Cultural Artefact: Place Names


Tasmania is blessed with some fascinating descriptive place names like Horrible Hollow Hill, Mouldy Hole, Stinking Creek, Humbug Point, Haunted Bay, Bog-a-duck Speedway, Grannys Gut, Break-me-Neck Hill, Keep Down Hole, Monster Creek, Bust-me-Gall Hill, Hard Struggle Gully, Linger and Die Creek, Mount Mismanagement, Mount Horror and Gelignite Creek, just to name a few. We are also fortunate that we have commemorated some of our more colourful pioneers with place names like Swearing Bobs Plains, Black Charlies Opening, Flash Charlies Marsh, Jack the Liars Gully, Laughing Jack Lagoon, Molly Yorks Nightcap, Mother Browns Bottom.

After the European invasion of Van Diemen's Land, the first place names to be applied were mainly of British origin, and initially, Aboriginal names were ignored. The impetus to add further names to our maps came from a decree in 1830 which instructed Lt-Governor Arthur to survey Van Diemen's Land into counties, hundreds (100 square miles), parishes (25 square miles) and towns. As a consequence, Surveyor-General Frankland sent several exploration and survey parties into the country to find arable land and future township sites. By 1837 the Survey Office had drafted a list of townships and eleven counties. Most were named after British villages and VIPs. Frankland drafted a detailed map of Van Diemen's Land, and this was published and circulated in 1836-37. Over time the counties and hundreds became redundant and many of the parish names were converted to township names.

When the last 'full-blood' Tasmanian died in 1876 there was a push to include Aboriginal names in the nomenclature to partially preserve the language. Consequently, in 1885 Leventhorpe Hall, Chief Draftsman of the Surveys Office, drew up a list of Aboriginal words to be applied to any new towns, parishes, railway stations and schools. In some cases these names were fitting as they appropriately described the area, such as Neika (hill), Rinadeena (raindrops), Tunnack (cold) and Legana (fresh water). However, in many cases the names applied had nothing to do with the location, climate or characteristics of the area, for example Marrawah (number one), Kaoota (dusk), Tanina (to fart), Pallawah (black man) and Kamona (venom).

Until 1950 place names were applied by walking clubs and government bodies such as Mines Department, Hydro-Electric Commission and the Surveys Office. These names were loosely controlled by the Surveys Office with municipal councils responsible for street, road and park names within township boundaries. However, by 1950 confusion had arisen, with many duplicated names like Stony Creek, Snake Plains and Green Point. To overcome this, it was proposed to appoint a governing body for places names and in 1950 the Nomenclature Board was established, but with no statutory authority. Part of its brief was to remove duplications and frivolous names where possible, to ensure no further duplications, and propriety in nomenclature. The Board was given statutory authority in 1953.

Wayne Smith

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