Knowing where you really are in Australia is about to get a whole lot easier. We all recognise the importance of respecting and protecting Australia’s indigenous culture and history, and a large part of celebrating 60,000 years of Indigenous custodianship is bringing traditional place names back into the mainstream. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, as it happens!
A History of Getting The Name Wrong
As explorers “discovered” different places in Australia back in the 19th Century, they had a habit of naming them after friends, colleagues or anyone really. It took until the early 1990’s for Indigenous names, bestowed thousands of years before, to slowly come back into play. Iconic Uluru was once “Ayers Rock”, named in 1873 for the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers, and was the first place to reclaim its Indigenous name. It became Ayers Rock / Uluru in 1993 and was subsequently switched to Uluru / Ayers Rock in 2002. The change was a show of respect to Uluru’s Traditional Owners, the Anangu people, and to acknowledge their ongoing custodianship of Country. More recently in 2017, what was once Fraser Island is now K’gari (Fraser Island) in recognition of this World Heritage-listed island’s Traditional Owners, the Butchulla people.
Tourism Australia And Australia Post Are Switching It Up
The idea of using dual-naming as a way of bringing back the Indigenous names for places is not a new one, but it has been a long time coming. Tourism Australia has, in consultation with Elders and Traditional Owners, now committed to permanently using dual-names for Australia’s cities and other significant locations in all its literature and tours. Likewise Australia Post now includes a space for senders to enter an Indigenous place name if known on all its postage labels. This was largely in response to a request by a Gomeroi woman, Rachael McPhail, who challenged Australia Post back in 2020 to acknowledge Indigenous place names more officially. By making these changes, the hope is that Indigenous names will become the norm rather than the exception, and we will all be that bit wiser when it comes to Australia’s very long and rich cultural history.
Knowing Where We All Stand – Literally
As the Tourism Australia initiative will help educate international travellers on Australia’s Indigenous cultural history, the steps Australia Post are taking will ensure Aussies themselves have the opportunity to use traditional place names where and when they like. Wherever we travel to in Australia, we are always standing in a spot with a complex, rich history, and that isn’t always obvious if you just go by a name. Bringing back Indigenous place names is a way of acknowledging and respecting whose land you stand on, and we reckon it’s about time.