I love Australian place names. I love their obviousness (Four Mile Creek; Great Sandy Desert; Ocean Beach; Point Lookout); their conceptualization (Cape Upstart); their wackiness (Monkey Mia, a dolphin resort); their Aboriginality (from Belongil to Warrego); and their mystique (D'Entrecasteaux).
Some names I just like: Conspicuous Beach, Dee Why, Esperance, You Yangs, Nullarbor Plain, Yallingup, Peaceful Bay, Seventeen Seventy, Little Wategos, Kings Canyon, Valley of the Giants, Mandalay, Mt Sorrow, Cape Flattery, Indented Head.
As the rain continued to fall out of the sky in Brisbane this morning, I was reading about towns across central New South Wales on flood alert, for the third time this year. Some of their names – Gumly Gumly, North Wagga Wagga and East Wagga Wagga – reminded me of the lists of place names I've been compiling since I got here.
You can find lots of place-name lists on the internet: some amusing; some dripping with innuendo; and others just plain weird. I have five different categories of names that have appealed to me while travelling or researching or looking at maps: Experience; Bzzz Repetition; Silly; Forenames; and Too Many 'O's. Some place names qualify for more than one category: one of them qualifies for three.
Experience includes those place names that reflect explorers' (principally Captain Cook's) or settlers' adventures.
Dead Horse Gap
Avoid Bay, which is next to
Quart Pot Creek
The Bzzz Repetition category represents a very Australian phenomenon. There is an obvious crossover with Silly.
Wagga Wagga (pronounced Wogga Wogga)
Boonoo Boonoo (three-category contender and joint
winner of Too Many 'O's category)
The Silly category knows no bounds. There is an argument for a sub-group, Too Complicated (aka How the Hell Do You Pronounce It?).
Goodi Goodi South
Forenames speaks for itself: girls' names are obviously more popular than boys'.
Mary Kathleen (ghost towns do qualify)
Keith (love it!)
(I know this is bending the rules, but I know a Tom Price, and you can imagine how conversations might go, can't you:
Where do you live?
No, where do you live?)
Kitty Miller (Bay)
Last, but by no means least, is Too Many 'O's (or, very, very occasionally, consonants or other vowels).
Woolloomooloo (joint winner)
While some of these names seem overly complicated, others are almost startlingly simple. While driving through outback northern Queensland a few months ago, we didn't even realise we'd been to The Lynd (Junction) until we saw this sign pointing back where we'd come from.
On occasion, these names really come into their own. The other day, while listening to the weather forecast (an otherwise futile pastime in this part of the world), there was a strong wind warning for Point Danger. How apposite.
ABC Queensland have a wonderful weather presenter called Jenny. She rattles off lists of names – be they towns, rivers or promontories – like a true pro (it brings back fond memories of the shipping forecast on the BBC when I was a little girl). I have no idea where most of the places are – and she's only covering Queensland. Often I can't even see the names on the map because we've already moved on. One place I have grown to love is Weipa (pronounced Weepah).
Weipa is a town about three-quarters of the way up the pointy bit at the top of Queensland. It is the largest place on the pointy bit, with about 2,800 people (in 2006), and apparently exists because of large bauxite deposits nearby. On the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, it is close to the first official European sighting of this continent – Duyfken Point just to the north of the town. The Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon landed in 1606 – although he believed he was in New Guinea – more than 160 years before Captain Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia. Jenny pronounces Weipa as though it has an 'h' after the 'W', she says it with such gusto. It's thanks to her that Weipa is on my map.
Finally, I must confess to struggling with one aspect of Australian naming: similarity. After 11 months, I only just feel confident enough to distinguish between Toowong, Toowoomba and Toombul, all of them in or near Brisbane. Inexplicably, I struggle with Ballina and Ballarat, even though they're in different states. I am truly in awe of Jenny.
Photograph of Coochiemudlo Island sign courtesy of Olivia Forsey
This post was last updated on 24 September 2012