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Sunrise at Busselton Jetty, Busselton, Western Australia

The 137 current local governments of Western Australia carry names that come from a variety of sources. Dr Christopher Berry takes a look at the origins and evolution of the names of some of the State’s diverse local governments.

If you have never heard of the local government areas Bulong, Kanowna, Kookynie or Morgans, then you’re not alone – these are all local government names that are long gone.

In fact, there is a long list of names that have been lost from the local government map, such as Drakesbrook (Waroona), Preston (Donnybrook) and Sussex (Busselton).

Some names had very short lifespans, such as Korrelocking which lasted less than nine months. The name changed to Ningham; that name stuck for 11 years. Then it changed to Kununoppin-Trayning; 33 years later it changed again to Trayning-Kununoppin-Yelbeni, and four years later in 1965 it was down to just plain Trayning.

Paddington lasted just more than two years as a separate municipality before it was merged with the municipality of Broad Arrow.

Of those that still exist, most are of Aboriginal origin, from Nannup in the south, to Ngaanyatjarraku in the centre.

Many have Noongar names ending in –up (such as Kojonup), -in (Kulin) or –ing (Cuballing). Many are named for waterholes (Perenjori, Wyalkatchem), springs (Quairading, Wickepin) or other water features (Joondalup, place of glistening; Mingenew, place of many waters), highlighting the importance of water in the landscape to both Aboriginal people and European settlers.

Some have connections to birds (Chittering: willy wagtail, Gnowangerup: mallee hen, Wagin: emu). Some are named for plants (Moora), winds (Wiluna) and meeting places (the aptly named Mandurah) Sadly, the meaning of perhaps a dozen or so names have been lost for all time (Cuballing, Kondinin, Mukinbudin).

These names do however perpetuate the Indigenous connection with the land that has been forever changed by white settlement. Flying the indigenous flag outside of council offices honours Indigenous heritage. While most non-Aboriginal people know few words from Indigenous languages, we are familiar with many of their place names.

European settlers brought with them names from the old country, perhaps because the area had some likeness or perhaps because they felt a desire to remember and honour their roots. Of course Perth is named after a Scottish city, and Armadale is also Scottish. Cambridge, Derby, Exmouth and Kent also carry an echo of England.

The name Subiaco comes from Italy, brought to our shores by the Benedictine monks led by Dom Rosendo Salvado.

Most of the changes in name occurred in the first 100 years of our local government history. In the last 50 years, there have been relatively few changes, arising from a small number of amalgamations and an even smaller number of name changes. As we contemplate the next 100 years, it is likely that there will be further names changes, we just don’t know where and when.

It cannot be taken for granted that the names will be a constant, for today there are new pressures to have names of places, features and even local governments changed.

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Page reviewed 07 September 2021