Call for more First Nations place names on International Mother Language Day

Feb 21, 2023

Governments and organisations are being encouraged to embrace local First Nations languages in the naming of places and buildings – including new schools and hospitals.

To mark International Mother Language Day, celebrated annually on 21 February, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria – the voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria on the journey to Treaty – has renewed calls for dual naming to become standard practice.

Assembly Co-Chair and Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson said dual naming was a simple step that organisations and governments could take to show their respect for First Peoples and help culture thrive.

“This country is home to the oldest living culture in the world, yet today some First Nations languages are on the brink, we risk losing them when we could be breathing new life into their use. Embracing First Nations languages in place names is one very easy way to help our languages live on,” said Aunty Geraldine.

The United Nations’ International Mother Language Day recognises that languages and multilingualism advance inclusion and help ensure that nobody is left behind.

“The words we choose for places demonstrate our values and the stories we deem worthy of passing on. I encourage more governments and organisations to consider adding a second name to, or renaming, places in the local language of the Traditional Owners of the area.”

The UN’s theme for this year’s celebration is Multilingual education – a necessity to transform education.

“Wouldn’t it be great if each new school the Government is building was given an Aboriginal name relevant to its local area? I want our kids to be able to grow up strong in culture and to know and be proud of their Language, but dual naming is also a chance for everyone in Victoria to deepen their connection to our history and culture. It will bring us closer together,” said Aunty Geraldine.

In 2022 in Victoria there were two high profile instances of renaming places by governments, one good and one bad, according to Aunty Geraldine. A local Council in Melbourne’s north chose to rename itself from ‘Moreland’, a name connected to slavery, dispossession and racism, to ‘Merri-bek’, from the local Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung language.

“Last year we saw Moreland become Merri-bek, which was a really nice move. But we also had the Premier say he was going to rename Maroondah Hospital. It’s the only hospital in the state with a First Nations name, but it will be erased to make way for the very symbol of colonisation – it will be called the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. What a blundering misstep,” said Aunty Geraldine.

Aunty Geraldine said she believes the state-wide Treaty with the Victorian Government – to be negotiated following the Assembly’s state-wide elections in May – should include a commitment to embrace dual naming.

“We know Treaty must deliver systemic reform to empower our people, but we also want it to help build recognition and respect for our culture,” said Aunty Geraldine.

For media enquiries and further information, please contact us.