to the Wunaamin-Miliwundi Range.
“It is a combination of the Ngarinyin and Bunuba traditional names for those ranges,” he explained. “It’s a combined name, recognising those ranges cover a couple of traditional country areas.”
He added: “It’s much more appropriate for what those ranges are, and what they represent as a key Kimberley landmark.”
Has been broad consensus that a change must be made
The name-change process was originally expected to take some time, but Wyatt said a collaborative approach and work by previous governments had seen the process move forward quickly.
“There’s been a broad consensus for a long time the name needs to be changed,” he said. “But what has really held it up is acknowledging the status and where things were with the native title process.”
Wyatt said he believed it was important for customary names to be recognised. “Giving traditional names back to the people is very important for the native title process,” he noted.
Despot Leopold II has no connection with the region
The irony of the King Leopold Ranges name is that Leopold II never visited the region or Australia and had no known ties to the country. He was chosen by Forrest because he was a European monarch of the era and because he was perceived to be interested in exploration.
He ruled the Congo Free State privately and was its absolute monarch. He was particularly cruel and bloodthirsty with the local population and eventually an international outcry forced Belgium to remove him.
He died a year later and crowds of people booed his funeral procession.