Naming unnamed waterways and renaming of named waterways, with Traditional names, is an important step in realising self-determination for Victorian Traditional Owners.
Decolonisation of the Landscape
Freshwater and its sources are fundamental parts of the fabric of Aboriginal Culture. Unfortunately, many of these sacred and vital water sources are now represented by names that in no way reflect their importance to Aboriginal People.
Prior to European settlement, all rivers, creeks and their tributaries would have had a name or be known by other means by the Traditional Owners. Evidence of his can be seen on many of the early surveyor maps where many of the currently unnamed waterways have Traditional names. It is a great loss that many of these names have been omitted from the current VICNAMES dataset.
Today, across Victoria, there are many named waterways that include references to European settlers who undertook activities and enacted atrocities upon Traditional Owners. The names of these people cannot continue to be memorialised or honoured. Additionally, many waterways were given bland, general descriptive names (such as Deep Creek) that only served to educate future settlers of the general nature of these invaluable resources.
The decolonisation of the landscape is vital in re-asserting the Traditional Ownership and rights of Traditional Owners across the State. This process of renaming and naming waterways is one very important step on a long road.
How naming happens
Within the existing legislative framework, a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) or other Traditional Owner group can submit a proposal to the relevant naming authority to:
- name currently unnamed waterways, or
- add Traditional names to currently named waterways (although simply just adding Traditional name has no particular consequence under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006)
However, the naming and renaming of waterways can be a complex prospect.
All geographic features, including waterways, can have up to seven different names. These are categorised as:
This may seem confusing, but each category of name serves a different function and a place can have multiple names across the seven categories. The renaming process is explained further in the below .
Naming Process for Registered Names
For the Aboriginal name to appear on road signs and Google Maps etc, the name needs to be the ‘registered’ name. In most cases, this will require the RAP or Traditional Owner group to undertake the renaming process.
Step 1: Identify the naming authority
Victoria is unique in that it has a complex naming process. In many instances, the naming authority is DELWP and Victorian municipal councils, however, other government authorities and private organisations also hold this role (ie. Melbourne Water). If you are unsure, consultation with your local council or DELWP will be required to determine the naming authority for a particular waterway before a proposal can be undertaken.
Step 2: Present a proposal
Once a naming or renaming proposal has been approved by the naming authority, the proposal is then passed onto the Office of Geographic Names. Their responsibility it is to ensure the proposal meets all the necessary requirements. If the proposal meets these standards, the name is then gazetted, registered and added to the VICNAMES dataset.
To look up the name of any Victorian waterway, or to find out if a waterway has a name, access the VICNAMES dataset using the following link.
Find out about Aboriginal place naming in Victoria.
Download the information on this page in the below factsheet.
Reviewed 03 June 2020