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Aboriginal Placenames

Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and re-naming the Australian landscape OPEN ACCESS

Harold Koch
Luise Hercus
Volume: 19
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Aboriginal Placenames
    Book Description:

    Aboriginal approaches to the naming of places across Australia differ radically from the official introduced Anglo-Australian system. However, many of these earlier names have been incorporated into contemporary nomenclature, with considerable reinterpretations of their function and form. Recently, state jurisdictions have encouraged the adoption of a greater number of Indigenous names, sometimes alongside the accepted Anglo-Australian terms, around Sydney Harbour, for example. In some cases, the use of an introduced name, such as Gove, has been contested by local Indigenous people. The 19 studies brought together in this book present an overview of current issues involving Indigenous placenames across the whole of Australia, drawing on the disciplines of geography, linguistics, history, and anthropology. They include meticulous studies of historical records, and perspectives stemming from contemporary Indigenous communities. The book includes a wealth of documentary information on some 400 specific placenames, including those of Sydney Harbour, the Blue Mountains, Canberra, western Victoria, the Lake Eyre district, the Victoria River District, and southwestern Cape York Peninsula.

    eISBN: 978-1-921666-09-4
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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    This book is a sequel to Hercus, Hodges and Simpson (eds) 2002, The Land is a Map: Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia (Pandanus Books and Pacific Linguistics, Canberra). As with the earlier volume, many of the papers originated as papers presented to workshops on placenames that were organised at the instigation of the Australian Placename Survey project at Macquarie University and/or the meetings of Geographical Names Boards. Both volumes involve interdisciplinary perspectives on Australian placenames of Indigenous origin.

    The ʺnaming and re-namingʺ in the subtitle highlights the fact that both old/traditional and new/contemporary aspects of place-naming are reflected in...

  2. NSW & ACT

      Around Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson¹) and Botany Bay and the intervening coastline (an area I refer to as coastal Sydney), Aboriginal names were recorded for over 100 places, though names can be linked with any certainty to only 89 locations. For the other names the specific locations to which they belong are presently unknown or unresolved. Some names, such as Bondi, Parramatta and Woolloomooloo, were adopted by the colonists and are still used today, but for many other locations the placenames given by the British colonists persisted.

      The lists of Aboriginal placenames included in this paper (Tables 1.1 and 1.2,...


      In recent years a process to reinstate Aboriginal placenames in New South Wales (NSW) has been set in place. In doing so consideration has been taken of similar efforts elsewhere in NSW e.g. Armidale (Reid 2002) and in other parts of Australia e.g. Adelaide (Amery and Williams 2002). In NSW this reinstatement process has been led by the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales. Through their efforts Dawes Point (the southern foot of Sydney Harbour Bridge) became the first place to be dual-named as Dawes Point/Tar-ra in 2002. The next was South Creek in the Hawkesbury River district which...


      The State of New South Wales (NSW) is located in south-eastern Australia; it covers an area of approximately 801,600 square kilometres and has a population slightly over six million people. NSW was first declared an English possession by Captain James Cook on 22 August 1770. In 1901 the Australian Federation created the Commonwealth of Australia, which in turn constituted NSW as a State within its own right.

      Prior to the colonisation, Australia was occupied by 600-700 Indigenous territorial groups speaking about 250 languages and many more dialects. Britain took possession of Australia under the international legal doctrine of ʹterra nulliusʹ,...


      The Gundungurra (also spelled Gandangara) language group lived to the south-west of Sydney. Their country included the catchments of the Wollondilly and Cox Rivers and some adjacent areas west of the Great Dividing Range.² Their neighbours were Dharug, Darkinung, Wiradjuri, Ngunawal and Thurrawal speaking peoples.

      The recently discovered papers of grazier Alfred Leonard Bennett (1877-1942) contain previously unpublished traditional Gundungurra stories and hundreds of Gundungurra words, placenames and placename meanings not known from other sources.³ Bennettʹs main informant was Werriberrie, also known as Billy Russell (c.1835-1914). Russell spent most of his life in the Burragorang Valley and nearby areas of...


      The aim of this paper¹ is to show how and to what extent, by using linguistic and historical methods, it is possible to reconstruct placenames of Aboriginal origin in those parts of Australia where direct knowledge of the language of the placenames has been lost. The examples are drawn largely from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and to some extent the adjacent area to the south which goes by the name Monaro. This section discusses what we mean by reconstruction and what aspects of a placename we should try to reconstruct (meaning and pronunciation). Also sketched are the issues of...

  3. Victoria

      At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Surveyor-General of the colony of New South Wales, Major Thomas Mitchell (1838: 174), had expressed the desire to use Indigenous names for places because they were the only ones deemed suitable to describe the Australian landscape. I have termed this colonial phenomenon of utilising Indigenous names for colonial places a process of Anglo-Indigenous toponymy, wherein the names once used exclusively for Indigenous landscape purposes were captured by colonial powers and used for their own means of identifying the landscape (Kostanski 2003, 2005). Towards the close of the nineteenth century when that formerly...


      George Seddon (1997: 15) theorised that the words of the landscape carry ʺcultural baggageʺ that may ʺimply values and endorse power relationsʺ. This notion of power relations being borne out through placenames is nowhere more evident than in Australia. Since the time of early European exploration of Australia the landscape has been mapped from a colonial cartographic perspective. European explorers, surveyors and settlers brought with them to Australia a colonial understanding of land tenure, and with this the existing Indigenous understandings of the landscape were overwritten. The landscape was almost a palimpsest (the place where a text has been overwritten...


      In an analysis of the state of knowledge of Aboriginal local organisation, Tindale (1963) observed that there had been very few maps produced showing the distribution of Aboriginal placenames within Aboriginal language areas. Strehlow (1970) shared Tindaleʹs surprise that so little attention had been given to Aboriginal placenames. Yet Stanner (1965) considered it was only possible to conduct basic studies of local organisation in a few places and in a restricted range of environments. According to Stanner (1965), the mapping of spatial organisation should attempt to delineate at least ten sets of data. The first step he identified as the...

  4. South Australia & Central Australia
  5. Northern Australia

      In all cultures, toponyms (or placenames) are important, for they form an integral part of our history and culture. When learning an Australian language, knowledge of the placenames is vital to becoming a fluent speaker. This is especially true of the Bardi language. In Bardi, toponyms are often used instead of relative directional words or deictic markers when giving directions or describing locations. They appear frequently in narratives; it is impossible to follow a conversation or story in Bardi without a good knowledge of the names of places.¹ Older Bardi people also consider placenames to be among the most important...


      Some Australian Aboriginal placenames are etymologically transparent or at least analysable (see McConvell this volume) while others are not. The opacity of those that are not may be due to their being named in either an archaic variety of their ownersʹ modern language, or in a quite different language, the language of some previous owners.

      The land is eternal but its human occupants are, in the broader scheme of things, ephemeral. If a human lineage becomes extinct, who inherits the land which that lineage once owned and occupied? How do successive occupants name the land and its places? These issues...


      In the Victoria River District (VRD) of the Northern Territory, the citation and neutral form of many placenames is marked with the locative case, both in the Pama-Nyungan (PN) languages (Eastern Ngumpin) and in the non-Pama-Nyungan (NPN) languages (of the Jarragan, Mindi and Yangmanic² families). In the central area of the district both the PN languages (Ngarinyman, Birlinarra, Gurindji) and the NPN languages (Jaminjung, Ngaliwurru, Nungali) there is often an additional element added to the locative, which in the modern languages has a variety of functions including ʹexactlyʹ (for discussion of semantics of such suffixes, McConvell 1983; Schultze-Berndt 2002). The...


      The title of this chapter was the response of Yolŋu people to the appearance of road signs with English language names in the Gove Peninsula in the early 1970s. Nhulunbuy is the Yolŋu name for the area that a mining company had chosen for a town site, and the Gove Peninsula, like the entire Yolŋu-speaking area was – and is – saturated with Yolŋu placenames. Yolŋu people objected to the substitution of an English placename for Nhulunbuy and ultimately a dispute arose. Some episodes of the dispute were public and some occurred in a bureaucratic penumbra.

      In their classic study...


      A thousand kilometres south-east of Darwin, as the ʹcrow fliesʹ is Borroloola. Sixty kilometres east of Borroloola is the place Manankurra; occupying the east bank of a large bend on the Wearyan River. In the late afternoon sun the eastern banks of the river at Manankurra glow in deep ochre shades of yellow and red, while saltpans span the horizon, reaching out to the sea, the very essence of Yanyuwa life and Law. The white barked eucalypts stand starkly pale, skeletal against the solid trunks and olive green fronds of giant trees appearing as if from an ancient world. These...


      This is a study of placenames recorded during research on the Kurtjar language of south-western Cape York Peninsula in the late 1970s. After introducing the language and its speakersʹ knowledge of placenames (see below), the paper discusses those names for which etymologies can be proposed, including ones which are homophonous to common nouns (see ʹNames from common nounsʹ) as well as those formed by compounding and/or affixation (see under headings ʹNames formed as compoundsʹ to ʹDescriptive clausesʹ). Especially numerous are ones involving the many allomorphs of the locative suffix, including one found only fossilised in placenames (see ʹNames formed with...