Origin of Australian brand name raises doubt about name change

A comedian’s call to change the name of iconic Australian cheese brand Coon has ignited fierce debate, but a key historic detail raises doubt about the need for change.

Yesterday, funnyman Josh Thomas took to Twitter with an image of the product alongside the caption: “Hey Australia – are we still chill with this?”

His call inspired an avalanche of media reports both in Australia and globally, as well as thousands of social media comments from both sides of the fence.

Ironically, in the 24 hours since, the creator of hit TV show Please Like Me has been embroiled in his own racism scandal.

As of midday on Tuesday, a poll on news.com.au’s Facebook page about whether or not the name should be changed had received 48,900 votes, with 13 per cent in favour of renaming Coon and 87 per cent opposed.

Saputo Dairy Australia, which owns the brand, did not respond to a request for comment.

However, on its website it provides “a brief history” of Coon Cheese in Australia, where it explains where the brand name came from.

And it’s that historical detail that could prove to be a stumbling block for those who want Coon renamed.

Saputo Dairy Australia says Coon was named in recognition of “the work of an American, Edward William Coon, who patented a unique ripening process that was used to manufacture the original Coon cheese”.

“The manufacturing of Coon Cheese in Australia commenced in November 1935 and continued through to December 1942, when production ceased because of the war,” it says.

“It recommenced in June 1948 at Allansford in the Western District of Victoria, and at Quinalow on the Darling Downs in Queensland.

“At that time, it was made in traditional red waxed cloth wrapped (seven pound) ‘Rounds’. ‘Red Coon’, as it was known, became popular for its mature flavour and texture.”

Searches of public records, newspaper archives and the patent document filed by Edward William Coon confirm his prominence in the cheese business in the early part of the 20th Century.

Mr Coon followed in his father’s footsteps and began producing cheese, amassing an empire of processing plants throughout New York.

His interest in improving methods drew international attention.

Mr Coon was granted a patent in the US in 1926 for his invented method of rapidly ripening cheese using humidity and high temperatures.

It became known as the “cooning” method of making cheese.

He eventually sold his prominent cheesemaking business and went to work for the Kraft-Phoenix Corporation in Philadelphia and died of a heart attack in his office in 1934 at the age of 62.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a campaign to rename Coon Cheese, with Indigenous academic, writer and activist Dr Stephen Hagan repeatedly leading the charge – most recently in 2008.

Dr Hagan lobbied Dairy Farmers, which owned the brand at the time, to ditch the racially sensitive term in favour of something more inclusive.

And he also disputed the company’s claims about Edward William Coon.

“Initially, Dairy Farmers said it was named after Edward Coon, who revolutionised the speeding process of making cheese,” Dr Hagan told AAP at the time.

“If they can prove to me that Edward Coon was a famous cheesemaker, I will drop my campaign.”

News.com.au reached out to Dr Hagan to gauge his current stance but didn’t hear back.

While the surname Coon isn’t overly common in Australia these days, its origins are thought to be Irish, German and Dutch.

Jabez Coon was an Australian politician who served in the House of Representatives from 1906 to 1910 as a member of the Protectionist Party.

He was briefly the Mayor of Collingwood Council.

John Coon was an Australian sailor who competed at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and the 1964 Games in Tokyo.

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