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Place Names

Bringing research, arts, culture and community together

Place Names is a five year program aimed at engaging communities across Noongar country and beyond in the Aboriginal stories, language and culture of each place. The project is an initiative based on Professor Len Collard’s long term research. CAN’s federally funded initiative aims to explore the meaning of towns and places with Noongar names, bringing them to life through film and art and encourage the use of the Noongar words for places that were used  pre-colonisation.

Building on Professor Collard’s well-established research, CAN’s focus is to work closely with communities to explore the Noongar language origins of town and place names using a variety of contemporary art forms that reflect language, place and identity.

CAN has produced Place Names programs in:

  • Langford
  • Albany
  • Katanning
  • Moora

In 2020 CAN will be working in Walyalup // Fremantle for the next iteration of Place Names.

Place Names is a Community Arts Network Project supported through the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts program, The Australia Council for the Arts and Principal Partner Moodjar Consultancy

Place Names – the research

Place names in the southwest of Western Australia are commonly derived from Noongar, the Aboriginal language of the region. However, the story of these place names is yet to be fully appreciated. As Noongar language is the basis of geographical nomenclature for many names for towns, localities and landmarks in the southwest, current, comprehensive and critical research and analysis of Noongar language documentation is required to interpret and reveal the ancient meanings of these names.

Place Names Katanning

CAN and the Katanning Noongar Leadership Group proudly joined in hosting the community at an installation of language and artworks, featuring the magnificent Mulka and Djinda puppets, in the main street of Katanning.

Despite Covid-19 putting an end to the Harmony Festival parade in the town, community and visitors joined in the celebration of over 18 months work, displayed in a pop-up exhibition over the Harmony weekend.

During Place Names Katanning CAN engaged animateur and puppeteer Karen Hethey to work with the community, Elders and more than 100 students. Together, they created two large-scale puppets of Mulka and Djinda and more than thirty coolbardie (magpie) puppets, building on their knowledge of Noongar and local history in the process. The meaning behind Katanning and surrounding place names was revealed to form part of a greater, significant Noongar story of Mulka. This story of Mulka presented during this community celebratation is a version for the general public. We recognise that many people hold and look after parts of the full story.

Elders and community from the Great Southern towns of Katanning, Tambellup, Gnowangerup and Badgebup welcomed the wider community to learn about Noongar place naming in their area. Each place name was interpreted with its Noongar significance in what was an important  experience for the whole community.

Images // Caro Telfer

“This is probably the most important story of the Noongar Nation and it’s being told so that it can be handed down for our future generations.” Julie Hayden, Katanning Noongar Leadership Group.

Following extensive consultation and community engagement, the Katanning Noongar Leadership Group and the Place Names Project Working Group undertook a process of collating, recollecting and remembering cultural knowledge to put back together the story of Mulka. The story starts 26 kms south east of Wiluna and comes all the way down to Katanning. It is a story deeply embedded in boodja (country) and it holds the meaning behind Katanning and surrounding towns, teaching us that these place names are more than words but form part of a greater, significant Noongar story.


Place Names is produced by CAN and supported by the Australian Government’s Indigenous Languages and Arts Program and the Australia Council for the Arts, in partnership with Principal Partner Moodjar Consultancy and with support from the Shire of Katanning.

Image Credit: Caro Telfer

We acknowledge that the spelling and interpretation of Noongar words can vary greatly from community to community.


CAN is partnering with Albany’s Follow the Dream program to empower young Noongar people to document their culture, language, history, identity and sense of place through film.

According to the last census, there are less than 400 fluent speakers of Noongar language left. CAN documentary making program with the Follow the Dream students at Albany Senior High School and North Albany Senior High School has been a fun and inspiring to engage students to learning Noongar language, through interviewing Elders and learning more about the meaning of their local place names.

Through a series of intensive hands-on workshops, the young people learnt the process of making short films, including how to operate camera and sound equipment, filming techniques, scriptwriting and editing. The students also interviewed local Elders, enabling intergenerational cultural transmission along the way.

This project will culminate in a short documentary that celebrates the importance of language and its connection to place and identity and will be released in 2018.

Culturally mapping Boodja and Wangkiny

In 2018, CAN brought together Co-Director of Moodjar Consultancy Professor Len Collard, Cultural Advisor  Geri Hayden and artist Susie Vickery to explore the intersection of Noongar language, local knowledge and artistry. The Project was facilitated by CAN Project Coordinator Natalie Scholtz. CAN partnered with Langford Aboriginal Association to develop the creative and artistic skills of emerging artists at the Langford Aboriginal Centre in two stages.

In the first stage of development more than 45 participants attended a series of arts development workshops drawing upon Professor Len Collard’s Placenames research. Participants explored their sense of place and other related themes of culture, language, history and identity using various art mediums.

In the second stage of creative development, CAN engaged renowned textile artist Susie Vickery to work more closely with 13 participants who created a stunning textile map of Langford using metres of recycled denim, mixed textiles and a range of tapestry techniques including specialised embroidery, stitching, and applique skills. Through this process, participants deepened their understanding of Noongar boodja (land), wangkiny (language) and katitjiny (knowledge) by using Professor Collard’s research to work with 25 Noongar words found within their tapestry map. These Noongar words have now been platformed on a web page with the main spelling found within Professor Collard’s data base and the various alternative spellings used within community.

Follow this link to learn more

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‘Working on this project has been the most inspiring and exciting experience for me. I have never worked on something like this before.’
– Linda Carlsson

Place Names – Weaving Workshops & Exhibition

3 – 13 July 2018, Vancouver Arts Centre, Albany

As part of NAIDOC week celebrations, CAN and Vancouver Arts Centre (VAC) held weaving workshops and an exhibition. Inviting participants and visitors to come along and learn about weaving with native and garden vegetation and increase their knowledge about Noongar place names, art, language and culture.

Place Names Documentary

‘Noongar Boodja’, is a documentary made by young Aboriginal people from Albany. A stunning cinematic story that explores with Elders, significant places, their Noongar names and culture in Albany and surrounding areas. This film was developed as part of Community Arts Network (CAN) Place Names  program, which looks to engage Noongar communities in exploring the meaning of language and culture through place.

“Noongar language to our culture is important, it’s our identity, it belongs to us, it’s significant, it’s special, and it’s the only one in the world. For us to ignore that is abandoning our being,” Lester Coyne, Menang Elder.


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