I’ve lived, in my life, in places named Engadine, Koonawarra, Boonerah, Cringila, Wollongong, and Warrawong. When I mention these names to people overseas, particularly Americans, there’s a bit of a giggle, a bit of a laugh at the idea of Australia with its funny place names.
Me, I like these place names.
Cringila was, for a time, named Steeltown. It was renamed as part of a push in recent (I say recent, but it’s been as long as I’ve been alive) years to bring forward the original names of the Aboriginal people that had lived there. Had.
It’s important, to me, that we keep these names, that we hold these names, we, the generation outside and after. The people who, in some cases, never had the chance to make a decision about whether or not to commit genocide and therefore can tell ourselves that we, somehow, would be better, that we would not commit the genocide that our forebears did and in some cases still do. That we would not culturally exterminate, that we would not construct the great machine of colonial power, crafted in Britain, exported to Australia, then recrafted over and over again by people who claimed they were doing no such thing, and merely repairing or adjusting or continuing a tradition.
We need to wear these words.
We need to wear them, because we need to remember that there were people here. We need to feel like these words are odd, and not quite right in our mouths because we have spent our lives erasing the sources of those words. We need to recognise what these places sounded like before we got here, and this sort of small gesture, these tiniest concessions, to the people of Australia that predate us, is something that deserves attention. We need to put these parts of culture around us because then, maybe then we will be willing and able to accept that there were people.
Our Prime Minister in November 2014, said that Australia was ‘nothing but bush’ when the First Fleet arrived. He’s a grown adult. He’s a statesman, a politician, and he’s educated. I have no doubt in my heart that at that point he was convinced he was correct, and there was not some deliberate, clever plan on his part to erase the Aboriginal population of Australia in his mind: I think it’d already been erased from his.
Let us push against the hope that our past will vanish beneath the sand. Let us draw their names upon our roads as scars so that we can never travel about this land without the reminder that, before us, people did terrible things, to earn this bounty before us, and that we owe it to those people left from that time, to make whatever we can as right as we can.
It’s Australia Day, it’s Invasion Day. And I live in a land of funny place names that has done a lot wrong and needs to do better.