The Godfather: Peter Corris on some national changes
Occasionally, out of boredom or as an anti-Alzheimer’s disease exercise, I try to write down the names of all the American states. I’ve got to the high 40s but never the whole lot. Doing this recently and reflecting on the interesting names of states derived from different languages and cultures – Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, etcetera – I thought of how uninspired and dreary, with one exception, our states’ and territories’ names are and how badly they need an update.
Tasmania is fine, appropriately in our multicultural present recognising one of the early non-British explorers, but the rest are terrible. Victoria and Queensland are forelock-pulling obeisances to a queen of England whose single achievement was her long reign and who certainly never showed any interest in the place. South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are dull beyond description. I suppose the Australian Capital Territory is adequate, just, but to name a big area like New South Wales after a speck on the coast of a small island on the other side of the world is absurd.
When it comes to suggesting changes problems arise. To adopt Aboriginal names would be to privilege certain locations and language groups. Nevertheless, Yarra would do pretty well for Victoria.
I’d go for Banksland for New South Wales. After all Banks financed the voyage of discovery and we’re fond of money men.
I’d suggest Jacaranda for Queensland. I know it’s not a native plant but it flourishes there and sounds Australian.
For the Northern Territory what better than Capricornia? Geographically appropriate and with literary associations.
For South Australia, Nullarbor, obviously, and for Western Australia, the state with the longest coastline, Longshore. Admittedly, these suggestions don’t quite measure up to Tennessee or Montana but they are a hell of a lot better than the present outworn designations.
Which brings us to the flag and the national anthem. Both have to go. For the flag all we need is the Aboriginal emblem and the Southern Cross on a blue background. The existing anthem is a horror. We are not young; the first Australians arrived 50 000-plus years ago and, compared with, say, Scandinavian countries, our incarceration rates, particularly of the Indigenous people, are nothing to be proud of. Most Australian soils are weathered and poor, far from ‘golden’. As for ‘girt by sea’, it is ludicrous and can’t be fixed: ‘surrounded’ doesn’t scan and ‘ringed by’ doesn’t work.
The only solution is to start again. What about a competition with certain people being particularly invited? Prose stylists and wordsmiths like Don Watson and Helen Garner and songwriters with a demonstrated sense of history such as Russell Morris, Tim Freedman, Don Walker or Kate Ceberano could make a good fist of it.
There would have to be certain provisos, like no mention of God – Australians recognise a number of different gods but most are indifferent to them all, and Gallipoli should be allowed to fade away – it’s hard to rhyme with anyway.
All this is tongue-in-cheek of course; I would like to see us as a republic with some changes along these lines but I won’t be holding my breath.