Monday, June 15, 2009

More names

In almost every respect, the names gradually accumulated by pioneering colonists, explorers, and the founding fathers of the fifty states and their capital cities in the United States put we Australians to shame, because apart from Canberra, our federal capital, not one of the seven Australian states, nor any state capital, pays any sort of tribute to, or even acknowledges an indigenous word, people, or person. 

New South Wales was named after the principality by Captain James Cook. Actually he began by jotting “New Wales” in his log, but inserted the “South” slightly later on, for clarity. Australia (from Terra Australis) was in due course coined by Matthew Flinders. The old formulations “New Holland” and Van Diemen’s Land then Tasmania, honored early Dutch seafarers (specifically Anthonie van Diemen and Abel Tasman). 

Both Victoria and Queensland bowed respectfully to the eponymous Queen-Empress, while the remainder were and remain drearily compass-driven, viz. the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. 

Sydney got its name in 1788, an obsequious gesture to Thomas Townshend, first Viscount Sydney, Home Secretary in the administration of Pitt the Younger. Hobart Town was for Robert, Lord Hobart, Secretary of State for the Colonies, heir to the Earl of Buckinghamshire (so I suppose it might have been worse). Adelaide was for Queen Adelaide, consort to King William IV. Perth was a cheerful but improbable reference from the vantage point of the Swan River Settlement to the birthplace in Scotland of Sir George Murray, another Secretary of State for the Colonies. Bearbrass was hastily renamed Melbourne for William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first Prime Minister. Brisbane was for Major-General Sir Thomas Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales, and Darwin for Charles the naturalist and author of The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of Species, presumably the only Englishman ever to set foot upon the ground that was ultimately named in his honor.

Let us assume we are stuck with these, because I very much doubt whether dear Daniel Thomas’s proposal to replace South Australia with the extraordinary name of “Skangaroovia” is ever likely to take hold.

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