Learning of the land (3): Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, and other Canberra place names

Living in Canberra, I am encountering a whole collection of indigenous words which are used as placenames. Why, Canberra itself is said to derive from an Aboriginal word. I have been exploring what these words mean, in my ongoing commitment to learn from the land on which I live and the people who have cared for it over the millennia.

The land on which we live is officially described as Ngunnawal country. However, this is contested; it seem there are a number of groups from the First People who are linked with this particular area. That makes sense, if it was, indeed, an ancient meeting place for various groups of people, who met each other on this land on regular occasions, perhaps at an annual festival gathering. Rather than there being just one nation for whom this was traditional land, it seems there were a number of nations which met here regularly.

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So, change the date—to what?

Because it was “first”, the day of British settlement in New South Wales, 26 January, became the default date of choice for a national day (thank you, Lachlan Macquarie, Henry Parkes, and John Howard, amongst other white male elites). But what if we don’t just fall in with the “first in, best dressed” way of operating?

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“They are to be hanged up on trees … to strike the survivors with the greater terror.”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

It is not just about what happened 231 years ago on this day, 26 January. It is about what the events of that day began. Within a short space of time, mere months, and continuing for an extended period, well over a century, the impacts of the white invasion of the land were felt by the First Peoples who already inhabited the continent.

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On Remembering: Cook and Flinders (and Trim), Bungaree and Yemmerrawanne

The location of the grave of Matthew Finders (1774–1814) has been identified in Euston, England. Flinders was the first British person to circumnavigate the continent of Terra Australis, in the early 1800s, and he was the one who suggested the name Australia. His cat, Trim, is well-known for accompanying Flinders on this trip.

Trim even had a novel, written by Bryce Courtenay, named after him (Matthew Flinder’s Cat, 2002)—and there is a statue of Trim outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney, with an epitaph from Flinders himself, extolling: TRIM. The best and most illustrious of his race. The most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants,and best of creatures. So Matthew Flinders, and his cat, have significant places in contemporary Australian history.

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“Resembling the park lands [of a] gentleman’s residence in England”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

Remembering 26 January as our national day embeds at the heart of our national identity, a story of dispossession, violence, marginalisation and oppression, perpetrated against the people who were already inhabiting, and caring for, the land we know as Australia.

Early explorers looked at the land, and the people, and decided that they saw uncultivated land and primitive, uncivilised peoples.

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