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Aboriginal Placenames

7. Reviving old Indigenous names for new purposes

Laura Kostanski and Ian D. Clark


George Seddon (1997: 15) theorised that the words of the landscape carry “cultural baggage” that may “imply values and endorse power relations”. 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 or erased to make way for another text), constantly being overwritten to suit the needs of the colonial government. In the act of mapping Australia the colonists began to take control of the landscape, and one of the most important and powerful ways they did this was to name places in the landscape. Sometimes names were taken from those of the colonial officials, or borrowed from places ‘back home’. In other instances where the landscape was deemed ‘too foreign’, Indigenous languages and their vocabularies were used to create new colonial places from the landscape of space (Carter 1987). This use of Indigenous names by the colonial powers transformed the names from being exclusively Indigenous in origin, to becoming Anglo-Indigenous in nature (Kostanski 2005). The term ‘Anglo-Indigenous’ is used because the names were used for colonial cartographic purposes, and were symbols of colonial places. Thus, in essence the names which had been used to describe Indigenous landscapes were now used for the colonial landscape and their meanings had been altered permanently.

This paper is concerned with the recent and current official government use of Indigenous names, those names which the authors describe as Anglo-Indigenous. There are many important linguistic programmes that work with Indigenous groups throughout Australia, which focus on recording the Indigenous names that are used in their traditional ways. These programs (McKay 1992) record the traditional spiritual meaning of the names, and in most cases these meanings are recorded for the sole use of the Indigenous groups, and specific sub-groups of them. We will not be discussing these Indigenous names, and so to make the distinction, the names we refer to, the ones used for government purposes, are those that are Anglo-Indigenous.

The act of naming transforms space into place (Carter, Donald and Squires 1993) and toponyms act as cultural symbols and artefacts which, with the passing of time, become cultural relics. In Australia the toponyms are predominantly relics of colonial and Indigenous landscape interactions – relics which can be investigated to uncover their historical importance and value in shaping community identities.

There are many policies in Australia which govern the contemporary official government use of Indigenous toponyms. These policies are derived from the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names resolution which:

recommends that all countries having groups of aboriginal/native people make a special effort to collect their geographical names along with other appropriate information;

recommends also that, whenever possible and appropriate, a written form of those names be adopted for official use on maps and other publications. (Natural Resources Canada 2004: 22)

In Victoria this resolution is presented in the following policies and principles as outlined by the Registrar of Geographic Names:

2.1.2 PRINCIPLE 2 – Recognition and use of Indigenous names

The use of traditional Indigenous names is encouraged and preferred for unnamed features, subject to agreement from the relevant Indigenous communities.

The use of a word from an Indigenous language may also be used as a geographic placename. The use of Indigenous geographic placenames or words should be undertaken in the context of the Guidelines for the Recording and Use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Place Names formulated by the Committee for Geographical Names in Australasia.

2.1.5 PRINCIPLE 5 – Assigning names to unnamed features

Naming authorities should give priority to names drawn from relevant Indigenous Australian languages, names covered by Principle 3, or unofficial historical names, when assigning names to existing topographical features that have neither an official nor an unofficial name. Within these options, consideration might be given to names that recognise groups of people or types of names previously under-represented in the ‘namescape’. Where more than one name amongst the above options is considered appropriate, dual naming may be used.

Some geographical features in Victoria have neither an official or unofficial name e.g. some peaks in the Great Dividing Range, some minor tributaries at the headwaters of river systems. If it is decided to name features such as these, then the sense of connection criterion outlined in this Principle should be adopted.

2.1.11 PRINCIPLE 11 – Dual names

Naming authorities may assign dual or multiple names to places, in those instances where it is appropriate to give official recognition to names drawn from two or more cultural backgrounds. The most common combination would be a name drawn from a relevant Indigenous Australian language and an Australian English name. There should not be any restriction on the language source for names used in selecting dual names, provided Principle 3 is observed and provided Australian English is used. (Department of Sustainability and Environment 2004)

Thus, at this point in time, features in Victoria can be dual named with both an Indigenous and a non-Indigenous toponym to symbolise the place. Where once there had been only Indigenous names related to specific areas, colonists came through in the nineteenth century and claimed the landscape through their own procedures of mapping and naming. In recent times consideration has been given to reinstating the Indigenous names, in an effort to represent Indigenous cultural heritage in the landscape.

Yet, just because this ideal exists in government guidelines and policies does not mean that the process of implementing these practices is straightforward. More than 150 years of colonial landscape domination and historical understandings of the landscape have meant that the official recording of the Victorian, and Australian, landscape is, and has been, represented from a colonial cartographic perspective. This perspective has negated Indigenous understandings of place for more than 150 years in Victoria, with the consequence that efforts now being made to reinstate Indigenous names are perceived by many as an attempt to instate a ‘counter-landscape culture’.

Colonial understandings of the landscape

One case study which can best exemplify the influence that nineteenth century colonial cartographic and toponymic practices have had upon the understandings of the constituents of Australian landscape and place is that of the Grampians (Gariwerd) debate of the early 1990s. In the early 1990s there was an effort from the incumbent Victorian state government to reinstate the Indigenous names of significant sites and features within and around the Grampians National Park in Victoria.

Prior to 1836, the Grampians landscape was understood solely by Indigenous groups. The Buandig, Wergaia, Dhauwurdwurrung, Wathawurrung, Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung all had names for features within this area. The traditional custodians of these landscapes are the Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung (see the maps in Figures 7.1 and 7.2).

In these landscapes, features and sites were identified by names linked to ancestral stories, which enabled the inhabitants to travel across the country along clearly defined routes (Young 1992: 256). More than this, the names gave identity to the Indigenous groups and the land was (and still is) a part of them. Stephen Davis and Victor Prescott note that for Indigenous people in Australia

the land was given form by ancestral beings who traversed the landscape, conferring territories and naming each locality. Each named locality within the total territory can be identified by senior custodians of the territory. Names are recited in a particular order. When asking a senior custodian the extent of his territory he will, most often, name all localities on the territory to which the ancestral being travelled and performed all the daily activities of life in the creative epoch. The names are recited in the order in which they were visited. This naming of localities matches the order in which names appear in the song cycle during the performance of rituals involving clans from the wider ritual group with which the clan identifies. (Davis and Prescott 1992: 71)

Pertinently for this paper, as Ian Clark explained,

the ‘Grampian Mountains’ were central to the dreaming of buledji Brambimbula, the two brothers Bram, who were responsible for the creation and naming of many landscape features in western Victoria. Many of the Aboriginal placenames… are believed to be conferred by mythological Ancestors, and as such they are memorials to these mythic heroes. (Clark and Harradine 1990: 21)

Figure 7.1: The Jardwadjali landscape (Clark 1990: 256–257)


Figure 7.2: The Djabwurrung landscape (Clark 1990: 108)


The mountain ranges themselves were known as ‘Gariwerd’ by the Jardwadjali. As Luise Hercus explained,

Gariwerd is a compound noun. Gar means ‘pointed mountain’ and is cognate with the word for ‘nose’. The –i is the particularizing suffix, which translates into ‘the’. Werd means ‘shoulder’ and appears in ‘werdug’ (pronounced werdook) ‘his shoulder’, the correct form for ‘Wartook’. The compound simply means ‘The Mountain Range’, and is descriptive and specialized for the mountain range Mitchell subsequently named ‘The Grampians’. (Luise Hercus cited in Clark and Harradine 1990: 23)

In 1836, Major Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor-General of New South Wales, came to the area, and he named it the ‘Grampians’. His use of a non-Indigenous name was unusual, as Mitchell wrote in his journal.

The great convenience of using native names is obvious … so long as any of the Aborigines can be found in the neighbourhood … future travelers may verify my map. Whereas new names are of no use in this respect. (Mitchell 1838: 174)

Thus, in 1836 Mitchell admitted that English vocabulary was limited as an identifier of Australian geographical knowledge. Indeed, Mitchell often attempted to obtain names from the local Indigenous people of the areas he was travelling through. Yet, before reaching the Gariwerd area, Mitchell’s travelling group had killed seven Indigenous people on 27 May 1836 at a place Mitchell would later call Mt Dispersion. After the massacre the word spread to other Indigenous groups in western Victoria to avoid Mitchell’s party. So, when Mitchell could not locate Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung people in Gariwerd to obtain their names, he set about his own naming practices:

In adding this noble range of mountains to my map, I felt some difficulty in deciding on a name. To give appellations that may become current in the mouths of future generations, has often been a perplexing subject with me, whether they have been required to distinguish new counties, towns or villages, or such great natural features of the earth, as mountains and rivers.

I have always gladly adopted aboriginal names, and in the absence of these, I have endeavoured to find some good reason for the application of others... (Mitchell 1838: 185)

It is at this point in Mitchell’s travels that the process of transforming culturally-defined space into place can be best exemplified. For Mitchell’s camp the landscape of the Djabwurrung and Jardwadjali was unknown, unmapped and uncategorised in any European manner that was familiar to them. Thus, this landscape was culturally defined by the Europeans as space. Through the process of exploring the area, different European meanings were attached to the landscape by Mitchell and his group, and symbolised through the use of names. One prime example of this was in the use of the name Mount Zero, which Mitchell used to name the mountain where he slept on the night the temperatures dropped to zero degrees centigrade. According to Clark and Heydon (2002: 261), for the Muramuragundidj clan of the Jardwadjali this mountain was known as ‘Mura Mura’ ‘little hill’, which indicates a completely different understanding of the landscape from that of Mitchell’s. Another obvious example, which is the focus of this paper, was Mitchell’s use of ‘Grampians’ to define that mountain range known primarily by the Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung until that time as ‘Gariwerd’.

So it was that in 1836 the Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung understandings of the landscape were overlaid with European understandings, as evidenced in the toponyms. Cowlishaw (1998: 32) posited that the landscape in Australia is a palimpsest. The European names became the official government records of the landscape. Maps, addresses, electorates and government zones all came to identify with the area as ‘The Grampians’ in essence. The Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung were dispossessed from official records by an act of toponymy. As Stuart noted, the explorers “were superimposing their own form of knowledge for their own purposes” (Macintyre 2002: 4). Simon Ryan (1996) noted that the creation of maps was the production of knowledge which was “invariably an exercise of power” (Ryan 1996).

By 1989, the official geographical understanding of the Gariwerd/Grampians area had changed from that experienced by the Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung prior to 1836 and Mitchell’s party in 1836. The area was known officially in 1989 as the ‘Grampians National Park’ and the remaining Indigenous cultural heritage of the National Park was the joint responsibility of five Aboriginal communities. These groups were the Goolum-Goolum Aboriginal Cooperative, the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative, the Framlingham Aboriginal Trust, the Kerrup-Jmara Aboriginal Elders Corporation and the Portland-Heywood Community, who formed Brambuk Incorporated.

The Honourable Steve Crabb, Minister for Tourism in Victoria, noted that “given the Aboriginal heritage of the Grampians, many existing placenames are inappropriate” (cited in Clark and Harradine 1990: 6). Crabb, through the Victorian Tourism Commission, commissioned historical geographer Ian Clark and rock art consultant Ben Gunn, to research the Indigenous names of Grampians features and submit a proposal for which Indigenous names should be considered for reinstatement. Thus began a process of renaming the National Park and features within it that raised much attention from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous locals and non-locals.

Within six months of Crabb’s announcement of Indigenous placenames being reinstated and European names being removed, over 17,898 signatures had been collected in petitions which demanded that the existing (European) names be retained (Napthine 1989). Numerous letters to the editors of national and regional newspapers were submitted and published, the vast majority of which were resistant to the name change proposal. Politicians entered the debate, with many discussions held as to the suitability of the proposal to change the name of the Grampians. There was much discussion about whether the name ‘Grampians’ would be completely removed and replaced with the name ‘Gariwerd’. At the time of the debate, there was no legislation available which allowed for dual naming, and so the idea of reinstating the name ‘Gariwerd’ meant at the time that the name ‘Grampians’ would be removed from the landscape.

This proposal invoked a strong reaction from the local non-Indigenous community, who protested by stating, among other things, that “changing the name would remove our history” (Birch 1992: 232). The placename ‘Grampians’ had provided the locals with a vocabulary for defining their distinct geography, and they were not willing to part with this part of their identity. Indigenous acceptance of dual naming was announced relatively late in the public discussions and by that time local non-Indigenous resistance to name changing, including the adoption of dual naming, was intense and inflexible. An understanding of this psychological process is offered by cultural geographers working in the field of place attachment.

Place attachment is described generally as “the bonding of people to places” (Altman and Low 1992: 2), or the “emotional link formed by an individual to a physical site that has been given meaning through interaction” (Milligan 1998: 2). Understanding of the community reactions to the Gariwerd debate can be explained by the definition of place attachment being a “framework for both individual and communal aspects of identity, and has both stabilising and dynamic features” (Brown and Perkins 1992: 284). Thus, in a world where place attachment gives a raison d’être for local community identity, the perception that attempts are being made to change the name of that place, or the symbol of that identity, will undoubtedly threaten local residents, especially if that change is perceived to be coming from government authorities.

A complication of this place attachment is the fact that the non-Indigenous community in the Grampians region felt attached to non-Indigenous understandings of the landscape. The non-Indigenous community was not familiar with the Indigenous Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung landscapes of Gariwerd, and the most common human reaction to the unknown is fear and rejection. Problems in the Grampians case study could be related to the cultural geography theory that:

One dimension of the person’s experience of environmental stability lies in the affirmation of the belief that the properties of his or her day-to-day physical world are unchanging. The individual’s recognition of these properties at any given moment in a given situation serves to confirm their continuity from the past, and in turn this perceived continuity portends that they will occur again in the future. The perceived stability of place and space that emerges from such recognitions correspondingly validates the individual’s belief in his or her own continuity over time. Since the individual’s place-identity mirrors a physical world, the continuing recognition of that world over time gives credence to and support for his or her self-identity. (Proshansky, Fabian and Kaminoff 1983: 66)

Essentially, if we take this theory on place identity, it could be extrapolated to insist that the perceived stability of place and space is represented through the unchanging values of the toponym. When this toponym is highlighted for change, the people involved in using the toponym as a symbol of their place identity could be said to face a threat to their self-identity. Thus, in the Grampians, in an effort to reinstate Indigenous names, the process was also affecting the place identity and toponymic identity of many local non-Indigenous residents. Of course, to not reinstate the Indigenous names was continuing a process of colonial landscape identification which negated the toponymic identity of the Indigenous communities.

Perhaps one way to overcome the problem of the rejection of Indigenous landscapes by non-Indigenous communities would be to increase the educational promotion of Indigenous heritage areas. This promotion could lead to a greater understanding of Indigenous cultural landscapes by non-Indigenous people and, in turn, this could mean that government and non-government organisation attempts to reinstate Indigenous toponyms are not as strongly rejected, because people are familiar with the ideas.

In addition, the problems encountered in the Grampians (Gariwerd) debate were also due to the fact that the Indigenous communities were not consulted about the process from the onset. Thus, in essence they were disempowered from the decision-making processes. To alleviate these problems it is necessary to ensure that all Indigenous naming projects include and promote the best interests of the Indigenous communities who are the cultural custodians of that particular landscape. Whilst the names are being considered and promoted as official for the landscape by Indigenous groups, it must be remembered that these names are being made to conform to colonial cartographic practices, and this renders them Anglo-Indigenous in nature.

Dual naming and colonial/Indigenous landscapes

In 1977 the then Place Names Committee of Victoria received a proposal to rename Mt Niggerhead and other similarly named features such as Niggerhead Creek and Niggerhead Aqueduct. After investigating the matter the committee resolved “that no further action be taken on the matter”. Yet, in the intervening years calls to remove the name ‘Niggerhead’ have been constant. For example in 1987 one non-Indigenous correspondent to a local parliamentary member expressed embarrassment over the name. The following year ministerial correspondence requested consideration be given to renaming Mount Niggerhead to Mount Wells, Mount Brown, or Mount Kiewa. In its response to this proposal the Shire of Bright objected to any form of renaming on the grounds that “the placenames are of historical significance [and] should not be changed merely because of the social values of today”. In 1993, the Place Names Committee received the suggestion that Mount Niggerhead be changed to the ‘Koori Heads’. Aboriginal Affairs Victoria offered to assist the committee to undertake consultation with the Aboriginal community and expressed a desire that all Victorian placenames that contained the word ‘Nigger’ would eventually be changed. The Place Names Committee rejected the suggestion of ‘Koori Heads’ and resolved to secure a more appropriate name.

In 1994 an anonymous person, asserting representation of Indigenous interests in the area, offered three suggestions for renaming The Niggerheads (Warrakarntj ‘snowgum’), Niggerhead Creek (Dtjarrmalung ‘platypus’), and Mt Niggerhead (You You ‘boobook owl’). Consultations ensued over the next three years with various government agencies and shires but these came to nothing when another group of Indigenous interests rejected the earlier suggestions and repudiated the credibility of the proposer of the 1994 names and his claim to speak for country, preferring The Niggerheads be renamed ‘The Yaithmathangs’ after the name of a local Aboriginal clan. Support increased for this new name from particular agencies; however in 2002 the process stalled as the two relevant Indigenous groups involved could not reach a consensus on the appropriateness of names. In 2004 a Geographic Place Names Advisory Committee was formed to discuss the renaming issue. Deliberations are ongoing.

The Mt Niggerhead issue highlights the problems involved with removing or ‘cleansing’ from the namescape a toponym that is considered by some to be offensive but by others to be historically appropriate. It should be noted that the use of the word ‘nigger’ to refer to people of Indigenous descent was common in Victoria during the early part of the nineteenth century (Dwyer letter cited in Bride 1898). Other contemporary issues of this debate surround the appropriateness of names that are proposed in contexts where ‘traditional’ Indigenous toponyms for the place under consideration have not survived: the lack of consensus between stakeholders in the process, especially in situations where a consensus is considered critical to the success of the process. Another related issue is that of Aboriginal land tenure and the difficulty of determining appropriate toponyms in situations where land tenure is itself disputed. The final issue is that of ‘inventing’ Aboriginal toponyms – is it any different to the process of the invention of non-Indigenous toponyms?

One critical issue in this discussion has been the appropriateness of the name ‘The Niggerheads’. Preliminary research by Lisa Arnold (2002) into the name was unable to settle on one interpretation of how the name came to be conferred. The word ‘Nigger’ is derived from the Latin niger, French nègre, and Spanish negro meaning ‘black’, and historically has been used to refer to black people, especially Africans. When used to refer to black people its use is generally considered pejorative and derogatory. ‘Niggerhead’ in this context may refer to a formation that appears to take the shape of a black person’s head. However, what complicates this discussion is the fact that Niggerhead is the common name for a grass, Enneapogon gracilis, and geologically the common name for black basalt. The term has also been used, historically, to refer to a stick of tobacco. Other uses include a reference to rows of bollards on wharves, and as a printing term as a guide to trimming and folding.

One reason that explains the length of this community discussion has been the lack of consensus for change. The relevant local government authority has met on four occasions and has failed to support the push to change the name. The Alpine Shire Council has expressed its view that although it does not support a change, if an Aboriginal name is going to be adopted it stressed the necessity that it be given a name that is easily pronounceable. The Alpine Observer in late 2000 and early 2001 conducted a poll via their website and a postal poll and some 54 percent of respondents opposed a change. At meetings of relevant Aboriginal organisations there has been support for a name change, although it is possible to find support for the existing name as an important historical artefact that highlights the views of its time.

Rating system for Indigenous names

Whilst it can be a problem not to have one Indigenous language area for one non-Indigenous place, multiple names for one area can lead to problems too – even if there is only one Indigenous language in the area.

During the Midlands State Forest Name Review, undertaken by the researchers and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) during late 2004, problems were encountered during many aspects of the dual naming research. One of these problems was the fact that Indigenous toponyms and landscape understandings differed immensely from official government landscape boundaries. One specific example of this was in the Linton area of State forests.

The contemporary Linton State forest areas occupy the traditional land of the Wathawurrung (see Figure 7.3).

Figure 7.3: Linton State Forest areas (Kostanski and Clark 2004)


as can be seen in the maps, the language spoken in the Linton State forest areas is Wathawurrung. This paper will now focus attention on the forest areas to the north-west of the cluster. What we will focus on is the fact that colonial State forest boundaries were based on colonial understandings of the landscape and did not reflect Wathawurrung understandings. Thus, where there are multiple State forest areas, with one non-Indigenous name, there can be up to three Wathawurrung toponyms known to exist in oral and written records (and doubtlessly more officially unknown too).

In order to apply dual names it is necessary to have one Indigenous name and one non-Indigenous name for a contiguously bounded feature. Essentially, the researchers, the DSE and the Wathawurrung community (represented by the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC)) were faced with the dilemma of deciding how to proceed with the dual naming in this area. Were we to choose one Indigenous name for each non-Indigenous one? Did we need to distinguish between the Indigenous names and only promote those which were historically ‘relevant’? Could dual naming involve applying multiple Indigenous names to each non-Indigenous one? And most importantly, were we participating in a process of cultural homogenisation by taking Indigenous words and toponyms that were specific to only one particular place, and applying it to a much larger area?

As part of the historical research and compilation of the Wathawurrung names, the researchers, in association with Aboriginal Affairs Victoria (AAV) and the Surveyor-General’s and the Forestry Divisions of the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, devised a scoring system to be given to the Indigenous names, to allow a distinction between the pedigrees of particular placenames (refer to Table 7.1).

Table 7.1: Rating system for Indigenous placenames




Aboriginal placename has known meaning; relates to a clan name; there is at least one variant source.


Aboriginal placename has partial meaning; at least one variant source.


Aboriginal placename has partial meaning and only one variant source.


Aboriginal placename meaning is not known; there is at least one variant source.


Aboriginal placename meaning is not known; there is only one variant source.

This scale has been developed from toponymic research in Indigenous languages areas where the language is no longer extant and significant cultural knowledge has been lost. In areas where languages are extant, researchers need to adapt this table to reflect the reality that some toponyms have no known meaning or are opaque (see Walsh 2002). Also, it must be remembered that some traditional Indigenous names are only names, without an inherent ‘meaning’. In both situations (where names are extant or not) it might be worthwhile for researchers to estimate the degree of opacity in the languages they are researching.

The current table allows for multiple possibilities in toponymic practice. It is based on the premise that to reinstate Indigenous names some research needs to be undertaken into the etymology of the names. In the process of researching the names, various characteristics can be identified, such as meaning, relation to the local language, and so on. From these characteristics the ‘pedigree’ of the name can be deduced. This is important to note, because as BADAC expressed, they knew that there would be controversy surrounding the dual naming proposals, and they wanted to be assured that the Indigenous names they were promoting were credible and not able to be discredited by the non-Indigenous community. It is hoped that the production of this table for rating will aid in future projects on the reinstatement of Indigenous names.

During the State forest name review, based on the table, it was recommended to BADAC that the names with a scoring of five be considered for dual naming, where a European name was already in existence. BADAC agreed to this, as they believed that only names which could be historically traced and evidenced should be applied, as this would stave off any controversy. Yet, discussions were had as to the application of one Indigenous name per European name, where multiple Indigenous names existed. One example of this can be seen in the naming of the Linton State forest. Information gathered for the Linton state forest can be seen in Table 7.2.

Table 7.2: Information for Linton State Forest (Kostanski and Clark 2004)



Official Placename (LOCB, RSTA, TPEX)


Map of 1884 shows Linton as a township of ‘Lintons’ amongst an area of Timber Reserve. Map of 1937 shows township of Linton, just south of Forest Reserve area.


“Named after Mr Linton of Linton Parks. Gold was discovered upon his station. The diggings and the township took his name. McGrath, p. 118” (O’Callaghan 1918, p. 63). “Mary Linton, owner of Emu Hill homestead” (Saxton 1907, p. 42). “Fossickers in feb 1855 found gold on property Linton Park, owned by Mrs Linton, widow of squatter Joseph Linton; area first known as Linton’s Diggings”. (Blake 1977, p. 159)



Indigenous Names


Language Area:





Recorded in Robinson’s Journal (10/8/1841)




Language area:



‘widwid’ is ‘toy throwing stick’ (Smyth 1878:192)


This name refers specifically to Black Hill, Scarsdale (this name is recorded in map of 1885)




Language Area:





This name was recorded in Smyth (1878:193)



Essentially, based on discussions with BADAC, and the use of the scale for Indigenous names, the name nawnight wid-wid was chosen to be dual named with Linton. The scale for testing the pedigree of a proposed Indigenous name could also be used with non-Indigenous names in areas where multiple possibilities for naming arise.


This paper has discussed the various aspects of colonial use of Indigenous names in Victoria. Problems associated with dual naming were identified, especially where the colonial geographical area overlaps multiple Indigenous language areas (cross-lectal). During the study it was found that sometimes where there was a paucity of information on Indigenous languages for a particular State Forest area, Indigenous names have needed to be ‘invented’. Considerable discussion was given to the development of a rating system for the use of Indigenous names in contemporary naming projects (where doublet or triplet intralectals exist). The overall intention of the paper was to present methodologies for working through various problems that can be encountered when working with projects that involve official government implementation of Indigenous names in the Australian landscape. Reference was made to specific case studies, such as the renaming of rock art sites in the Grampians National Park during the 1990s, the protracted yet contemporary Mt Niggerhead debate, and the recent Midland State forest naming project.

Ultimately, this paper has asked more questions than it has answered. It will be interesting to see over the next few years how the government resolves these problems of dual naming. If the nation as a whole is to be serious about recognising Indigenous cultures, then the names need to be properly recognised as symbols of Indigenous heritage and culture. How we go about applying Indigenous names to a landscape that is officially understood from non-Indigenous perspectives is an issue that will require much debate in the future.


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