Victoria has a rich Aboriginal history, with over 38 Aboriginal languages representing the diversity of  cultural heritage and connection to Country. The uniqueness of language is based on location. Each language is deeply rooted to the land and offers an ideal opportunity to connect a name to a place.

Victoria is unique in Australia in that it has a devolved naming process. The 79 municipal councils are the state’s primary naming authorities but some government departments, government authorities and private organisations also hold this role.  

Geographic Names Victoria encourages naming authorities to consider Aboriginal names when assigning new names to roads, features and localities. We also remind naming authorities that as part of the process they must engage with Traditional Owners.

The Naming rules for places in Victoria (the Naming rules) details the process and rules for new and  renamed roads, features and localities. The process is managed by naming authorities but anyone can propose a new name.

United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages

2019 is the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. Some 40 per cent of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages are in danger of disappearing, most belonging to indigenous peoples (UN).

Ninety per cent of Australia’s indigenous languages are endangered (AIATSIS). The UN International Year of Indigenous Languages is an opportunity to help preserve Victoria’s Aboriginal languages. It will provide a focus for the speakers of these languages and help the wider community appreciate the importance of Aboriginal language in shaping identity and connecting place names to Country, and to understand the meaning beyond the words themselves.

Resources

United Nations International Year of Indigenous languages

https://en.iyil2019.org/

A guide to researching Aboriginal words

https://guides.slv.vic.gov.au/aboriginalwords/victoriantribes

There are two key principles which encourage using Aboriginal language and one other principle relating to the use of Aboriginal language. Excerpts have been provided below:

What is Geographic Names Victoria doing?

Geographic Names Victoria (GNV) is promoting and encouraging the use of Aboriginal language in the naming of roads, features and localities. It also encourages use of Aboriginal language across the Victorian government. Some initiatives include:

Writing to Victorian Government Ministers encouraging naming of government assets and infrastructure using Aboriginal language

Continuing Aboriginal place names workshops with Traditional Owners, councils and State Government departments and authorities, promoting Aboriginal language, the work of Registered Aboriginal Parties and the rules and processes around naming

Creating short documentaries highlighting Aboriginal language and recent assignment of Aboriginal language to roads, features and localities

Naming departmental meeting rooms using Aboriginal language

Reviewing offensive and derogatory names across Victoria

Engaging with relevant organisations to partner, share and promote Aboriginal language

Increasing membership of Aboriginal Victorians on the Geographic Place Names Advisory Panel.

What can you do?

Consider engaging with Traditional Owners groups in your area; they may already have community engagement activities or be able to advise on the use of Aboriginal language.

If Traditional Owners or a naming authority (i.e a council) are proposing to name a road, feature or locality using Aboriginal language consider supporting the proposal, advise the naming authority of your support and/or provide comment. Further information is available in the Naming rules.

Often there are Aboriginal place names already in common use but the community may be unaware of their origins. The history of these names can be researched and the information verified by the appropriate Traditional Owner group/s. Once verified it can be  submitted to VICNAMES – the Register of Geographic Names. The historical information, once approved, will be available online.

Taking part in the naming of places using Aboriginal language shows respect to Traditional Owners and highlights the importance of Aboriginal language, culture, identity and the history of Australia.

Naming places using Aboriginal language

Many features in Victoria have Aboriginal names. Sometimes these features are defined differently to western concepts of place (e.g. middens, rocky escarpments, sites on a mountain or beach, rocky outcrops or stone arrangements), but their names are just as important to preserve.

The Geographic Place Names Act 1998 (the Act)states that the Guidelines, in this case the Naming rules:must set out the process to be followed before selecting or assigning an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander name of a place”.

If the general public wants to develop a naming or renaming proposal that uses an Aboriginal name or names, the relevant Traditional Owner group(s) should be contacted for input at the outset.

In Victoria, Traditional Owner groups may be legally recognised through the Native Title Act 1993 as native title holders, the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 as Traditional Owner group entities or the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 as Registered Aboriginal Parties.

For more information about Native Title and Traditional Owner Settlements, visit http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/your+rights/native+title/.

For more information on Registered Aboriginal Parties, including contact details, visit http://dpc.vic.gov.au/index.php/aboriginal-affairs/registered-aboriginal-parties and https://www.aboriginalheritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/.

In areas where a Traditional Owner group has not been legally recognised, please contact Aboriginal Victoria for advice about the relevant groups to consult. Aboriginal Victoria can be contacted at Aboriginalaffairs@dpc.vic.gov.au or phone 1800 762 003.

Rules to consider

There are two key principles which encourage using Aboriginal language and one other principle relating to the use of Aboriginal language. Excerpts have been provided below:

The use of Aboriginal languages in the naming of roads, features and localities is encouraged, subject to agreement from the relevant Traditional Owner group(s). If an application of an Aboriginal name is being considered to be applied as a Dual name further information is available under Principle (G) Dual names.

Australian states and territories use dual names as a way of recognising the names given to places by different enduring cultural and language groups. In Victoria, the approach to giving simultaneous and joint recognition of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures through naming is to form a dual name with two distinct name parts, usually one part of non-Aboriginal language origin and the other of Aboriginal language origin.

The use of names from Australian English, Aboriginal names and names from other languages need to be given careful consideration. The following points are excerpts from the principle and must be considered.  

  • Geographic names, except when they are proper nouns, must be written in standard Australian English or a recognised format of an Aboriginal language local to the area of the road, feature or locality.  
  • Geographic names should be easy to pronounce, spell and write, and preferably not exceed three words (including feature or road type) and/or 25 characters.  
  • An exception to this is in the use of Aboriginal languages, when it is accepted that Aboriginal names that initially appear complex will, over time, become familiar and easy to use. 
  • Names taken from a language other than English that represent geographical features generally use generic terms and will be allowed, unless the combination produces a duplication of sense. For example, Tor Mountain would not be allowed because Tor means mountain.  
  • Hyphens can be used within place names that indicate the extent of the feature, for instance Mellick-Munjie Parish or Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. They can also be used when the name incorporates a hyphenated surname, for instance Kingsford-Smith Ulm Reserve.  
  • Diacritical marks (symbols such as ´, ¸ or ¯) will be omitted from names drawn from languages that use such marks. For example, Cape Reamur (not Cape Réamur). 
  • Roads and features must use approved road and feature types which are located in Appendix A and Appendix B of the naming rules.
Developing an Aboriginal Naming proposal

Consultation is a key component in the process of naming and renaming roads, features and localities. The process below must be used when proposing to use a name from an Aboriginal language.

What is the Process for Naming authorities?

Naming authorities wishing to name a road, feature or locality using an Aboriginal language must follow the steps below.

  • Initially, the naming proposal must be prepared according to the relevant sections of the Naming rules for Victoria. Preparation will include identifying the road, feature or locality that is to be named or renamed and considering what type of naming process would be suitable.
  • If a naming authority is considering using an Aboriginal name(s) in the proposal, it must consult the relevant Traditional Owner group(s) to determine an appropriate name and receive consent for the use of that name.
  • It is the responsibility of the naming authority to determine which Traditional Owner group(s) to consult.
  • When the naming authority identifies more than one group that must be consulted it should establish a consultative group with which to liaise and determine an appropriate name or names for the proposal.
  • When the road, feature or locality to be named or renamed could embrace more than one Traditional Owner group (e.g. a mountain range that includes more than one Registered Aboriginal Party), a special consultative group may need to be formed from members of two or more groups.
  • For further information regarding processes involved with establishing a consultative group please refer to pages 71-76 of the Naming rules for places in Victoria.
  • The Traditional Owner groups will decide who should be appointed to the consultative group.
  • Members of a Traditional Owner group selected to be members of the consultative group must have consent from their community to make decisions on naming or renaming roads, features or localities.

It is important that members represent their Traditional Owner and/or broader Aboriginal group and take responsibility for building awareness within their community of the proposed naming or renaming. Community awareness can be built through the Media, Notices to be placed at public sites, through Traditional Owner Organisations and local council offices. More information on examples  can be accessed on pages 71-76 of the Naming rules for places in Victoria

  • The broader Aboriginal community may provide feedback to the consultative group.
  • The consultative group should establish a process to identify an appropriate name or names for the proposal and determine a method for achieving group consensus on the final name(s) to be endorsed and provided to the naming authority.
  • If consensus is not reached on the name, the consultative group must contact the naming authority and/or OGN to discuss whether or not further support is required to reach a decision.
  • When a final decision is made, the naming authority and consultative group should work collaboratively to promote the naming proposal to the wider community.

Once the consultative group endorses the name(s) and provides it to the naming authority for processing, the general process for submitting a naming or renaming proposal will be applied. Please refer to Naming rules for places in Victoria for further information.

Page last updated: 02/07/19