Andrew Hastie urges local governments to reconsider Aboriginal names if they’re a ‘syllable soup’ after Dwellingup death

Canning MP Andrew Hastie has called for local governments to reconsider area names inspired by Aboriginal culture if they’re a “syllable soup” for people to pronounce during emergencies. 

The parliamentarian’s comments came after the tragic death of Kimberley Johnston, who drowned at Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve on January 24. 

The 22-year-old was swimming in a rapid with her brother Aaron when the current pulled her underwater and wedged her beneath a rock. 

In the critical and panicked moments that followed, bystanders struggled to tell emergency services the name of the swimming hole – Dwaarlindjinaap – due to its length and complexity. 

“It’s a mouthful. It can’t be a syllable soup. It’s got to be straight forward,” Mr Hastie said. 

“With adrenaline surging through your veins and someone’s life depending on it. The last thing you want is to be tripping up over multiple syllables with different pronunciation.

“It’s hard enough just getting the basic facts over the phone in an emergency phone call to triple zero.”

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Since the incident Kim’s family has pushed to install universally recognised signage that would help rescue services locate people during an emergency in all national parks. 

The naming project forms part of the local government’s Reconciliation Action Plan that was created to recognise and celebrate local Aboriginal culture and history.

The most recent name change was Winjan’s Camp at McLarty Road, Halls Head to Yaburgurt Kaaleepga Reserve. 

 Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve. Photo: Stacy O’Shea.

Dwaarlindjinaap swimming hole near Dwellingup in the Lane Poole Reserve. Photo: Stacy O’Shea.

“If they’re going to go for a long name that’s complex and difficult to pronounce then I think we should really take seriously… Kimberley’s mum’s suggestion that we implement emergency location signs,” Mr Hastie said. 

“Particularly where local governments are going to chose complex difficult to pronounce names. 

“I’m all for recognising Australia's Aboriginal heritage, so I’ve got no problem with the names themselves. 

“The point was in the instance of Kimberley Johnston’s tragic death that first responders struggled to get to the location because her brother Aaron had trouble pronouncing the name of the waterhole. 

“So the question has to be asked when we name a place, ‘is the name going to be easily articulated in a moment of crisis?’

“Particularly when someone’s life depends upon it and I think that is something people need to consider.

“It’s not just someone drowning at a watering hole, it could be a small child getting a snake bite, it could be someone having a heart attack, it could be an accident on a trail. 

“It could be any number of emergencies that we need first responders for.  

“I think it’s a really issue and if we can’t pronounce it – well then there’s a problem.”

City of Mandurah Mayor Rhys Williams said he didn’t share the same concerns as Mr Hastie but agreed that the proposed signage would be a great initiative.  

He spoke highly of the Beach Emergency Number (BEN) signs, created following local surfer Ben Gerring’s death in Falcon, as a great Mandurah achievement and said he believed it would be beneficial statewide. 

Mr Williams also highlighted that parks and reserves in the local government’s boundaries were relatively small in size, unlike areas such as the Lane Poole Reserve in the Shire of Murray.