Do you have a favourite Australian place name? I particularly like Nowhere Else. It’s hard because there are so many absolutely joyous ones. But that one is very Australian. Because it’s the kind of thing they say – it’s very contrary.
Yorkey’s Knob, Fannie Bay, Tittybong… Did the naughty names keep you chuckling or did the joke wear thin? They kept me chuckling, to be honest. I think people from overseas come to Australia and they just can’t believe it. I mean Mount Buggery – they knew what they were calling it.
How did it get its name? My own feeling, and it’s purely guess work, is that someone was just generally fed up. I don’t think it had anything to do with there being no women in rural Australia. I think they thought “oh bugger”. It is one of the highest peaks in that part of the world. Australia is very unusual because it was named from scratch. There were lots of Aboriginal names already, but it was settled by white people who kind of just assumed they had to name places. So it was named in probably one or two generations, from 1770 when Cook arrived to about 1850. Cook and Flinders just sailed around the coastline and named everything. And you can tell what kind of day they were having, by the names of particular stretches of coastline. So Avoid Point and Cape Grim and Anxiety Bay and this sort of thing. When it came to naming places after British notables, bureaucrats, etc, it was actually quite a small gene pool and half of them knew each other, in fact a lot of them were sleeping with each other. Byron in particular used to get around quite a bit. Byron Bay isn’t named after the poet, it’s named after Jack Byron. (A long tangent ensues where Pamela explains all sorts of sordid stuff about Byron, who had an affair with his sister, amongst many others).
Have Captain Cook and Matthew Flinders got a lot to answer for, or should Australians be thankful? Oh, I think they should be thankful. They did an extraordinary job, on all levels. But you can tell they had their off days and there must have been days when some of the explorers were very bored by it all and so they’d say “oh, let’s just call it Breakfast Creek, because we’ve just had our breakfast here.” They just ran out of ideas.
What do you think your book tells us about Australia and Australians? I think the personality of Australians comes through. I think it shows the irreverence and the tongue-in-cheek thing that Australians do very well. I do think there’s a bit of lack of creativity in parts though; we’ve got far too many Sandy Deserts and Sandy Creeks. But it shows that lovely dry sense of humour.
What do you think your book tells us about the relationship between white and black Australia? Fortunately quite a few Aboriginal names have prevailed. There were cases when local authorities impose a new white name, often a name of someone famous, and the local white people stood up and said, “no, we prefer the original Aboriginal name.” I think the fact that there are a lot of Aboriginal names which have survived gives you cause for optimism. Obviously a lot disappeared, but a lot prevailed.
Do you have a favourite? Oooh, lots of them. I like Tumbarumba, which means “the sound of people stamping on the ground”. And Boing Boing in the Northern Territory, which is “mosquitoes buzzing”. Another favourite which isn’t Aboriginal, is Banana. It has nothing to do with the fruit, but rather was named after a very popular cow.
I like Woolloomooloo… Yes, that either translates as “young black kangaroo” or “field of blood”. You see, the problem with Aboriginal words is you have so many different languages, about 250. When Cook got to Cooktown and was told a kangaroo is a kangaroo, that was the local version. But one name for an animal might not be the same in other parts of the country.
The story travellers are often told is that kangaroo actually means “I don’t understand”… My favourite one of those is Noosa. Apparently, the explorer stood by the Noosa River and said to his Aboriginal guide, “do you know the name of this place?” And he replied “No, sir”.