Melbourne is not an odd name it was a named after a British prime minister but at the time there was strong support to call the place Batmania like Tasmania but Batmania after one of the founders of the area called John Batman. It’s a great name it wouldn’t be too out of place in a country that that has places called Yorkey’s Knob and Thirsty Sound. However Batmania didn’t make it (more’s the pity) and this article is about the ones that did the Chinkapooks, the Wonglepongs and the Darawanks.
What did the aborigines call things?
Woolloomooloo is one of my favourites and it profoundly confuses Wikipedia as all aborigine names seem to. It says that it could be derived from the word for Black Kangaroo, a place of plenty or even a type of fish that was once caught there. I think it is fair to say they have no idea why it is called what it is.
The best theory I came across was that the first European explorers were not linguists and aboriginal languages are not the easiest to a European ear. I can imagine that they would have had trouble saying the native names let alone spelling them! Their misheard interpretations of what the aborigines called places have given us some great names. The Warrumbungles and Katoomba sound very exotic to me but names like wongle wongle and humpty doo just sound like they were made up after a couple of drinks around the camp fire for a laugh to see what they could get away with!
A prime candidate for this would Dr Leichardt who I like to call the lying doctor because he made up his doctorate in order to give him more credibility to raise funds for his 3500 KM walk from Brisbane to Darwin. He wasn’t opposed to telling a porky or two and may have found it funny to make up a few names to make his stories more interesting to his investors. We will probably never know no matter how many anthropologists we throw at it and I like my version of events!
Are we naming the small hills too?
The next group of names I want to look at are what I call the explorer names things like Thirsty Sound in Queensland where Darwin’s boat pulled in to get water and couldn’t find any. Darwin himself has a city named after him.
If you go back to the time of the great explorers like Sturt, Burke and Leichardt there where huge amounts of things to be named and after you have named a few things after yourself you have to get a little more imaginative. You can name things after your King like George, after your governor like Macquarie or even after your breakfast like Bacon and Eggs bay in Tassie.
Yorkey’s Knob is a place where a fisherman called Yorkey was buried. A knob is a small hill in geography and things get a whole lot more complicated once you start naming small hills. By the time they got to the Great Sandy Desert they had genuinely run out ideas for names.
There are lots of others like Come by Chance near Gulgong, Rum Jungle and Long Nose Point these names were obviously made up by people with a sense of humour and whether the aboriginal names that I mentioned earlier were named by who couldn’t spell or were just having a laugh remains lost in mists of time.
So to conclude in the words of the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney for whom our city was named: We all just have to accept that Wagga Wagga is always Wagga but Woy Woy is never just Woy.