Controversial plan rename Sydney's Cooks River to Goolay'yari

A new proposal to rename the river named after British explorer Captain James Cook sparks debate over heritage and history.

Controversial plan rename Sydney's Cooks River to Goolay'yari
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Sydney’s Cooks River, located in the city's south and southwest, could soon be renamed Goolay’yari, igniting a debate over historical and cultural significance.

This proposal, led by an Aboriginal partnership group and several local councils, has raised eyebrows among residents and historians alike.

The proposal, which involves Sydney Water and the Bayside, Inner West, Strathfield, and Canterbury-Bankstown councils, claims to restore the river's "original name."

This move follows other controversial renamings, such as Ayers Rock to Uluru and Fraser Island to K’gari.

Gregory Andrews, who facilitated consultations for the proposal, defended the change on ABC Radio Sydney, stating:

“It’s not really renaming; it’s giving back the name that it’s always had. It doesn’t detract from James Cook and all of his achievements as a great explorer of his time. If he had ‘discovered’ it today, he wouldn’t call it after himself. He probably would ask what it was called.”

However, not everyone agrees. Critics argue that renaming the river diminishes the legacy of British explorer James Cook, after whom the river was originally named.

The river flows from a park near Bankstown in Sydney’s southwest, passes through Strathfield South, and continues to Tempe before entering Botany Bay.

The proposed name, Goolay’yari, means "place of the pelican dreaming" in local languages. An island on the river, known as Fatima Island, resembles the foot of a pelican.

The name change has not yet been fully endorsed by the involved alliance, and the proposal has sparked a broader debate about how best to honour both Indigenous heritage and historical figures.

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