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

Genevieve Jacobs 9 July 2019 82

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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86 Responses to Ngunnawal elders call to rename Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain, other Canberra landmarks
Gwg Heldon Gwg Heldon 5:50 pm 11 Jul 19

Happy to call all local landmarks by their traditional names.

Petzi Snarbrook Petzi Snarbrook 5:34 pm 11 Jul 19

ABSOLUTELY! And they should be on every map in every school, along with the amazing and illuminating Aboriginal map that shows over 270 nations, no one single one dominating or controlling country, an illustration of the genius of a culture that not only farmed and husbanded the harshest continent on earth but MAINTAINED 65,000+ YEARS OF PEACE between 270 nations. What is the current Western "civilised" society record? Any one??

Just think about the lessons we could learn and apply to the world we live in today...we need this information now, more than ever. Names that are 65,000+ years old can only add significance and meaning to the 200 year old white fella ones....

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 6:15 pm 11 Jul 19

    What nonsense. Aboriginal Australians were and are as warlike as any other bunch of human beings.

    The fact that they didn't have guns and uniforms when the Europeans arrived doesn’t mean there wasn’t conflict. The Tasmanians, for example, were pushed down the continent in exactly the same way as the Torres Strait Islanders were making their way south down Cape York, displacing the previous residents as they went.

    Petzi Snarbrook Petzi Snarbrook 6:39 pm 11 Jul 19

    Peter Mackay Educate yourself - look at the map before you comment. Maybe read a book or two - Dark Emu is a good place to start.

    Deanna Buffier Deanna Buffier 6:56 pm 11 Jul 19

    Old white fellas with Aboriginal fellas saved this country from occupation by fighting in World Wars 1 and 11.

Steve Wood Steve Wood 5:27 pm 11 Jul 19

What is Yankee Hat? Never heard of it..

    Stephen Esdaile Stephen Esdaile 10:36 pm 11 Jul 19

    Rock art location in Namadgi.

    Steve Wood Steve Wood 11:10 pm 11 Jul 19

    Stephen Esdaile thank you.

    Rod Carter Rod Carter 11:34 pm 11 Jul 19

    YankeeHat is the twin peaks to the West of the site. Apparently named for it's profile. It is in the Gudgenby valley.

Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 5:21 pm 11 Jul 19

Their present names are not offensive

    John Taylor John Taylor 6:42 pm 11 Jul 19

    Margaret Freemantle No - but they are not representative of Ngunnawal country either. They are a colonial imposition.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 10:02 pm 11 Jul 19

    John Taylor I am not stupid!!! I know we are are all guests in Ngunnawal country and if there are aboriginal people calling for a particular mountain name be changed then so be it. I don't see a problem for a hill in Ainslie, to be called Mt Ainslie.

    Russell Nankervis Russell Nankervis 9:13 am 15 Jul 19

    But what is the harm in changing the name of you know this is Nginnawal land?

chewy14 5:11 pm 11 Jul 19


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.

George Quarmby George Quarmby 5:10 pm 11 Jul 19

Stromlo as well

Kim Bal-Al Kim Bal-Al 5:03 pm 11 Jul 19

The only ones I know of are Weereewa for Lake George and Yeal-am-bid-gie for Molonglo River. It would be helpful if the article actually told us what the Ngunnawal names are! We could start using them straight away!

Kim Bal-Al Kim Bal-Al 4:49 pm 11 Jul 19

What are the Ngunnawal names? I'll start calling them by their Ngunnawal names straight away! No need to wait for it to become "official"

Ron Reynolds Ron Reynolds 4:34 pm 11 Jul 19

I would love to see this happen in the ACT and parts of Australia

Anita Dhall Anita Dhall 3:56 pm 11 Jul 19

Good idea and I can’t wait to hear about the change

Deb Stevens Deb Stevens 3:49 pm 11 Jul 19

A big YES!

Karen de Gans Karen de Gans 3:25 pm 11 Jul 19

Yes and change Mt Tennent too.

Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 3:13 pm 11 Jul 19

sounds reasonable.

Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 3:09 pm 11 Jul 19

Good idea

Heavs 2:52 pm 11 Jul 19

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).

Acton 2:43 pm 11 Jul 19

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.

John Moulis 2:36 pm 11 Jul 19

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.

Rod Carter Rod Carter 2:28 pm 11 Jul 19

Hmmmm, they might want to chat with the Ngarigo folk first.

Max Hale Max Hale 2:25 pm 11 Jul 19

Dual names to start with moving towards the Ngunnawal names permanently.

George Brenan George Brenan 2:15 pm 11 Jul 19

Dual names in the capital is a good idea - especially with the hoards of school kids from around the country who visit

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