Further info on Canberra (Australian capital)
scorn at PACIFIC.NET.AU
Tue Mar 4 03:53:51 UTC 2003
Further to recent discussions, I just received this reply from Harold Koch,
a researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, who has
been doing some research on place names in that region. In particular, he
seems to suggest that the alleged meaning "meeting place" could be a bit of
As for his other reported meaning for Canberra ("breasts") I hadn't heard
that one, although it is certainly in keeping with Australians'
long-standing devotion to irony and merciless self-mockery. One of my
all-time favourite cartoons appeared in an Australian newspaper in early
September 2000, just before the Sydney Olympic Games. Frame 1 showed a
stereotypically friendly Aussie, grinning and extending his hand to welcome
an overseas visitor. Frame 2 showed a white-coated Aussie drug-testing
sports-medico proffering a sample-bottle to a visiting athlete. The caption
read "Two great Australian traditions - saying "g'day", and taking the piss."
The name Canberra or Canberra was first mentioned by the first applicant
for land in the area, Joshua Moore, who established a station at a place of
this name, now the site of the National Museum of Australia, in the early
Presumably the name was Aboriginal. It is not known exactly what site it
The name was soon extended the nearby creek (now Sullivan's Creek) and the
whole plain between Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain on the north side of
the Molonglo River.
When the area was selected to be the national capital, the name Canberra
was chosen to describe an even larger area.
Now it is not certain exactly what the phonetic form of the place was.
Variants are cited that start with Ng-. I infer that the most likely
pronunciation of the Indigenous placename was something like Nganberra.
No word of this form has been recorded in the local language, which was
probably Ngunawal, and for which we have lists of only a few hundred words.
So we cannot be sure whether the name had a meaning other than just a
reference to a site and if so what that meaning was. The suggested meaning
'meeting place' is suspicious, because if the place was at or near a camp
site, of course it "meant" meeting place in the same sense that Sydney
"means" capital of NSW. The other meaning reported by John Gale in 1927,
'breasts', cannot be confirmed.
I hope this answers your questions.
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