EXPLAINER: More and more places are being dual-named. Is it progress or compromise? NITV

Place names have been remembered. But is anything less than their full restoration enough?

Dual naming, or Traditional Place names? The debate is a hot topic for some, but for most mob, there’s an obvious choice. Credit: Getty/Supplied

Australia’s most eastern point, Cape Byron, has been dual-named, reclaiming its traditional name Walgun, meaning ‘shoulder’ in Bundjalung language.

It’s been renamed alongside Julian Rocks, which now includes the name Nguthungulli.

Both places are deeply significant to the local Arakwal and other Bundjalung people.

Walgun-Cape Byron at Byron Bay, New South Wales has been dual named. Credit: Manfred Gottschalk/Getty Images

The names were proposed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to the NSW Geographical Names Board and supported by the Bundjalung of Byron Bay Aboriginal Corporation and the Cape Byron Trust.

While more and more places are adopting a dual name, there remain situations where proposals are rejected.

Two steps forward, one step back

Sandra Hill proposed the dual naming of the Blackwood River in Western Australia last year.

She wanted to incorporate the traditional name for the river, ‘Goorbilyup’.

Goorbal translates to ‘intestine’, bilya to ‘waterway’ and up to ‘place of’.

Ms Hill says it’s a name that fits, given its function.

“This river is the most significant waterway in the entire southwest. It feeds every forest, all the tributaries, everything,” said Ms Hill.

“It’s also significant because we followed that river, it divided some of our countries, it is a guide for us to know where we are.”

The Wadandi/Pibulmun Menang Elder believed reclaiming the river’s traditional name was an important step in acknowledging her people’s survival.

“The traditional name encourages people to find out our stories, and understand how important the river is to us,” she explained.

“It acknowledges that we are still here, we’ve not gone anywhere, we’re still practising culture, we still know the name, we still know our language.

“For 60,000 plus years, it was known as Goorbilyup, and for only 190 it’s been the Blackwood River.”

The Goorbilyup, formerly known as the Blackwood River, is significant to Noongar people. Credit: WikkiCommons

Despite wanting to propose the renaming of the river, Ms Hill thought she would be more likely to succeed in pushing instead for a dual name.

Her proposal had the support of some local cultural custodians, Traditional Owners and Elders.

It was also endorsed by the support of the Shire of Augusta Margaret River Council, Nannup Shire Council, Shire of Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Shire of West Arthur – four of the five shire areas that the river winds through.

All that was left was to get the support of Boyup Brook Shire.

Ms Hill waited patiently for the resolution until she was contacted one morning by a media organisation asking her how she felt about their rejection of the proposal.

Aunty Sandra Hill petitioned for the dual naming of the river. Credit: First Nations Arts and Culture Awards 2023/NITV

“They didn’t tell me anything … I just got a call from the ABC,” she said.

The news knocked Ms Hill hard, especially in the wake of the failed Voice to Parliament referendum, and the news that the council rejection was based on public consultation.

“I felt broken … It’s so hard to deal with the reality of this country but that’s been my whole life,” she said.

“Everything I do is to try and talk about our culture, our survival or to just be acknowledged.

“To be denied the dual name, and the referendum, it was all too much.”

When did dual naming start?

Dual naming has a long and unfortunate history that begins with colonisation, and the erasure of the traditional names that places and landmarks had borne for millennia.

In 1872, British Surveyor William Gosse ‘discovered’ one of the most significant natural landmarks in the world.

He named it Ayres Rock, after the former chief secretary of South Australia Sir Henry Ayres.

In the same year, Ernest Files spotted and named Mount Olga after Queen Olga of Württemberg, a German kingdom.

In 1873, the names Ayres Rock and Mount Olga were formally approved by the SA Government

There remained no acknowledgement of the names given to the landmarks by the Anangu people, Uluru and Kata Tjuta.

But on December 15 1993, the Northern Territory government made history by registering the dual name of ‘Ayres Rock/Uluru’.

It was the first dual name registered in the jurisdiction. Kata Tjuta was also dual named ‘Mount Olga/Kata Tjuta’.

Road signs at the T-intersection of Lasseter Highway and Luritja Road leading to Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park. Source: Moment RF / Simon McGill/Getty Images

Almost a decade later, in 2002, after a request from the Regional Tourism Association, the Northern Territory renamed both landmarks, prioritising their Anangu names.

On all official documentation, signage and maps, the landmarks became Uluru/Ayres Rock and Kata Tjuta/Mount Olga.

According to Tourism Australia (TA), dual naming is the decision to use a “confirmed Aboriginal name” for a “location or geographical feature” alongside the colonial, or English name.

“Tourism Australia started dual naming destinations … two years ago to highlight the tens of thousands of years of Indigenous cultures, language, and knowledge, and to elevate Australia’s Indigenous story into the mainstream consciousness,” said TA’s Head of Indigenous Affairs Phil Lockyer.

Mr Lockyer said that whilst the company is “still on the journey”, they hope the approach “helps travellers to deepen their knowledge of Australia’s many destinations in a more meaningful way”.

Why not just use Aboriginal names?

Butchulla people seen during the official ceremony for the renaming of K’gari. Source: AAP / DARREN ENGLAND/AAPIMAGE

Ms Hill has a lot of questions still about why the name was rejected, believing some part of it comes down to the fear of change or progress.

Many share her sentiment that instead of the modest compromise of dual naming, the reclamation of traditional names should be prioritised.

In June of 2023, Fraser Island was renamed its traditional name K’gari by the Queensland Government.

It was an act that set a historical precedent.

K’gari, in Butchulla culture, is the white spirit who was sent from the sky to create the land and sea.

Butchulla Aboriginal Corporation chair Gayle Minniecon explained at the time of renaming that it was “through disrespect” that the traditional name was taken away.

“Thankfully, it is now through respect to the Butchulla people that K’gari, her name, has been reclaimed,” she said.

“Our oral history, our creation story, will now be told and learnt as it should be.”