Blackboys, Grass Trees, or Xantha-what-now!?

A familiar blackboys story…

As a young Australian family ventures away from the big smoke for their annual holiday they can’t help but be excited. With every spare inch of the family wagon chocked full of luggage and surfboards and eskys, the kids eyes eventually glaze over as they peer out the windows at the never ending countryside. Suddenly startled by the shrill in their fathers voice, they perk up and listen to what’s got him all animated.

“Hey look at the Blackboys on the hill, kids! Aren’t they special?!” he exclaims as his attention is disturbingly distracted from the road.  From the back seat a small voice pipes up, “Why are they called Blackboys, Dad?” “Have a look at ’em, son! They’re black, and they kinda look like a bunch of boys all standing up there. They’ve even got wild green hair!” his father responded. That memory stuck in the little boys’ mind. That distinct image of all the unique trees on the hillside would be etched into this boy’s memory and he’d forever remember them as ‘Blackboys.’

 

Nowadays…

The story above is a familiar story. There will of course be difference in the details, but the sentiment is often the same. People remember the name ‘Blackboys’ fondly. They’ve always known them as Blackboys. They’ve always admired them. They’ve always found their allure enticing and their appearance handsome.

And so, whenever I get asked, which is ALL THE TIME, I always affirm that even though we usually use the term ‘grass trees’ instead, Blackboy is still a very legitimate name for these magnificent trees. I point out that it’s not so politically correct to use the term anymore.

According to the Xanthorrhoea Wikipedia page, the Oxford dictionary states:

The best-known common name for the Xanthorrhoea is blackboy, based on the purported similarity in appearance of the trunked species to an Aboriginal man holding an upright spear. Most people now consider this name to be racist and offensive to Aborigines, or at least belonging to the past, preferring instead grasstree

As a result, we use the term carefully, with respect to the original custodians of the land, and seek to steer well clear of any racist or derogatory posture. Despite the idea that the term Blackboy is now considered politically incorrect and potentially offensive, I’ve never actually heard anyone use the term Blackboy in a racist way.

Furthermore, I’ve never, EVER, met an Aborigine who has communicated any offence by this tree’s common name. My indigenous extended family members have expressed no problem with the name at all. It’s not offensive to them or anyone they’ve spoken to. No one in my local indigenous community has ever expressed a problem with it.  It’s likely that this is another case of Political Correctness gone too far.

These trees were valuable to Aboriginal people, well before any Europeans arrived in Australia. But that’s a story for an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

 

Other names

Xanthorrhoea (the botanical name) actually have many common names across Australia. And depending on where you are from, you’re likely to have heard them called different names. Their common names include:

  • grass trees or grasstrees
  • blackboys or black boys or black boy plants
  • Balga (Western Australia)
  • Yacca or Yakka (South Australia)
  • Johnson’s grass tree (specifically for the Xanthorrhoea johnsonii species)

 

If you have know of any other names or have any stories about the name Blackboy or grass tree etc. please share your story in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you.

If you are an Aborigine and you find ‘Blackboys’ an offensive common name for these trees, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

If you’d like to become a part of the blackboy story and have your own blackboy in your own backyard, you can find some more information on our buying page.


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