Community feedback sought on Coon Island name

Published on 13 May 2021

Coon Island March 2021 (10) (Custom).jpg

Lake Macquarie City Council is seeking feedback on the community’s sentiment regarding the name of Coon Island and Coon Island Point.

Council’s Director Service Delivery John Ferguson said Council is encouraging community comment before it considers any naming proposal. Reviewing the name forms part of an upgrade to the site, including a new boardwalk, public art and interpretative signage, proposed to start in 2021-2022.

“As we consider significant improvements in this location it is appropriate that we consider community sentiment around the name given it is considered offensive by parts of our community,” Mr Ferguson said.

“Lake Macquarie aims to be a welcoming and inclusive City for all, and our place names should be representative of who we are. We want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to provide their feedback on the future of the name.”

In recent months, Council staff have engaged with Bahtabah Local Aboriginal Land Council, Miromaa Aboriginal Language and Technology Centre, members of the Heaney family, Awabakal Descendants Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, Awabakal Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation, the NSW Geographical Names Board and other community groups and stakeholders, as part of gaining an understanding of community sentiment and developing potential name options, alongside the existing name.

The stakeholders identified potential name options for Coon Island and Coon Island Point, which forms the basis of the community feedback opportunity. The community can also advise if they support a name change or not, as well as suggest a name.

Coon Island options

  • Heaney Island – reflects the island was named after Herbert Greta Heaney whose nickname was “Coon” Heaney.

  • Keep Clear Island – the earliest known nautical map sketched by W.Proctor of Lake Macquarie dated 1841, identifies the point and location of the island as Keep Clear Point.

  • Miners Island – this name is suggested by descendants of the Heaney family as a way of recognising the mining families who lived there between 1915-1974.

  • Pirrita Island – Local Awabakal Aboriginal word for oysters from the mangrove tree, which signifies the oysters growing on the mangrove bushes in this part of the lake.

  • Purramai Island – Local Awabakal Aboriginal word for cockle. Most middens found around Lake Macquarie are that of the cockle, and there are several middens in the location’s vicinity.

Coon Island Point options

  • Birraba Point – Local Awabakal Aboriginal word for small shell fish. Small shell fish make up the shoreline of the majority of the lake’s foreshore.

  • Heaney Point – reflects that the island point was named after Herbert Greta Heaney whose nickname was “Coon” Heaney.

  • Keep Clear Point – the earliest known nautical map sketched by W.Proctor of Lake Macquarie dated 1841, identifies the point and location of the island as Keep Clear Point.

  • Kunbul Point – Local Awabakal Aboriginal word for black swan. Lake Macquarie is renowned for the presence of the black swans that congregate in these bays.

  • Miners Point – this name is suggested by descendants of the Heaney family as a way of recognising the mining families who lived there between 1915-1974.

Feedback gathered through shape.lakemac.com.au/coon-island until 4 June will help Council staff form a recommendation to the elected Council, which will then vote on the matter. The NSW Government’s Geographical Names Board is the state authority that approves place names.

Origins of the Coon Island and Coon Island Point name

The island was named after Herbert Greta Heaney whose nickname was “Coon” Heaney. 

Community Historian, Val Hall, in her publication titled “History of Coon Island : a collection of facts, photos and memories from former resident's, photos and documents about the community that lived on Coon Island and Little Coonie, Swansea New South Wales between 1915 and 1994” V1 & 2 outlined two theories behind this nickname: 

  1. He was a miner and he did not wash at the mine and when he came home from work he had coal dust on his face.

  2. He spent so much time out on the lake fishing he was always very darkly tanned (from his nephew Ron Hughes). 

Another theory was presented by George and Noeleen Boyd in the 2007 historical reference: “What's in a name: a brief history of some of the names past and present in and around the northern end of the Wallarah Peninsula”, reporting that there were no bathroom facilities in the early days of coal mining, making it necessary for the miners to wash at home. Herbert, who was said to have been round of face with eyes to match, making his daily trek home after work with the whites of his eyes protruding from a coal-blackened face, must surely have resembled a ‘Coon’ as in racoon, from which his nickname alleged derived.