A Northern Territory by other names would sound much sweeter

Date: May 3, 2022

Publication Type: Blog

Subject: Newspaper

About 25 years ago former NLC Director, the late John Ah Kit, envisaged a much changed landscape for the NT—where Aboriginal place names would be recognised along the whole stretch of the Stuart Highway.

Traditional Mudburra-Jingili Owners are calling for Elliott to revert to its name of Kulumindini.

It is a dream which may finally be realised as the NT Government - and its Place Names Committee - is actively seeking Aboriginal input to naming places, streets and localities with traditional language names.

With the exception of the dual naming of Karlu Karlu, south of Tennant Creek, there is not a single Aboriginal place name signposted along the Stuart Highway - let alone our other major highways.

Indeed, many of the rest stops along the highway commemorate non-Aboriginal people. No Aboriginal place names? We know there are thousands.

And, of course, there is Attack Creek.

Around 30 years ago, while working in Katherine, Mimi Arts and Crafts got a $3600 grant from the Tourist Commission to signpost 18 place names in and around the township. A fair bit of money back then. The result? The then Katherine Town Council went feral - and refused to allow it to happen. Indeed, a prominent councillor said: “It’ll only encourage people to take a shotgun to them, and I might be the first one to do it!”

This, of course, was during the Nitmiluk land claim, during which a senior claimant had shots fired over his head after giving evidence to the Land Commissioner.

The plan was quietly dropped.

But things, hopefully, are changing.

There aren't any Aboriginal place names signposted on the Stuart Highway, except for Karlu Karlu.

Take the example of the township of Elliott, for example.

Elliott? Named, according to the Place Names Register: “The suburb of Elliott takes its name from the town of Elliott which in turn derived its name from the military staging camp established half way between Darwin and Alice Springs in 1940, during World War II by Captain Reginald Douglas Elliott MBE of the Darwin Overland Mobile Force. It became known as ‘Elliott’, so the name is perpetuated by naming the townsite ‘Elliott’.”

So, according to this story, a bloke who spent a few months in the area supervising an army camp 70 odd years ago gets the glory, while the traditional name for the area- Kulumindini - is lost to the world.

Maybe not. Recent meetings of the Traditional Mudburra-Jingili Owners have agreed to call for Elliott to revert to its name of Kulumindini, and instructed the NLC to chase it up.

After all. The local footy side is called Kulumindi, as is their art centre - not to mention the name of one of their most famous rock bands.

A number of Aboriginal communities have already successfully applied to have street names re-badged in language - and don’t forget both Uluru and Nitmiluk, along with other place names, have successfully been changed to names Traditional Owners and community residents want.

Chaired by historian Sam Wells, the Place Names Committee is finalising a straightforward process for the dual naming, re-naming and naming of places with Aboriginal names.

In the case of new housing developments in towns, there is a strong emphasis on consulting Traditional Owners to promote local names, including the names of prominent Aboriginal people. Ms Wells has been talking to the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, and land councils, about the process.

So, if readers are interested, you can contact the Place Names Committee at place.names@nt.gov.au or talk to Areas Protection or NLC staff who can give you a hand.

*The author, Chips Mackinolty, has recently been appointed as a community member to the NT Place Names Committee.