Brief overview of evidence about the name ‘Jim Crow’ Creek
Professor Barry Golding AM
This is a very brief summary of what we know from the historical record about the origins and racist connotations associated with the naming of ‘Jim Crow Creek’ in the Central Goldfields of Victoria during the early 1840s.
A longer version with sources is also available by following this link, JemCrowAugustBG2019
I have added these documents to help inform the public about how our ‘Jim Crow Creek’ got its name, and to provide evidence that I believe argues for a process leading to a future name restoration.
Our local traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Nation, have requested that the offensive and racist name be changed for this significant, life-giving feature of their generously shared traditional lands.
‘Jim Crow Creek’ is a 26km long ephemeral creek, draining 123 square km of country, formed by the confluence of Sailors Creek and Spring Creek at Breakneck Gorge in Hepburn Regional Park, two kilometers north-west of Hepburn. A Streamside Reserve near Franklinford also shares the same name.
The creek flows in a northerly direction from steep, forested gullies to undulating grazing land and alluvial flats where it enters the Loddon River below the Guildford Plateau at Strangways, 8 km downstream of Guildford. As with other significant features in the local landscape, it had a previous Dja Dja Wurrung name.
The name ‘Jim Crow’ was likely first given to the mountain (previously known as Lalgambook,now called Mount Franklin) by squatter John Hepburn (or less likely Alexander Mollison) after April 1838. Its crater and the areas around it was also called Larnebarramul(literally ‘nest of the Emu’).
Later the creek, district, goldfield and, at times, the Aboriginal Protectorate, ‘Tribe’ and individual Aboriginal people were also called ‘Jim Crow’.
Part of Mollison’s run was called ‘Jumcra’ from 1840, on land that later become the Loddon (Mount Franklin) Aboriginal Protectorate from 1841.
Edward Parker, local ‘Protector of Aborigines’ used the term ‘Jim Crow’ Hill when referring to the mountain in his 22 September 1839 report.
‘Jim Crow’ was a widely used and racist, derogatory term used to describe black, mostly enslaved people in America in the 1830s.
A popular and catchy song ‘Jump Jim Crow’, sung in the 1830s by a black-faced US white minstrel negatively caricatured a clumsy, dim-witted slave. It became a huge hit with audiences worldwide.
An English poem similarly adopted and disseminated the US ‘Jim Crow’ theme to the British and colonial public from 1837. Called ‘The Jackdaw of Rheims’, it created a modern fable about how the crow (jackdaw) got its name ‘Jem Crow’. Again, the main character is a persecuted and dishevelled black crow.
The second last line of poem, above, makes clear, that empires, invaders and conquerors routinely bestowed new names on old geographical features.
George Robinson, ‘Chief Protector of Aborigines’ diary (14 Feb, 1840) noted ‘… a hill Mr Hepburn calls Jem Crow … on account of the small hollows about it’.
John Hepburn was previously a widely travelled international sea captain, including to the US. Like Mollison, by 1840 he would have been well aware of its racist connotations and familiar with both the popular song and poem.
The Jim Crow character in the song transferred to the now repealed ‘Jim Crow Laws’ that became part of several US state constitutions. The Jim Crow Lawsmandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, the segregation of toilets, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and blacks, in place from 1877 to the 1950s in the US. Understandably, in 2019 use of the term ‘Jim Crow’ is very offensive in the US.
The name of a former ‘Jim Crow Mountain’ and National Park near Rockhampton in Queensland was legally restored to Bagain Queensland in 2018 in collaboration with the Darumbal Aboriginal people and the local community.
There are other instances in Australia where similarly racist and offensive place names, such as ‘Nigger Creek’ have been officially expunged in consultation with the community and traditional owners as part of Indigenous reconciliation.
The Hepburn Shire and Mount Alexander Shire are actively engaged and supportive, with the traditional owners, in initiating a Reconciliation process to lead towards restoration of a more appropriate Dja Dja Wurrung name for the Jim Crow Creek.