9 July 2019

Ngunnawal elders call to rename Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain, other Canberra landmarks

| Genevieve Jacobs
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United Ngunnawal Elders Council chair Roslyn Brown is arguing that many ACT landmarks need new names. Photo: G Jacobs.

The senior voice representing the ACT’s traditional owners, the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, wants many of Canberra’s most significant landmarks to reclaim their Aboriginal names, alongside the names they were given by European settlers.

Speaking as NAIDOC Week begins, they have called for “a sense of belonging through the sharing of our ancient names with all Australians”, nominating Black Mountain, Mt Ainslie, Mount Majura, Gibraltar Rocks and Yankee Hat among the landmarks that need to be recognised differently.

Robert Campbell probably named Majura after “Majura in India”, according to the ACT National Trust, while Mt Ainslie recognises Campbell’s Duntroon overseer, James Ainslie. Black Mountain and Red Hill were both also likely named by early settlers, while Gibraltar Rocks commemorates the Mediterranean landmark and Yankee Hat, site of the ACT’s only Aboriginal rock art, is said to resemble 19th century American headgear.

“It would show far more respect for the Ngunnawal people, for all Canberrans and for the nation as a whole to have names nominated by Ngunnawal people through the Council,” said Council chair Aunty Roslyn Brown. “It would be great for Reconciliation and it would help us to know that mainstream Australia does care.”

The proposed names are still being considered by the Elders’ Council, but Roslyn said they envisage a process similar to the transition between Ayers Rock and Uluru. “People have come on board more and more with the name change as they felt a sense of ownership and belonging,” she says. “Most people now use the correct name for Uluru but a similar process of transition here makes it easier for people who might feel uncomfortable at first.”

Aunty Roslyn says the Council means no disrespect to the people whose names are currently used, but she believes the use of Aboriginal names will give ownership of the national capital’s landmarks to all Australians.

“They were a sign of times when they were originally named, but it’s the 21st century now. By adopting the names we’ve nominated we are sharing and also embracing our non-indigenous brothers and sisters, and we hope they will come to accept and love the names,” she said.

Historian and Bunurong, Punniler panner and Yuin man Bruce Pascoe, whose book Dark Emu examined Aboriginal land use and landscape interpretation, has argued for a dual naming system across Australia.

He believes that around two thirds of place names in Australia already have Aboriginal origins and is calling for a thorough analysis of place names as a way of bringing the country together. While many refer to flora, fauna or landscape features, others refer to the arrival of Europeans or even massacre sites.

“To learn the names we’ll have to go through a period of discomfort because it’s an uncomfortable history. But it’s better than going through a period of ignorance,” Mr Pascoe said to ABC Radio this year.

“You learn the name, you learn your country.”

The ACT recently made the decision to rename William Slim Drive after controversy surrounding the war hero was revealed. There have also been calls to rename Haig Park, named for Field Marshal Haig.

Should we reclaim Aboriginal place names in the ACT?

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What a great plan! I am keen to learn some more local words and place names. Didn’t take long to learn how to pronounce Uluru after all.

Capital Retro9:04 pm 15 Jul 19

I tried it and it kept coming up “Ayers Rock”.

How weird is that?

Capital Retro9:34 am 15 Jul 19

“…..among the landmarks that need to be recognised differently.”

No they don’t need to be. Demands like this are only going to perpetuate the “reconciliation” and “close the gap” programmes but maybe that is what it is all about anyhow.

Great. Next they’ll charge people to walk up or down or ban them altogether ie. Uluru. There’s more important issues to deal with

Fairly sure William Slim Drive doesn’t have a traditional aboriginal name – but knew it would be dragged into the article as soon as I saw the headline. Whole separate issue.

What is Roslyn Brown’s Ngunnawal name?

Where can we see a list of those original names please?

This is meaningless when it seems like there aren’t even agreed long held Indigenous names for these places in the first place.

Everyone is free to call these places whatever they want, the official names shouldn’t be changed.

As a concept dual naming is great. But surely it’s only appropriate when there are clear traditional names which can be used. Having to workshop some new word for Mt Ainslie suggests that it’s a bit of a kite flying exercise.

Also – agree with Rod Carter below, perhaps we could first settle the dispute over whether this entire region was traditional Ngunnawal land or was in fact shared by other groups (like Ngarigo or Ngambri).

NAIDOC week undermines reconciliation and mutual respect when divisive and unnecessary suggestions like this are made. If ‘Roslyn Brown’ and ‘Bruce Pascoe’ want our landmarks to reclaim their Aboriginal names, then they should both firstly change their own European first and surnames to Aboriginal names to show they are not complete hypocrites.

I’ve always known of Taranaki in New Zealand. When I was doing a temp job in 1989 there were two Kiwis there and I said to them that I had heard there was an English name for Taranaki but didn’t know what it was. They told me it was New Plymouth.

Definitely not. It’s hard to see how this is more inclusive for “all Canberrans” when it is effectively renaming our landmarks for about 1% of the ACT population. Black Mountain is Black Mountain, Mount Majura is Mount Majura.

People like to say that the only culture and history that Australia has is indigenous culture but that is not the case.

Changing the names may make that 1% feel better in some way but most of the aboriginal people I know are actually embarrassed by elders advocating this sort of pointless symbolism and would rather have effort put in to things that actually effect them.

Like it or not, Australia is what it is today because of its settlers. Yes, bad things were done by them but name a period in history where bad things were never done. Renaming places that already have names just to appease some activists is simply window dressing and does not address any of the real issues that are faced by those communities. We need to grow up.

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