Friday, 22 January 2010

Australian Aboriginal place names

I took a trip on the Smartbus yesterday, pretending to be a tourist in my own city, and it was most enjoyable. A friend and I boarded the bus at Heidelberg and went to Mordialloc, breaking our journey at Chadstone Shopping Centre.

When we were sitting on the beach at Mordialloc, enjoying the overcast but warm day, I was struck by the fact that Mordialloc sounds as if it might be an indigenous place-name and that it phonetically resembles Woori Yallock, the name of a town in the Upper Yarra Valley.

When I looked on the Dictionary of Aboriginal Placenames in Victoria, I found that the traditional name for the beach I was sitting on was Murdayaluk, with murda meaning low/short and yaluk meaning river or creek.

Woori Yallock means running creek.

There were other places in the database with Yallock in the placename.

As I sat there, I wondered who had rested on this beach in the past, and how they had lived. And I wondered when they had told the newly-arrived Europeans what they should call the place.

Given that before the nineteenth century place names were recorded orally rather than in written form, I guess it's not surprising that the written forms of names were not consistent.

At the Victorian Government's Land Channel, it says:

The widespread use of Indigenous names provides a strong connection to our Indigenous heritage and acknowledges Indigenous culture. However some names may not be strictly accurate because of unfamiliarity with Indigenous language and culture at the time they were originally recorded.

Most of the Indigenous languages did not have a written form when Victoria’s places and features were being named under European settlement (although some Indigenous communities used message sticks to convey information between groups).

The people who first recorded fragments of these languages were not linguists paying careful attention to subtleties of pronunciation they were generally surveyors and explorers, who were usually the first Europeans to travel through the land and record names in their maps, charts and fieldbooks.


theregatha said...

Wow, Parlance this is truly a very complex issue. I am really facinated with how the names of place affect our sense of self in being Aussies.

theregatha said...

Hi parlance, one speaks of having sent another person a message via their mobile phone is it correct to say " I text-ted them" or "I texted them" the difference being in the pronunciation of the t?
Hope this is literate....

parlance said...

Hi, theregatha. It's so exciting to have a comment here that isn't an advertisement for something or isn't some mysterious chinese writing.

As for the question of texts, I'd always thought of it as 'texting' and that's how I say it. To me it's like saying I tested something. The noun is 'test' and I just add 'ing' to make it a verb.

I hope that makes sense. It's rather late at night and I think my mind went to bed a few hours ago.

parlance said...

Theregatha, it's very interesting what you say about the sense of being Australian. When I hear the names of places that have had Aboriginal names for decades, even centuries, I feel as if it's a window into that past time when new arrivals met the original inhabitants and actually communicated successfully. Well, sometimes...

But when I hear newly minted names I wonder whether it's just paternalism in a new guise, a pretence of acknowledging the history of people who have been displaced from their land.

Papillon Bleu said...

Wow! I didn't know there was a dictionary about Aboriginal places.

Is it true that kangaroo means "I don't know"?

parlance said...

Papillon bleu, there has been a lot of study of Aboriginal placenames, so there are quite a few books.
I've also heard the story about kangaroo meaning "I don't know" but I don't think it's true. I'll try to find out. Thanks for giving me the idea.