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Acknowledgment of country

As I write this, it’s a brisk 9 degrees here in Warrang.

This NAIDOC Week, Channel 10 is reporting the weather using the traditional place names for Australia’s major centres: Meanjin (Brisbane), Naarm (Melbourne), Mparntwe (Alice Springs), Boorloo (Perth).

Viewers have responded positively to seeing the familiar map overlaid with names that will to most of us be pretty unfamiliar. News presenter Narelda Jacobs called it “one of the things that I’m most proud of in my entire career here at Channel 10”.

Also this week, Australia Post announced new packaging for letters and parcels that will include a line for the traditional place name. The change comes in response to a community campaign led by Gomeroi woman Rachael McPhail.

In George Orwell’s 1984, history is “a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary”. The erasure of the past is a sinister act. Yet with most palimpsests (manuscripts that have been overwritten), traces of the original text survive, are recoverable. The layers co-exist and speak to one another.

There’s some disagreement over whether Warrang is in fact the best match for what we today call Sydney. Google offers Djubuguli (Bennelong Point); others suggest Gadi or Cadi.

We can’t be sure partly because the Gadigal language did not survive colonisation. Integrating traditional place names into the daily life of those who walk these lands in the 21st century – almost all of us transplants, more or less recent, from elsewhere in the world – is not only a mark of respect, but an acknowledgment of loss we have yet to fully fathom.

For these words to trip off the tongue – to trip off the pen, as we address an envelope – would be a small but concrete step towards drawing submerged layers of our history back into warm, living circulation.