Voice of Real Australia: It's time to return place names

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 Fraser Island is now known as K'gari (pronounced Gah-ree). Picture: Shutterstock

Fraser Island is now known as K'gari (pronounced Gah-ree). Picture: Shutterstock

I'm not overly sentimental about a lot of things, including place names. I'm like a lot of people, I suspect, in that I don't think too much about it. It's just a name, afterall.

When I drive through Captain's Flat, I don't do anything more than quickly wonder who the captain might have been then just as quickly move on with my life.

But for this week's episode of the Voice of Real Australia podcast, I've been thinking about place names a lot - why do we choose one name over another, why do we grow attached to it, and what do those things tell us about ourselves?

Particular European names are problematic for a lot of First Nations People. There are a lot of names which remember the site of a massacre or a "Protector" of Aboriginal People who did anything but.

King Leopold II of Belgium was not only a vicious individual responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese in the 19th century, he also never visited the ranges in the Kimberly and Pilbara named in his honour.

The name has since been changed to the Wunaamin Miliwundi Ranges.

Thinking about First Nations place names is a way to think about the history of this country, and about the world before European settlement. A lot of these places had names already - like Uluru.

In Queensland, the Butchulla People are celebrating changing the name Fraser Island to K'gari (pronounced Gah-ree) and in the process teaching people, including me, about their country.

Eliza Fraser was a woman with a brief connection to the island - she was shipwrecked and taken in by the Butchulla who brought her to safety. Eliza then spent years spreading dangerous lies about the Butchulla, calling them cannibals.

In learning about the name K'gari, I learnt about one of the Butchulla's sky spirits who, with the help of another spirit, created the land and the water. She found what they'd created so beautiful she wanted to stay and lay down in the water, creating the island.

K'gari is a name with meaning and restoring it, and other First Nations place names, restores people's connection with the landscape and teaches us all a bit about the hundreds of diverse peoples who inhabit this country. I think that's a good thing.

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