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The Ferry McFerryface Controversy Tearing Australia Apart

Politicians are angry, workers are threatening to strike, and at least one environmentalist is devastated.

It all started, as so many disasters do, with the best of intentions. Sydney Harbour was getting six new ferries: good-natured, green-accented public transit vessels that would collectively burble tens of millions of passengers from dock to dock every year. What would they be called? The state government of New South Wales thought the people should have a say.

So in early 2016, they set up that vital tool of contemporary democracy, a hashtag poll. Citizens could suggest names by tweeting them alongside #yourferry. Options would be narrowed down by a panel of judges, and the finalists would be put to an online vote.

The first three boats were named after eminent Australians: an innovative heart surgeon, a pioneering obstetrician, an activist ophthalmologist, and two Aboriginal leaders, a renowned explorer and a revolutionary. Then, this past Tuesday, November 14, the final winner was announced:

Anyone with even half an eye on transportation nomenclature trends could have predicted this outcome. Ever since “Boaty McBoatfaceliterally destroyed the competition in a similar online poll in the U.K. in early 2016, similar constructions have dominated the public suggestion landscape. There is now a Trainy McTrainface in Sweden, and a Horsey McHorseface, also in Australia.

“Ferry McFerryface will be the harbour’s newest icon,” the state’s transport minister, Andrew Constance, said in a statement. “I hope it brings a smile to the faces of visitors and locals alike.”

So far, though, many people are not smiling. Enemies of Ferry McFerryface include the people who are supposed to work on it. A spokesman for the Maritime Union of Australia described the name as “an insult to the integrity and heritage of Sydney Ferries,” and suggested that crew members would refuse to engage with it.

“Give it a proper name and we’ll work it,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “Give it a stupid name and it can stay at the shipyard.”

Opponents also include Ian Kiernan, an environmentalist who was told the last ferry would be named after him. He was informed earlier this week that he had been replaced. “If they think I’m not worthy why did they pick me in the first place?” he asked, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. He also described himself as “deeply disappointed.” (A government staffer has suggested they may name something else after Kiernan, such as a RiverCat.)

Certain sectors of the press are peeved. A columnist for TimeOut Sydney lambasted the government for going with a “weak imitation” of the name Boaty McBoatface—which, it should be said, actually won the poll, but was not chosen as it is already the name of a vessel.

The government is getting in on it too. Luke Foley, the leader of the New South Wales Labor Party, has promised that if his party gains power in 2019, “I will dump this silly name.”

Even some members of the public aren’t thrilled. At press time, the two top Facebook comments on the official name announcement are some variation on “This is a joke, right?” (An NSW Public Transport employee has been steadfastly replying “Not a joke.”) A straw poll at the ferry dock, done by ABC News, saw certain respondents calling the name “a bit cheesy,” or “a bit silly,” and saying they were “not that impressed.” (Others were fans, though.)

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. A Ferry McFerryface by any other name would float as buoyantly—but odds are good it wouldn’t be causing quite so much drama.

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.