On the inconsistency and contest of toponymy // 2.5

Last year, I visited Uluru for work. It doesn’t mean much in the Pitjantjatjara language, but the word belongs to its people. It existed long before any half-drawn maps were rolled out on tabletops in cities on the other side of the planet.

Yet, the gateway to the region for visiting whitefellas is still called Ayers Rock Airport – one of the few anachronistic reminders of a historical low point we’re slowly attempting to redress. Dawes Point has become Tar-ra, South Creek is Wianammatta, while in New Zealand, the handing back of Maori names is far more entrenched in the national conscience.

We know the damage Cook’s names did, not to mention the hubris that comes with the colonial name-stamp, wiping out whatever preceded its ideals. De-Europising is part and parcel of reclaiming.

So, there’s a certain irony to our reverence towards the marks we’ve left on Turkey. Why is Anzac Cove called Anzac Cove? We weren’t victors, so it can’t have been because of military might. We don’t have any sovereign rights in Turkey, so it’s not that reason, either. We do little trade with them and most Australians have never been there. For those who lived there, for whom a bloody battled played on the land they had long called home, it was a nameless bay next to Ari Burnu.

General Birdwood is said to have named the cove 100 years ago, before the major losses that came to shape the story of that small stretch of Mediterranean coast. After the decimation and defeat, the name stuck, like Ayers Rock or Mount Panorama. Or Murdering Beach. Or Gallipoli.

Strange, isn’t it, how we curate what we want to believe of history, how we superimpose our values onto a far-off theatre of war, how we, as a country who should so sharply understand the difficulty of imposing our version of the story onto another’s, take what we want, in the version we want it, as long as it is in the name of pride and honour?

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