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    South Australia - Nomenclature of South Australia

    A Brief History of South Australian Nomenclature and an Analysis of Perpetuated Myths - 1893-1990

    (An address given by Geoffrey H. Manning at the Family History Award Dinner of the SA Genealogy and Heraldry Society on 23 June 1990)


    A Canadian expert once said in respect of the science of toponymy - that is the study of place names - that "the leading principle in an investigation is to trace their origin back through the documents to the very earliest discoverable form, if possible, to the first written form. Often this gives the origin at once, particularly if it is a name given by explorers. Where it is not plain, reference to contemporary history usually shows the event and under whose patronage the exploration was undertaken."

    In South Australia we are, indeed, fortunate that much primary source material is available for those attempting to seek the truth in respect of the origin of place names. Unfortunately, however, in the past some South Australian nomenclators have accepted conjecture and hearsay and the aftermath of their less than deliberative conclusions has led to many fables being implanted as fact into the State's history.

    Before embarking on a brief history of the State's nomenclature, I turn to an outline of the naming of geographiucal features in South Australia.

    Early Exploration

    In 1627 the Gulden Zeepard under the command of Francois Thyssen reached that area of the coastline known today as Murat Bay. Aided and abetted by his distinguished passenger, Peter Nuyts, the names "Isle St Peter" and "Isle St Francois" were affixed to two islands which were subsequently anglicised to "St Peter Island" and "St Francis Island" by Matthew Flinders in 1802 when he named the local group of islands "Nuyts Archipelago".

    While it is generally assumed that the two islands were named after the respective Saints it is interesting to note that they incorporate the Christian names of the two Dutchmen and the question must be asked - Was this the first instance of egotism in respect of South Australian place names which was to become a tendency of some Governors of the colony after 1836?

    No more name were added to the map of what is now South Australia until December 1800 when Lieutenant James Grant RN in HMS Lady Nelson named several features in the south-east whilst en-route to Sydney.

    In 1802 that extraordinary navigator and cartographer, Matthew Flinders, charted and named innumerable features along the whole coastline and he faithfully recorded his choice of names and their origin, a practice not always followed by some of his successors in local exploration.

    The French navigator, Nicolas Baudin, named features contemporaneously with Flinders and produced charts of doubtful accuracy. The names he applied were generally of a descriptive nature, but following his death on the return journey to France his deputies, Peron and Freycinet, subsituted most of those names with names of people prominent in Napoleon's court.

    Captain Sturt placed only two names on the map during his epic voyage along the River Murray in 1829-30, named the river itself and Lake Alexandrina.

    In 1831 Collet Barker landed near present-day Glenelg and discovered and named Sturt Creek after his friend. He met his death apparently at the hand of Aborigines at the mouth of the River Murray.

    With the advent of settlement in 1836 many new place names appeared on maps: many were to be of Aboriginal origin following Governor Gawler's 1839 edict, but unfortunately this initial enthusiasm did not extend to recording the translation of the names used.

    Pioneer Nomenclators of South Australia

    Apart from an address given to members of the Royal Geographical Society by Rodney Cockburn, circa 1930, on "The Aboriginal Element in SA's Geographical Nomenclature" there has been little public discussion since 1893 on the complex and fascinating subject of the origin of place names.

    Accordingly, I offer the following remarks based on my own personal experience with the subject, together with a little historical background gleaned as I followed many tortuous paths in the search for truth in respect of South Australian nomenclature. However, I hasten to add that on the journey I travelled "false lights glimmered every step of the way", some of which I have pointed out for the direstion of future explorers.

    In undertaking research over the past six years the words of the famous Scottish nomenclator, Reverend James B. Johnston, were ever present in my mind - "Bad guesses are sure to bring shame and confusion."

    In discussing toponymy in South Australia we must acknowledge two young surveyors who, I believe, were instrumental in having their peers and the general populace taking an interest in a small, but vital, part of our heritage. They were Charles Hope Harris and Horace Cobden Talbot who were employed in the Lands Department in the 1860s. They gained their surveyor's licences in 1869 and 1872, respectively, and as they mapped place names being implanted by settlers they, fortunately for posterity, recorded their findings.

    In September 1893 C.H. Harris presented a paper to a meeting of "The Australiasian Association for the Advancement of Science" entitled "Geographical Nomenclature of South Australia" in which his main object was to :

    In the course of his oration he castigated the nomenclatoral habits of some Governors who had ignored:

    In examining a list of place names and their meanings he presented it is evident that Mr Harris had not checked all the information supplied back to primary sources. For example, on page 24 he claims that Sibsey, Stickney and Spilsby Islands were named by Flinders after three of his crew drowned on 22 February 1802, when in fact they honour parishes in Lincolnshire, England: further, the date of the tragedy was 21 February.

    H.C. Talbot did not publish any of his nomenclature records, which, today, are held in bound volumes in the Department of Lands and, as with C.H. Harris, he is guilty on occasions of accepting hearsay and instances are to be found throughout his work. However, he compiled and published a booklet entitled The Early History of the South-East District of South Australia in 1921 and one significant error in it has been perpetuated by Rodney Cockburn and local historians, namely, that the town of Mount Gambier (originally laid out as "Gambiertown") was created by Hastings Cunningham in 1854 when, indeed, a few minutes research at the General Registry Office would have elicited the fact that E.P.S. Sturt was the subdivider, circa 1849.

    The third and most lauded pioneer of nomenclature was Rodney Cockburn (!877-1932) who, as a young reporter with the Register, developed a healthy appetite for toponymy and, in 1908, published a book entitled Nomenclature of South Australia which was reprinted from a series of articles from the Register, Observer and Evening Journal.

    As to its content the London Daily Telegraph opined that "there can be no question of the value of the kind of information contained in these articles", but, as we shall see later, its publication saw a series of errors enter into local nomenclature which were to remain unchallenged for almost eighty years.

    However, in 1940 the Nomenclature Committee, the predecessor of the present-day Geographical Names Board, did record in its minutes that:

    Following his death in 1932 his widow sold a revised manuscript and research notes to the Mitchell Library in Sydney and, later, a typed copy was acquired by the South Australian State Library and this was the basis for the book What's in a Name as published in 1984 by his son, Stewart Cockburn who, in a Preface, stated that it was "a tribute to the quality of the author's research that so few mistakes have been discovered in it", to which any perceptive person may have been excused for posing the question as to whether any basic research back to primary sources had been undertaken over the period 1932-1984? - the answer, I suggest, would have been an unequivocal "No"!

    Rodney Cockburn's "What's in a Name"

    A facet of the publication of What's in a Name which deserves a mention is a review that appeared in The Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia in 1985; the reviewer, Mr Graeme Pretty of the SA Museum and a menber of the Geographical Names Board said, inter alia:

    It appears that this supposedly objective opinion was made without any specific detailed analysis being made of Rodney Cockburn's work which, as a result of my research over the past six years, I believe has an error factor of at least ten per cent.

    Further, another of the reviewer's statements, namely, "We can safely regard the work as authorative and in the future, as in the past, simply cite 'Cockburn' as our source" appears to be the height of folly in view of the considered opinion expressed bt the Nomenclature Committee in 1940.

    Mr Pretty concluded his review by saying:

    It would appear that the suggestion fell upon deaf ears for subsequent editions have been a facsimile of the first.

    To the 1970s - The Work of Messrs Praite and Tolley

    By 1970 Rodney Cockburn's work was deeply entrenched as the definitive work on the State's nomenclature, set apart as a most informative book and continually held out as the acme of perfection by learned historians. At this time two newcomers to the nomenclature field, Messrs R. Praite and K. Tolley, ventured into what must be defined as a veritable "mine field" where pitfalls are ever present for both the amateur and professional historian. As a result of their research Rigby Ltd published Place Names of South Australia

    A critique of this work appeared in an address given by a SA Government representative at an interstate conference of Geographical Names Boards when the following opinion was expressed:

    To the 1980s - The Work of Geoffrey H. Manning

    The late Justice Charles H. Bright in his introduction to The Confidential Clerk made some illuminating comments in respect of:

    In a comprehensive and analytical review of this book which appeared in the Advertiser on 18 February 1984, Mr Stewart Cockburn who, at the time, was in the throes of publishing his late father's work on South Australian nomenclature, made the prediction that Mr Bright's book:

    In a foreword Sir Walter Crocker was to conclude that:

    Thus, the message to historians was loud and clear - seek out primary sources and avoid secondary sources, hearsay and conjecture as you would the plague!

    I believe that it is the inherent duty for historians of each generation, be they amateur or professional, to "constantly interpret the past" and reappraise the findings of their predecessors. Early in 1984, with the words of Messrs Bright and Stewart Cockburn ringing in my ears, I, tentatively ,and I confess, with certain misgivings, approached Mr Max Medwell of the Department of Lands and Secretary of the Geographical Names Board with a view to obtaining expert advice as to where the truth might be found in respect of the derivation of place names in South Australia.

    Following the publication of my Romance of Place Names of South Australia in 1986, Dr Brian Dickey, Reader in History at Flinders University, said:

    Taking umbrage, Mr Stewart Cockburn responded to this considered opinion and said that he was :

    Dr Dickey responded politely:

    I , too, have the greatest respect for the pioneering work of my predecessors because it is their work which has provided a basis for later research. My own study has caused me to be grateful for those pioneers. But it has also revealed that they were not always correct and that the study of toponymy needs constant revision.

    During the past six years I have been privileged to gain access to a vast array of historical resource material in the Department of Lands, Mortlock Library, Public Records Office, Australia Post and Education Department Archive and a plethora of local, district and family histories. This new research information helped plot out the path of study before me, satisfied many of my own queries and clarified long-debated, long-held and erroneous information.

    A Sample of Perpetuated Myths

    In the following list*, selected on a random basis and representing in total less than half, I give examples of place names where I differ from the findings of Rodney Cockburn. The sources of my nomenclature may be found in my book Manning's Place Names of South Australia... My previous work has been revised and updated by an additional 800 place names.

    If any person should require prior information for the purpose of debate, I will be pleased to provide same. Indeed, the ever-changing nature of the availibility of historical sources and the quest for historical fact necessitates continuing reappraisal of earlier works and I would sincerely hope that a future nomenclator subjects my work to such a process.


    Our journey for historical knowledge is like the building of a path of stepping stones across a running stream. Each stone brings the searcher further on towards the goal. Such has been my aim and I find satisfaction in the fact that my work is another "stepping stone" towards the goal of perfection in defining the origins of place names of South Australia.

    Extract From a Speech Given by Geoffrey H. Manning to the West Torrens Historical Society in May 2002

    As long ago as 1839, Governor Gawler implored the local European populace to 'carefully and precisely' retain those Aboriginal names 'as most consistent with propriety and beauty of appellation' and to this suggestion Rodney Cockburn, the 'father' of local nomenclature research, was to comment in 1908 that 'all of our vice-regents have not shared Governor Gawler's love for native vocabularies' and, indeed, pronouncements over a century or more from State and local government authorities indicate all but universal dissent from the Governor's edict.

    I am not alone in decrying the absence of action by those in authority - for example, a citizen of Adelaide said the following in 1876:

    May I add the word 'Amen!' and quote the words of another dissenter in 1882:

    Charles Hope Harris, an early SA surveyor and nomenclator, in an address given in 1893 to the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, said:

    Coming closer to home; in October 1997 the Weekly Times had a headline - Council Holds Back on Consummating Name - and went on to say that ' Like a modern woman the West Torrens Thebarton Council is still umming and ahhing over the make up of its double-barrelled name.' A Hilton resident, Mr Mark Glazbrook suggested the 'City of Light', while Mr Kevin Kaeding of the Thebarton Historical Society, said that if the council was to abandon its original title it should consider taking an Aboriginal name such as 'Kawandilla', 'after the Kaurna aboriginal local district now known as Richmond and Cowandilla.' This, as we all know, was refused.

    And this blatant neglect continues, the most recent example being the demise of 'Mudla Wirra' for 'Playford' in the Elizabeth/Salisbury area, while closer to home ' The City of Norwood, Payneham and Saint Peters' is said to be a stop-gap name and I await anxiously if there is any support forthcoming for my plea that local anthropologists be consulted at the SA Museum with a view to obtaining a suitable Aboriginal appellation for the City - The Corporation of Norwood & Kensington was the first municipality outside the City of Adelaide, having received the grant of separate municipal government on 7 July 1853 and if the new body was to adopt an Aboriginal name it would be a ' first' within the inner metropolitan area. Of course, we have the recently created City of Onkaparinga, which embraces outer metropolitan and rural areas.

    In my opinion South Australians have shown a deplorable lack of good taste and originality in the selection of names, especially those of suburbs. Native names with the exception of three (Taperoo, Medindie and Cowandilla) have been entirely discarded in favour of imported appellations, which destroy the identity of the place, while its imported names, from personal experience, has led to a a babel of increased confusion - There was another suburb created in 1927 and known as 'Waldaree Park' (Aboriginal for 'acacia'), but it was swallowed up in Gepps Cross.

    General Notes

    "How South Australia was Named" is in the Register,
    27 April 1903, page 4f.

    "Names of New Places - A Hint to Discoverers and Settlers" is in the Adelaide Chronicle,
    2 March 1842, page 2d.

    A letter headed "Local Nomenclature" is in the Farm & Garden,
    11 November 1858, page 76.

    "A New Name for South Australia" is in the Chronicle,
    18 April 1863, page 3g.

    An editorial and comments on "The Name of the Colony" is in the Observer,
    1 August 1863, page 6b-f.

    "Colonial Nomenclature" is in the Express,
    30 May 1865, page 3b,
    3 June 1865, page 5e.

    A proposed gazetteer of South Australia is discussed in the Register,
    26 June 1866, page 2g,
    6 October 1866, page 1d (advt.),
    18 December 1866, page 2g.

    "Naming of Townships and Hundreds" is in the Observer,
    16 September 1871, page 3c,
    12 October 1872, page 13e,
    10 October 1872, page 5d.

    "Change the Name [of SA]" is in the Chronicle,
    27 November 1880, page 5e.

    "What's in a Name" is in the Chronicle, 19 August 1882, page 13c:

    "Australian Nomenclature" is in the Register,
    8 September 1887, page 6h.

    "Aboriginal Nomenclature" is in the Observer,
    21 September 1889, page 41e,
    1 November 1890, page 21d,
    10, 13 and 17 February 1928, pages 14c, 13e and 3c.

    An interesting article on Aboriginal nomenclature by Mr N.A. Webb is in The Mail,
    14 May 1921, page 3e;
    a response from Rodney Cockburn appears on
    21 May 1921, page 2c.

    Information on the Aboriginal nomenclature of railway stations on the Oodnadatta-Alice Springs line is in the Register,
    17 November 1928, page 14h.
    "Aboriginal Names Are Best" is in the Observer,
    14 September 1929, page 11c.

    "The Naming of Places" is in the Observer,
    2 January 1892, page 28b,
    "Naming West Coast Hundreds" on
    27 May 1893, page 12d,
    "What's In a Name?" on
    21 July 1900, page 12d.

    "Origin of Adelaide Names" is in the Observer,
    21 January 1899, page 33b.

    "South Australian Place Names" is in the Register,
    16 and 20 July 1907, pages 6h and 11e.

    "Nomenclature of SA - A People's Question" is in the Register,
    4 May 1908, page 5c,
    15 August 1908, page 8d,
    18 November 1908, page 5b.

    "A Wise Reform in Place Naming" is in the Register,
    30 June 1908, page 4f.

    "Names" is in the Register, 15 August 1908, page 8d:

    "Nomenclature of South Australia - A Valuable Book" is in the Observer,
    21 November 1908, page 42a.

    "Coastal Nomenclature - Immortalising Ministers and Public Servants" is in the Register, 21, 22, 24 and 26 January 1910, pages 7a, 13d, 9b and 9h:

    "Names for Coastal Points" is in the Advertiser,
    21 January 1910, page 6e:

    The [Marine] Board had been asked to name [a number of localities]... which the Commissioner of Public Works has approved.
    (Also see Advertiser,
    25 January 1910, page 8g.)

    "Coastal Nomenclature - Immortalising Ministers and Public Servants" is in the Register,
    21 and 22 January 1910, pages 7a and 13d.

    "Geographical Nomenclature" is the subject of an editorial in the Advertiser,
    3 February 1910, page 8d.

    "French Nomenclature of Coastline" is in the Register,
    16 June 1911, page 6f.

    Comments by several SA nomenclators on a proposed name for the national capital city are in the Observer, 25 January 1913, page 47d.

    An interview with Mr Rodney Cockburn is in The Mail,
    11 July 1914, page 8h;
    his obituary is in the Advertiser,
    29 September 1932, page 16e.

    "Nomenclature - Uses and Abuses - In the Shipping Trade" is in the Register,
    24 February 1910, page 9a,
    "Nomenclature - Our Southern Waters" on
    18 January 1919, page 5e.

    "Country Names and Their Origins" is in the Advertiser,
    20 February 1912, page 6g.

    "French Names Not Wanted" is in the Advertiser,
    26 April 1912, page 6e,
    "French Names Adopted" on
    11 February 1913, page 8f.

    "Wanted, A Change in Naming Streets" is in The Mail,
    26 April 1913, page 20c,
    "Delving Into Derivations - Street Names in Adelaide" on
    7 August 1926, page 17.
    A criticism of "street nomenclature" in Adelaide and suburbs is in the Advertiser,
    21 April 1926, page 12g; also see
    The News,
    4 April 1932, page 9d and Adelaide - Streets.

    "New Map Names" is in the Observer,
    12 January 1915, page 21a.

    "Mr Harris in Nomenclature" is in the Observer,
    3 July 1915, page 50c.

    "System in Nomenclature" is in the Advertiser,
    13 June 1916, page 6c.

    "German or English Nomenclature" is in the Advertiser,
    28 August 1917, page 4g,
    11 January 1918, page 7d,
    "South Australian Place Names" on
    3 October 1917, page 6c.
    Also see South Australia - World War I - Germans in Australia.

    "Enemy Names Off the Map" is in the Observer,
    4 November 1916, page 35c,
    "Clashing Place Names" on
    11 November 1916, page 35c.

    "The Nomenclature Act" is in the Register,
    11 January 1918, page 6d.

    "Control of the Naming of Subdivisions" is in the Register,
    15 March 1918, page 3d.

    "Nomenclature - Our Southern Waters in 1837" is in the Observer,
    25 January 1919, page 12,
    "New West Coast Place Names" on
    16 October 1920, page 37c.

    An interesting article on Aboriginal nomenclature by Mr N.A. Webb is in The Mail,
    14 May 1921, page 3e;
    a response by Rodney Cockburn appears on
    21 May 1921, page 2c.

    "Too Many Gladstones - New West Coast Place Names" is in the Register,
    12 October 1920, page 7c.

    "Change in Place Names" is discussed in Parliament and reported in the Advertiser,
    6 September 1923, page 14a.

    H.C. Talbot's obituary is in the Register
    on 27 March 1924, page 6h.

    Differences of opinion between Rodney Cockburn and a correspondent to the Register in respect of "State Nomenclature" appear on
    5, 6, 8, 11, 12 and 15 December 1924, pages 14f, 3g, 12e, 12c, 14i and 10e.
    A lecture given by Rodney Cockburn on "Place Names in South Australia" is reproduced on
    25 July 1925, page 11a.

    "Nomenclature and History" is in the Register, 30 December 1925, page 9b:

    Comments on South Australian nomenclature are made in the Register,
    4 December 1926, page 7d.

    Information on the Nomenclature Committee is in the Advertiser,
    17 June 1927, page 13a.

    "Crossword Suburbs - State a Huge Puzzle Board" is in The Mail,
    25 June 1927, page 1a.

    Information on the Aboriginal nomenclature of railway stations on the Oodnadatta-Alice Springs line is in the Register,
    17 November 1928, page 14h.

    A move to restore historical German place names to the map is traversed in the Observer,
    16 an 23 November 1929, pages 30-55a and 38d.

    "Strange Names on the SA Map" is in the Observer,
    1 March 1930, page 39a.

    A series of interesting articles by "an old Adelaide journalist [Rodney Cockburn?]" are in the Southern Yorke Peninsula Pioneer on
    26 September 1930,
    3, 10, 17 and 24 October 1930,
    7, 14, 21 and 28 November 1930.

    "Teutonic Place Names Should be Restored" is in the Advertiser,
    3 and 13 July 1931, pages 24c and 10e,
    "German Place Names - Costly to Restore" on
    1 March 1932, page 10c; also see
    9 January 1933, page 12d,
    24 March 1933, page 24e,
    1 August 1935, page 18d,
    3 October 1935, page 8i:

    "Women Who Wrote Their Names on the Map" is in The Mail,
    20 August 1932, page 13.

    "Where SA Place Names Come From" is in The News,
    21 March 1934, page 6e.

    Yorke Peninsula nomenclature is discussed in the Advertiser,
    26 June 1934, page 10e.

    "Many Places in State Named After Pioneer Women" is in The News,
    25 October 1935, page 6d.

    The nomenclature of the Maid and Magpie Hotel is explained in the Advertiser,
    8 April 1936, page 25b.

    Comments on South Australian Nomenclature