The Land is a Map

The Land is a Map

Placenames of Indigenous Origin in Australia

The Land is a MapEdited by: Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges, Jane Simpson

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The entire Australian continent was once covered with networks of Indigenous placenames. These names often evoke important information about features of the environment and their place in Indigenous systems of knowledge. On the other hand, placenames assigned by European settlers and officials are largely arbitrary, except for occasional descriptive labels such as ‘river, lake, mountain’. They typically commemorate people, or unrelated places in the Northern hemisphere.

In areas where Indigenous societies remain relatively intact, thousands of Indigenous placenames are used, but have no official recognition. Little is known about principles of forming and bestowing Indigenous placenames. Still less is known about any variation in principles of placename bestowal found in different Indigenous groups. While many Indigenous placenames have been taken into the official placename system, they are often given to different features from those to which they originally applied. In the process, they have been cut off from any understanding of their original meanings. Attempts are now being made to ensure that additions of Indigenous placenames to the system of official placenames more accurately reflect the traditions they come from.

The eighteen chapters in this book range across all of these issues. The contributors (linguistics, historians and anthropologists) bring a wide range of different experiences, both academic and practical, to their contributions. The book promises to be a standard reference work on Indigenous placenames in Australia for many years to come.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Mar 2009
First edition © 2002 Pandanus Books
ANU Press
Citation URL:
Arts & Humanities: Cultural Studies, History, Linguistics; Science: Geography; Social Sciences: Anthropology, Indigenous Studies

PDF Chapters

The Land is a Map »

Please read Conditions of use before downloading the formats.

  1. Indigenous Placenames: An Introduction (PDF, 2.0MB)
  2. The Concept Of Place Among The Arrernte (PDF, 984KB)
  3. Transparency Versus Opacity In Aboriginal Placenames (PDF, 459KB)
  4. Changing Places: European And Aboriginal Styles (PDF, 689KB)
  5. Is It Really A Placename? (PDF, 886KB)
  6. On The Translatability Of Placenames In The Wik Region, Cape York Peninsula (PDF, 729KB)
  7. Names And Naming: Speaking Forms Into Place (PDF, 1.0MB)
  8. ‘I’m Going To Where-Her-Brisket-Is’: Placenames In The Roper (PDF, 1.6MB)
  9. The Archaism And Linguistic Connections Of Some Yir-Yoront Tract-Names (PDF, 564KB)
  10. Some Remarks On Placenames In The Flinders (PDF, 927KB)
  11. Blown To Witewitekalk: Placenames And Cultural Landscapes In North-West Victoria (PDF, 668KB)
  12. Weeding Out Spurious Etymologies: Toponyms On The Adelaide Plains (PDF, 930KB)
  13. Placenames In Yuwaalaraay, Yuwaaliyaay And Gamilaraay Languages Of North-West New South Wales (PDF, 319KB)
  14. Naming The Dead Heart: Hillier’s Map And Reuther’s Gazetteer Of 2,468 Placenames In North-Eastern South Australia (PDF, 1.2MB)
  15. ‘What Name?’: The Recording Of Indigenous Placenames In The Western Desert Of South Australia (PDF, 253KB)
  16. ‘What They Call That In The Whites?’: Ngiyampaa And Other Placenames In A New South Wales Ngurrampaa (PDF, 1.7MB)
  17. Creating Aborlginal Placenames: Applied Philology In Armidale City (PDF, 737KB)
  18. Reclaiming Through Renaming: The Reinstatement Of Kaurna Toponyms In Adelaide And The Adelaide Plains (PDF, 1.5MB)


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