1 December 2023

A suburb called Bruce? Canberra names places better than anyone

| Sally Hopman
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Old map of Canberra

Good to see some names stand the test of Canberra time – like Goorooyarroo, as seen on this 1912 map of what is now known as the Capital Region. Photo: Supplied.

Few capital cities do suburb names as well as Canberra. Bruce for example. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Fair dinkum. Upper Bruce, naturally. Lower Bruce? Not so much. We are the nation’s CAPITAL, after all.

Whitlam? Not sure I fancy the idea of living with Gough, although you’d never not know how fabulous he was, even if it’s time for a change in subject matter. Just don’t mention the governor-general.

Banks? Probably only ATMs there now. Forrest? Probably can’t see the wood for the trees. Then there’s the new Beard – I’d scratch that one sooner rather than later before it gets too many people into a lather. Kenny, the nurse not the bloke, sounds noice.

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We do bridges quite well, too. Lots of people like to drive over Malcolm Fraser and that other bloke called Commonwealth. We name places after Prime Ministers, other politicians, generally important people who have done something, at some time, that warrant their name on a street sign, letterbox – and even stamped on a letter – if we still wrote them.

Apparently it’s all because we are such a planned city. You create a capital with such detail as did our forefather types and then allow people to call places names like Jonestown – OK, perhaps not the best example.

But Kaleen? Seriously. Isn’t that just a girl’s name missing a Y. Or Denman Prospect: translation, potential home of man cave. And Macnamara – no, not for that bloke who is all over Australia on ABC radio come Sunday mornings, it’s for Dame Jean, one of our first female doctors.

Like most things in life, it takes forever to get anything done after you’re dead, but surely we should extend our name-calling – even if the famous dead person only had a tenuous link to Canberra.

READ ALSO Acton Waterfront park gets green light and a Ngunnawal name

Why not Jimi Hendrix Street? Ideally in a street where people can go all along to the watch tower. I bet if you went door to doors, you’d find support for a Jim Morrison cul de sac, especially in those suburbs where people like to light their fires.

What about Judy Garland Drive, heaven knows where that would take us. Probably to some colourful, windy road inhabited by weird-looking people, with at least one of them wearing tinfoil. I’m sure she played at the Albert Hall (the Canberra one) at some stage in her career. Everyone else has.

Like all good Oz citizens, we do love to abbreviate things, and suburbs are no exception. Tuggers, of course, and Dicko – or that may also relate to a TV celebrity, Charny as in Carny. Also like Oz citizens, we can be quite unkind. Calling one area the People’s Republic of the Inner North and another Thugeranong. We’d never do that.

Old map of Canberra

What’s the chances of your name ending up on a map? Photo: Supplied.

The good news is that judging by the rate the capital region is growing, just about everyone will be able to have their say on what a street/bridge/suburb shall be called.

But it also helps to remember that the Ngunnawal folk, who were here a little earlier than the rest of us – by about 21,000 years – were the original custodians, which is why the name Canberra is derived from their language.

Legend has it that it means “meeting place”. Another sort-of legend firmly has it meaning “women’s breasts” – apparently the view of Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain, is behind that urban (hit and) myth. Feel free to support either.

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Hendrix isn’t dead…he plays at my place every day! Just ask my neighbours! 🙂

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