A transformative, state-wide Aboriginal Place Naming Project

The Opportunity

First Nations place names from more than 66 different languages and dialects covered Western Australia before colonisation. While many continue to be used today, others were replaced by non-Aboriginal place names.

Place naming is a powerful catalyst for reconciliation, provoking a deeper awareness of a location’s history and culture. It provides an opportunity to restore Aboriginal names to geographic features, incorporate traditional Aboriginal language and culture into everyday communications, and increase the knowledge and understanding of the whole community about the connection of Aboriginal people with the country.


The Proposal

Clean State strongly supports the proposal by the Community Arts Network (CAN) and Professor Len Collard (through Mooja) to:

  • Extend the Place Names initiative for another five years and scale it to a state-wide program with the aim to engage with all of Western Australia’s First Nations’ Countries.
  • Develop a geospatial database and website that makes the research, stories and process accessible and transparent.

Clean State also recommends exploring a way to harness the many potential benefits to regional communities this Project could deliver, and suggests:

  • Providing support and funding for regional hubs to develop Aboriginal skills, capacity, training and employment pathways in areas directly related to the Place Names project, including research, the arts, geospatial, mapping, and information technology, languages, and cultural tourism, community engagement, consensus building processes.

Clean State also proposes:

  • Funding and department resources for consulting with First Nations people on a process to consider nominations and formal adoption of the original words for places, and the dual or re-naming of signs and maps. (Such as the Northern Territory’s Place Naming Enhancement Project).

The South-West of Western Australia covers the general area south of Geraldton and west of Esperance and Nungarin. To the Nyungar people, the area is known as Nyungar Boodjar. Within this area, 50% of the placenames are of Nyungar origin but, to date, little of their meaning has been widely known.

Professor Len Collard, Chief Investigator at UWA’s School of Indigenous Studies and his dedicated research team spent three years investigating the history and meanings of Nyungar placenames in the area prior to colonial settlement.

The team produced ‘Boodjar’ – an interactive website that shares the results of the team’s extensive research and provides insight into Nyungar placenames and meanings.

The mapping sheds light on how Nyungar people lived in Boodjar for many thousands of years. It brings to life ceremonies performed in some places and meals shared in others, the ochre trade, wildlife, weather conditions, friendships, magic, spirits and other practices central to Nyungar culture.


An important step in healing

In July the WA government announced the ‘King Leopold Ranges’ would be renamed Wunaamin-Miliwundi, a combination of the traditional Ngarinyin and Bunuba names. The name given in 1879, after a Belgian tyrant responsible for the death of up to 10 million Congolese, was replaced following consultation with the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation and Bunuba Native Title Corporation.

The Northern Territory is the first Australian jurisdiction and a world leader in officially incorporating dual naming in its naming practices and approving dual names for geographic features. The NT Government has developed a Place Naming Enhancement Project and has formal processes for requesting and registering a place name.

Jobs and Benefits


It’s estimated 251 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander jobs would be created over five years.

Place naming programs delivered in Noongar communities delivered an $18.58 return on every dollar invested.

Headshot of Len

Len Collard

“This Boodjar Nyungar Placenames project begins to redress the void in the identification, recording and writing of Australian Indigenous histories.”

– Professor Len Collard

Case Study: The Nyoongar Place Names Initiative

Building on Professor Collard’s long-term research, powerful model of collaboration that brings research, community engagement and creative outcomes together has been developed by the Community Arts Network (CAN) and Professor Len Collard over its five-year Noongar Place Names program.

The program engaged communities across Noongar country and beyond in the Aboriginal stories, language and culture, and meanings of the names for towns and places; and brought them to life through film and art.

For an investment of $1.5 million over five years, CAN have produced Place Names programs in Langford, Albany (Kinjaring), Katanning and Moora, and has involved:

  • 599 participants
  • 27 partners
  • 112 workshops, and
  • 253 works created