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Place names in Australia have names of Aboriginal origin for three main reasons:
- Historically, white explorers and surveyors may have asked local Aboriginal people the name of a place, and named it accordingly. Where they did not ask, they may have heard the place was so-named. Due to language difficulties, the results were often misheard and misunderstood names, such as the name of the Yarra River. There are a suspicious number of place names which translate as pretty and resting place, which may imply European romanticism, and no doubt a good deal of mispronunciation and corruption in general.
- Australian governments have officially named many places, particularly suburbs, after Aboriginal people or language groups, such as Aranda or Tullamarine.
- The place name has always been called thus by Aboriginal people, and Aboriginal people still live in the area. This is particularly so for Aboriginal communities, such as Maningrida in the Northern Territory. This is more frequent where white settlement has been less dense, particularly in Central Australia and the Top End.
Watkin Tench, who arrived on the First Fleet, observed of the Aboriginal languages of present-day Sydney:
- We were at first inclined to stigmatise this language as harsh and barbarous in its sounds. Their combinations of words in the manner they utter them, frequently convey such an effect. But if not only their proper names of men and places, but many of their phrases and a majority of their words, be simply and unconnectedly considered, they will be found to abound with vowels and to produce sounds sometimes mellifluous and sometimes sonorous. What ear can object to the names of Colbee, (pronounced exactly as Colby is with us) Bereewan, Bondel, Imeerawanyee, Deedora, Wolarawaree, or Baneelon, among the men; or to Wereeweea, Gooreedeeana, Milba, or Matilba, among the women? Parramatta, Gweea, Cameera, Cadi, and Memel, are names of places. The tribes derive their appellations from the places they inhabit. Thus Cemeeragal, means the men who reside in the bay of Cameera; Cadigal, those who reside in the bay of Cadi; and so of the others.