Traditional Indigenous Place Names in Australian Addresses

Have you ever thought you can’t change things because you are just one person? AWNY’s Fran Alison talks with Gomeroi woman Rachael McPhail who is single handedly changing the way Australians address their mail.

It is an idea that came out of the blue, but one that was way past its time. Rachael McPhail, a Gomeroi woman was online shopping. While filling out her address details, she decided to include her Traditional Place name of Wiradjuri Country in her delivery address, and wondered if the package would arrive. When she received the package days later, Rachael snapped a photo of the address label with the Traditional Place name included, posted it on Facebook, where she received a lot of positive feedback. 

A friend suggested she create an Instagram page for the project, and just 16 weeks ago in August 2020, @place_names_in_addresses was born. Days later, author and academic Dr Anita Heiss shared one of Rachael’s posts, and things went crazy. “I had to turn the notifications on my phone off,” laughs Rachael. “And then Carly Findlay shared my post, and it went bonkers.”

In the space of three months, @place_names_in_addresses now has over 12 thousand followers, and the campaign Rachael created is gaining momentum, with businesses like Biome and Clothing the Gap already changing their online address form to include Traditional Place names. While Rachael would like to see all Australian businesses amend their online mailing forms, she has her sights set on Australia Post.

“I’ve met with Australia Post’s Indigenous Engagement team – they were lovely and were on board straight away, and have updated their website to include addressing Traditional Place name guidelines. I’m working with the team to have all Australia Post’s pre-printed packaging include space for the Traditional Place name – but in the longer term, I’m hoping they will create a database that cross-references the postcode with the Traditional Place, with accurate and respectful consultation with Community Elders in each area.”

Image courtesy of Rachael McPhail and Place_names_in_addresses

I ask Rachael about her history of activism and she laughs, admitting she does not have one.

“Not really. I’ve always been mates with kids who had no friends, the underdogs. I like to stand up for people who might not have that skill or who need support, but I’ve never done anything like this.” Rachael is studying social work part-time and acknowledges that the critical thinking she is being taught is part of what turned her into an accidental activist. “We’re being asked to examine our place within social constructs, at how we might be supporting a system that might be oppressing minorities.”

But if the personal is political, then the political is also personal; in 2015 while researching her family tree, Rachael discovered her great-great grandmother was a Gomeroi woman, who had had a baby with a white man. Fearful she would have her child taken from her under Australia’s Child Removal Policy, she moved away from her family, and lived as a white woman.

“I identify and celebrate my Aboriginality, because my Great-Great Grandmother Rachael – whom I am named after, wasn’t able to. My learning around my family history, and my learning about social constructs have made me passionate about decolonization. We think it’s in the past, but it’s not.  The postal system, which was designed long ago, does not include Traditional Place names. Things like the automatic label printing software Australia Post uses, there is no space for the Traditional Place name, so small business owners are having to enter it manually. Australia Post are trying to fix this, but it’s an example of a system trying to adapt, instead of a system being built to be accessible and inclusive.”

Our conversation turns to the best way of discovering the Country or Traditional Place name, and inevitable leads us to the AITSIS map of Indigenous Australia , which many Australian’s are familiar with. Rachael points out the map is an approximation only, that some areas are contested by local communities, and some of the documents AITSIS used were diaries of white settlers. In finding Traditional Place names, Rachael encourages us to do a little work, to make sure the resources we use are Indigenous informed, and to reach out to community groups or consult Community Elders to ensure the information is correct.

“It’s going to take work, people are going to have to put effort into ensuring the resources we use are Indigenous informed, or that community leaders, elders and groups have been consulted. Getting accurate information informs our general knowledge. If we each do a small thing but there are lots of us doing it, it will make great change.”

The spotlight inevitably comes back to Australia Post, which Rachael believes is the only organization capable of managing a project of this magnitude. Part of the @place_names_in_addresses campaign includes a petition asking Australia Post to create a database of traditional place names.

Adding in the nation or Country (like the sample envelope below) is something that all Aussies can do to be more inclusive of our Indigenous history.

Image courtesy of Australia Post

“Australian Post is an important part, because we need the addressing systems to change so everyone else can jump on board – but big and small business needs to take some responsibility.  If businesses that have a broad audience, businesses like Kmart, Target and eBay were asking for the Traditional Place name to be included, and asking for it to be the norm, it would then pressure Australia Post and the Federal Government to act, to get the work done.”

Next time you are posting something home, perhaps you could take a little time to find out the Traditional Place name and include it on your address label? And then take a photo, post it on Facebook and Instagram and tag @place_names_in_addresses and @auspost.

You can support Rachael’s campaign by following and sharing @place_names_in_addresses Instagram page, and you can sign the petition here.

Author: Fran Alison

A 20th Century girl in a 21st Century world

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