What's in a name?


The Town Council’s discussion of street name proposals for the new Mt Johns subdivision was a revealing little snapshot of inter-cultural dynamics in Alice Springs.
The developers, Lhere Artepe Enterprises, a business related to the native title holders’ Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation, proposed two Arrernte names, Irrampenye Street and Werlatye Court, both of them after traditional owners born in the mid-19th century near where the Old Telegraph Station came to be built.
Deputy Mayor Brendan Heenan objected in particular to Irrampenye as very difficult to pronounce and spell (thinking of having to spell it when calling police or for a taxi). There was “no way” he could support it. He suggested further that it is too close to another Arrernte name in the Stirling Heights subdivision (which also involved the native title holders).
It was not clear, due to Cr Heenan’s difficulty in pronouncing the word, which one he meant. The three marked on the map are Mparntwe, Irlpme, and Antulye, the names of the three estate groups of the native title holders. Mparntwe (sometimes spelt as Mbantua) is also often used as the Arrernte name for the place where Alice Springs came to be built. The name Undoolya, a road in Alice and a nearby cattle station, is derived from Antulye.
Council’s Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton, suggested that the pronunciation difficulty could be overcome by having a phonetic version under the name on the street signs (as is often seen in Parks & Wildlife signage). He said he had already spoken to the developer about this.
“They probably say some of our whitefeller names are pretty confusing,” he added.
Cr Eli Melky, who is proud to speak English as a second language (Arabic being his first), urged people not to be lazy: “If you can’t spell it, learn it!” he said.
Cr Jade Kudrenko also commented on the scant information about the two traditional owners to be honoured in contrast to the several biographical details supplied for Maconochie as the name proposed for the extension of the existing Maconochie Road. (John Maconochie was a former longtime government botanist in Alice Springs, later killed in a car accident in Somalia while serving with the UN).
More information will be provided for councillors before they make up their minds on this issue.
COMMENT: It’s probably worth remembering that Arrernte names such as Yeperenye and Tangentyere are now household names in Alice Springs. If they are heard and read frequently, people soon learn.
And councillors, in particular, can be expected to have a grasp of the basics, such as the names of the native title estate groups, as they strive to build community harmony.


  1. I would like to see more Aboriginal names being used in Alice. The trouble is that the pronunciations are so hard. After nearly thirty years here, I still can’t get my tongue around the proper name for Anzac Hill. And I want to. Why didn’t the street signs of Stirling Heights have phonetic versions under the real names? Why not have signage of Alice Springs with Mbantua under it? Alternative names on signs have been done before and elsewhere.

  2. Easy does it Leigh! Next you’ll be asking for the police to fly the Aboriginal flag in Parson Street, personally I think that is status or a privilege which at present is not really deserved.
    Readers may be interested to know that in the little town of Dimboola the said flag has been a permanent fixture at the police station for years; now, there is a good example of community acceptance.

  3. @1 … “status or a privilege” … David, what on earth do you mean? What has Dimboola got to do with Alice Springs? I don’t understand what you are getting at. Or are you just pulling my leg? Please explain.


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