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

Genevieve Jacobs 11 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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82 Responses to
Ngunnawal elders call to rename Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain, other Canberra landmarks
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Megan Watts 1:53 pm 15 Jul 19

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 Retro 9:34 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.

7:18 pm 13 Jul 19

Absolutely support this!

7:04 pm 12 Jul 19

Would be great to follow the NZ example and have dual name signage for all the landmarks with a short explanation for both the Indigenous and modern name origins.

10:56 am 12 Jul 19

Wow its like Australia is almost catching up with NZ on this.

Ash Cooper 10:36 am 12 Jul 19

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

Rollersk8r 10:01 am 12 Jul 19

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.

Lucy Baker 11:36 pm 11 Jul 19

What is Roslyn Brown’s Ngunnawal name?

Lucy Baker 11:35 pm 11 Jul 19

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

11:32 pm 11 Jul 19

Dr Josephine Flood wrote a book called the "Moth Eaters". It pretty much explained the traditional boundaries. You can buy it at the Namadgi visitors centre.

10:58 pm 11 Jul 19


8:56 pm 11 Jul 19

What were the original names of these places?

7:45 pm 11 Jul 19

Understanding our roots is so important. Our histories connects us to the past, and present. But also influences the future we want. We need to respect what has come before, whether we are Aboriginal, European, Asian or African descents who live in Ngunnawal land.

7:40 pm 11 Jul 19

Yes, especially Yankee Hat with its Aboriginal rock art!

7:07 pm 11 Jul 19

What’s the point? The original residents are long gone.

    7:32 pm 11 Jul 19

    Peter Mackay and yet a Ngunnawal elder is asking for the names to be acknowledged. Apparently not long gone.

    7:45 pm 11 Jul 19

    Mmmm. Canberra has been the nation's capital since 1913. I suggest that nobody remains alive from that time.

    But again, I ask what's the point? Canberra - an Aboriginal name in itself - is well blessed with traditional names. There are local names, there are names reflecting other regions - Aranda, for example - there are European names, and there are increasingly names reflecting other traditions.

    Australia as a nation has many heritages, and I think that it is important as a practical and symbolic measure that our city be inclusive in its nature.

    Of course, there are those who see life in the nation's political capital as being political in nature, and life is a struggle between one's preferred political team and all the others who have different views.

    We can see the horrid effect of polarisation in America, where the community is divided in so many ways.

    I don’t think it is useful to give the strident one-eyed voices of partisans too much weight.

    7:47 pm 11 Jul 19

    Nice attempt at gaslighting

    11:09 pm 11 Jul 19

    Peter, you'll be long gone one day and on your argument that means your opinion counts for nothing. You can exit stage right any time you like.

    12:56 am 12 Jul 19

    Surely my argument would dictate the exact opposite? Here we all are, and you say our opinions are all worthless, including your own because you will be gone one day.

    No reasonable person would take such a view.

    Can you answer the question posed? What’s the point, here and now?

    9:12 am 15 Jul 19

    Society moves on. You can't just say "they aren't here now" or "I won't be here then" and do nothing. Changing the names will reconnect Canberra to country and will give meaning to the future from the past. It is a matter of respect.

    9:20 am 15 Jul 19

    Pish. Canberra is full of Aboriginal names. Find me an Aboriginal Canberran who does not have non-Australian ancestry. The nation has moved on from Us and Them. It is just Us, and I think those who try to divide the nation on race are not moving in a positive direction.

7:02 pm 11 Jul 19

No dual names. Indigenous names pre-date European ones.

6:45 pm 11 Jul 19

More appropriate to have names for our landscape in Aboriginal language. Far more significant.

6:41 pm 11 Jul 19

Excellent news. Not before time either.

6:28 pm 11 Jul 19

Good idea.

5:50 pm 11 Jul 19

Happy to call all local landmarks by their traditional names.

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