As extracted from early surveyors reports:
Flora and Fauna Names of Victoria Report is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages and the Victorian Biodiversity Strategy. The researcher Ms Sue Wesson examined material from the archives of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE), the State Library of Victoria, the Victorian Public Records Office and the Australian Archives Office. This first stage of the project focused on the NRE archives, in particular the field notebooks of the earliest Victorian surveyors and their maps although other NRE resources, libraries and public records were accessed. A total of 3028 words were found of which a significant proportion have previously been unknown to linguists.
It appears that the place names and word lists in the early surveyors field notebooks, the 1858 surveyors responses to the Surveyor General and an extensive Wiradjuri wordlist by James Baylis have not yet been widely used or published. Fifteen percent of these 3028 words describe flora and fauna and six percent describe habitat. Of particular interest is the evidence provided by these lists of the existence of fauna in the mid nineteenth century in regions where it is now extinct. For example, magpie geese, eastern quolls, bustards and pademelons were assigned names in the Jardwadjali language area of the upper Glenelg and Wimmera Rivers. The outcomes of this project may help to assist in ascertaining the distribution of flora and fauna assets in Victoria. It is hoped that this pilot project, for which the Biodiversity Strategy (NRE) provided seeding funding, will facilitate the uncovering of more of Victoria’s linguistic assets.
The languages of the Aborigines of Victoria contain information of importance for current cultural endeavours, historical and scientific efforts. DNRE archives (old Crown Survey records etc.) are an important source of information, yet much of the data has not been available to the public, Aboriginal communities, and specialist researchers (linguistics and ecologists).
Victoria’s Biodiversity strategy recognised the importance of the aboriginal culture and its understandings to biodiversity conservation. As a tangible contribution to implementing this aspect of the strategy, Parks Flora and Fauna commissioned the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages to examine DNRE archives for the names of aboriginal biodiversity assets and related place names.
The resultant report represents a significant contribution to several aspects of the Victorian cultural and scientific environment with over 3000 Aboriginal words being identified into the various language areas in Victoria. The words refer to both biodiversity assets and place names for Victorian localities. The geographic spread makes the new knowledge relevant across rural and regional Victoria.
In the process of developing this report valuable contacts have been developed between agencies of DNRE (e.g. Registrar of Geographic Names and VACL).
The Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages sees this project as a significant piece of work that will contribute to their goals regarding promotion and restoration of aboriginal linguistics and culture. It makes a significant contribution to the cultural renaissance currently underway.
The Premier of Victoria, Hon. Steve Bracks has requested the Minister for Environment and Conservation give special consideration and encourage more extensive use of Aboriginal names in the current review of the ‘Guidelines for Geographic Names’. This arose from the Government’s response to the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) strategies. This report should assist in this process.
There is little controversy in the report. Indeed, it will probably be seen as a positive contribution to a variety of Victorian community interests. Land Victoria intends to further utilise this data and have established an on-going involvement with the aboriginal place names and other related issues. This may be of particular relevance in the year of the centenary of Federation.