Frank and William Hann are legends within the narrative of Queensland’s colonial, pastoral and white settler history.
Their reputation precedes them, they are known as men of the land critical to the pastoral expansion of the Burdekin River area.
On the other side of history, one that’s often glazed over, dressed up or put behind glass for the world to devour, Frank Hann is known as a monster.
Hann was a violent man who played an integral role in Indigenous people’s dispossession of land and loss of life, in a time when these unspeakable acts were seen as an inevitable and necessary part of the frontier experience.
His diary entries are littered with references to such violence. Murdering and raping Indigenous men and women, girls and boys with a matter-of-factness that only privilege can conjure.
The same reassurance of privilege that allegedly saw Hann and co-worker Jack Watson nail 40 pairs of Aboriginal ears to the outer walls of their homestead; Hann’s reprisal for cattle-killing on his land.
Hann is not a man that should be celebrated.
And yet, a celebration is being proposed.
A $53 million upgrade will see the Kennedy Development Road sealed, work has started on the final 36-kilometre stretch of unsealed road in on the alternative inland route between Cairns and Melbourne.
This stretch of road in northern Queensland has been informally referred to as ‘Hann Highway’ by media outlets, local, State and Federal authorities, MPs and locals. A colloquial gesture seen as a step toward its official naming.
Why is Hann, like so many revered white pioneers and settlers our first option when it comes to memorialising history through monument or land?
We know of the unforgivable acts these men enforced and encouraged, yet everywhere we turn the Cooks, Macquaries and Hanns are romanticised.
At a time of endless and often tokenistic talk about Reconciliation, of closing the gap, changing the anthem or changing the date, history is happening right under our noses.
We are looking at land and place names through a colonial lens, a conqueror’s lens — we are honouring men that have never honoured Country or custodianship.
The historical origin of a place and its name should speak to its richness in culture and Songline. Rather, we choose to memorialise a one-sided history over and over again.
I don’t want a diluted version of events where we are “one and free”.
I don’t care for changing the date because I will never celebrate the state of this country or how it came to be; when every other day of the year in the colony my people and our Ancestors are overlooked while my brothers and sisters are incarcerated and killed.
Our land is being raped and pillaged, our sacred sites are being blown up and turned over, being named after gruesome men.
How can we move forward as one when we have two versions of events, two histories?
We owe it to the memory our land holds, the memory of the lives lost in the Frontier Wars and the unacknowledged massacres to question the racial contract white Australia upholds.
The contract that not only sees these pillars of brutality commemorated but defended. The message is clear: take your NAIDOC Week, have your apology, but you cannot change our version of history. Do not touch our statues, we will continue to honour the men that killed you.
What’s in a name, some might ask? Plenty, my mob are known as people of three rivers, my home is known as the place of goannas and my name means free man.
The names, monuments and symbols we respect tell us what’s important to us, and I can hear Australia loud and clear.
By Darby Ingram