William Slim Drive signs are taped as Canberra school plans to change house in honor of accused child molester

Almost three years after it was agreed that a major road in North Canberra would be renamed, due to its namesake being charged with historic child sex abuse offences, road signs remain in place – although covered with tape.

In 2019, it was confirmed that William Slim Drive, named after Australia’s 13th Governor General, the late Sir William Joseph Slim, would be renamed Gundaroo Drive.

The decision was made after several men accused Sir William of abusing them while at Fairbridge Farm School in Molong, New South Wales in the 1950s.

Sir William died in 1970 and was never charged or convicted of child sex offences. His family also denied the allegations.

Yet one of the men who accused Sir William of sex offences, Robert Stephens, led the campaign to rename the road, which links the town centers of Belconnen and Gungahlin.

At the time, Mr Stephens said he had been affected by the abuse for decades after it allegedly took place, but said his pain was magnified when he moved to Canberra and he regularly had to drive on the road bearing the name of the former Governor General.

The panels were finally taped

Sir William has been accused of child sex abuse by a number of men.(ABC News)

In recent weeks, following investigations by the ABC into why the street signs remained up, the words William Slim Drive were recorded.

Roads ACT acknowledged the delay in replacing the signs and said the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic had been a contributing factor.

“Roads ACT recognizes that replacement signage on Gundaroo Drive has been delayed,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesman said the ACT government plans to put up permanent signs next month.

“Stickers have been placed over the old road name on existing signs,” Roads ACT said in a statement.

“Temporary black and white plaques bearing the correct name Gundaroo Drive will be installed over the existing signs, while procurement is finalized to permanently replace all 18 signs with standard ACT road signs.”

Robert Stephens looks serious.  Behind him are several framed works of art.
Robert Stephens claims he was abused by Australia’s 13th Governor General, Sir William Joseph Slim.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

Mr Stephens said he had been prepared that replacing the signs would take some time, due to planned road works in the area.

“When we went through all this, the government explained to me that the name change would take place after the road works were completed,” he said.

“So I was well aware that it probably would have taken two years before that happened.”

But he said it was still a relief to have the panels temporarily taped.

“It’s fabulous,” he said.

Primary school will phase out the use of Slim

Lettering for Yarralumla Primary School on a wall.
Yarralumla Primary School students brainstorm new names for their schools.(ABC News)

Sir William’s name had also been adopted by one of Yarralumla’s primary school houses, in a tradition by which past Governors-General were honoured.

William Slim opened Yarralumla Primary School in 1957 and then a sports house – the Yellow House – was named Slim.

William Joseph Slim in his military uniform.
Sir William Joseph Slim, British military commander and 13th Governor General of Australia.(Wikipedia)

But the school confirmed this month that it was renaming the houses after the charges against Sir William emerged.

“We know that more recently William Slim was the subject of child molestation allegations prior to his death,” a school spokesperson said.

“After consultation with the school board, Yarralumla Primary School has made the decision this school year to designate each of the three houses by their colors only and to retire the names.”

The spokesperson said school staff were working with the student body to come up with new names for each house.

“The kids are brainstorming house name suggestions for the whole school to vote on,” the spokesperson said.

“In the newsletter sent out last week, Yarralumla Primary School also asked the wider school community for house name suggestions.”

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