How did Coon Island get its 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    Another theory was presented by George and Noeleen Boyd in the 2007 historical reference: “What's in a name: a brief history of some of the names past and present in and around the northern end of the Wallarah Peninsula”, reporting that there were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. 

    What is the history of Coon Island?

    Coon Island is a low-lying area at the head of the Swansea Channel, opposite Pelican.

    In a map sketched by W.Proctor in 1841, with extensive notes by the Reverend W.B. Clarke, the area is given the name ‘Keep Clear Point’.

    Swansea was a significant area for the Awabakal with archaeological evidence dating back to at least 7800 years ago showing occupation and widespread hunting areas.

    European occupation of Coon Island commenced in 1915 when the Crown Lands Department offered blocks for an annual rent of 2-3 pounds. A condition of the lease was that the residents had to maintain the foreshores of the island and stop the area being reclaimed by the fast-moving channel.

    While Herbert Greta Heaney is said to be the first person to live permanently on the island, the first recorded lease was to Frederick “Jum” Parkes in November 1915.

    Forty-eight blocks were leased and small boat shed cottages were constructed on the island. Most residents, mine workers from Wallsend and Cessnock area, used these properties as holiday homes.

    Herbert Greta Heaney and his family used their property as a holiday home, living permanently on the island in 1924-25.

    From the 1970s, the Crowns Lands Department ceased offering lease on the island and the last resident, Mrs Green of No 1 Coon Island, left in 1994. The island was declared a reserve in 1974 with Lake Macquarie City Council taking over as a trustee in 1979.

    The area has been cared for by the Coon Island Management Board and a dedicated group of Landcare volunteers.

    Why are we consulting on a potential name change?

    Council is interested in working with relevant stakeholders further to explore the naming of the island, as part of works being proposed for the site in 2021-2022.

    Council has committed to undertake consultation to get an understanding of the community sentiment regarding the name of Coon Island. At this stage no decision on the renaming has been made.

    Why are we doing this consultation now?

    Council is interested in working with relevant stakeholders further to explore the naming of the island, as part of works being proposed for the site in 2021-2022.

    The Notice of Motion as well as recent events have indicated the need for a review of naming of potentially offensive place names in Lake Macquarie City. 

    Why are there two localities to consider - Coon Island and Coon Island Point?

    The Geographical Name Register of NSW includes information on place names or geographic features such as designation, status, local government area and other related details. There are two references to Coon Island in the register - Coon Island and Coon Island Point.

    Is dual naming an option?

    As part of the consultation we are currently not proposing a dual name, as research from Miromaa could not accurately identify a pre-existing Indigenous place name for the site. The Geographical Names Board outlines that “a dual name can only be assigned where there is strong evidence, in the form of written or oral tradition, of a pre-existing Indigenous place name”. This does however not preclude the consideration of Aboriginal names from being used in any potential name change.

    What happens once Council receives community feedback?

    Following the outcomes of the community consultation, Council may consider endorsing a proposal to be submitted to the Geographical Names Board.

    Who makes the final decision?

    The Geographical Names Board determines the final outcome.

    How much would a name change cost should it be endorsed?

    Council’s application to the Geographical Names Board would not incur a fee. If the Board was to approve the name change, Council would install new signage or upgrade existing signage as part of upcoming works in the locations.