Wednesday, 3 February 2010

What's in a name?

Burpengary sits along a stretch of busy asphalt: the M1 north out of Brisbane towards the Sunshine Coast. It houses a weighbridge, a tavern, a railway station, three primary schools and a creek. It’s nothing special by anyone’s terms. Except mine, as I can’t look past the great name. Burp. Gary. Burping Gary. Am I the only one who finds that a fantastic place name?! I think many Australians are too used and oblivious to the sometimes beautiful, occasionally chuckle-worthy,  often completely hilarious names all around them. So let me enlighten you on some of the ones I’ve found as I near the end of my first 6 months in Brisbane.

Of course, many names come from aboriginal roots, such as Burpengary, derived from burpengar, supposedly meaning “land of the golden wattle”. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but whenever I drive by the place I don’t think, “Oh yes, what a beautiful setting for golden wattles.” My mind conjures up a metaphoric image of a balding, overweight bloke in a stained, white wife-beater, watching daytime TV and precariously balancing a can of XXXX on his bulging belly, and belching loudly.

I’m not sure if it is just this part of Queensland, or if it is spread across the country, but quite a number of the suburbs and towns have alcoholic and intoxicating connotations. Take, for example, Bongaree on Bribie Island (named after the Aboriginal explorer and companion of Mathew Flinders). Other illustrations include Beerwah or Beerburrum near the beautiful Glass House Mountains, both again from aboriginal descent. One of my favourites along this stretch of coastline is Sippy Downs. How can you not crack a smile at that?

Some of the names sound inane, like they were made up by children building a Lego world. “What should we call this place, Tommy?” “Let’s call is Bli Bli!” Nudgie sounds like a playground prank and the Moolooloo Plains sounds like there should be heaps of cows grazing contently , which I think there are.

Other names in the area are slightly disturbing, but equally amusing, such as the unfortunately named Dicky Beach, a suburb of Caloundra. Or how about a nice Sunday afternoon drive out to Bald Knob? Erm, no thanks.

Something else I’ve noticed about names along this south-east stretch of Queensland coast is all the references to piracy and hidden treasure, which makes me think there must have been at least a few swashbuckling encounters when Captain Cook sailed through these waters back in the 1700s. The area of the Gold Coast springs to mind almost immediately (but so do images of Miami and Palm Beach – perhaps some of the most unpirate like places you can think of). Where better, however, to look for buried treasure than on Deadman’s Beach on Moreton Island? How about navigating the treacherous Deception Bay or Skirmish Passage? Arrgh, the Coral Sea is afloat with adventure on the high seas!

Skirmish Passage at sunset

What are some of your favourite place names, and what images do they conjure up?