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Last Saturday was the launch of Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and re-naming the Australian landscape by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, at University House, ANU. You can find the details on this excellent book, (edited by Harold Koch and Luise Hercus) here, although not, alas on the publisher (Aboriginal History)'s website. Facebook friends of Julia Miller can see rather good piccies. And there's a little bit about it in the news.

Rudd started with his favourite rhetorical structure: Why am I launching this book? He answered himself: Three reasons. First, Harold and Grace Koch are Decent Human Beings. (Wild applause at this point). Second, interest in Indigenous studies. And third, appreciation of scholarship.

All good reasons*..

Scholarship shines through the book -- lots of papers stuffed with interesting data, from careful linguistic reconstructions, to fine observations of attitudes to introducing names, to details on the stories behind names, to methods for studying placenames. It's interdisciplinary: Indigenous owners of places, linguists, historians,geographers, pastoralists, archaeologists, anthropologists all have ideas to share. Workshops and meetings of the Geographic Names Boards have provided places for this sharing. And, as so often, Luise Hercus's paper brings us back to the places themselves, with photographs that show us why people wanted to give them names.

More will be done - Rudd noted a reason why another book on place-names is needed - the table of contents reveals Only One Paper on Queensland placenames - Paul Black's paper on Kurtjar.

The lovely thing was celebrating unusual achievement - in this case, intelligent, modest people gathering and interpreting information in sensible and enlightening ways, and producing a book whose wealth of material will make it last.

*Even if qualified by an admission that 30 years after studying 'Chomskyan grammar' at ANU, he still didn't understand what it had to offer...


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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.

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