Australia and its territories have some interesting stories about how they were named. The names of the states and their capitals are like a window into history.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory houses Australia’s capital city of Canberra. It was unclear where the capital would be at first. Melbourne was the largest city and the largest colony at the time was New South Wales. The capital was placed in a territory between Melbourne and Sydney. Land for the territory was ceded in 1911.
The capital city of Canberra had many potential names. Originally, the indigenous people called the area Ngunnawal country. The current name is thought to have been taken from the Walgalu word for “meeting place”, which is kambera.
New South Wales
Captain James Cook chose the name of this state. It’s unknown if it was southern parts of Wales that inspired him or if he added “South” to New South Wales because of how far south it was located.
The name for Australia’s largest city comes from a Lord Sydney. He chose where to send British convicts exiled to Australia in 1778. When they arrived in Botany Bay, it was deemed unsuitable. Further up was a satisfactory cove, which became Sydney Cove. This gave the eventual city its name.
The Northern Territory is in the north, but there are parts of the country that are further north. Northern Territory was almost named Kingsland or Territoria after its split with South Australia in 1911.
Captain J.C. Wickham discovered Port Darwin in 1839. Its name was inspired by Charles Darwin. The town near the port was called Palmerston until 1911 when it was officially renamed.
Queensland was a part of New South Wales. The residents wanted to be independent. In 1959, Queen Victoria allowed them their sovereignty. Victoria was already established, so they chose Queensland as a way to honor Queen Victoria.
Sir Thomas Brisbane inspired the name of this city. It began as a penal colony. The 1840s brought settlers there. It was first called Edenglassie. Residents preferred Brisbane, so that name was officially adopted.
South Australia isn’t the southernmost state. Tasmania and Victoria have points that are further south. South Australia was chosen because it sounded better than Southern Australia to most people.
Adelaide was named after King William IV’s wife instead of him. She had a much higher approval among the people than her husband. She was beloved. She helped with suffrage, children’s rights, and abolishing slavery.
Dutch explorers discovered Tasmania in 1642. Originally called Van Diemen’s Land, it became a British penal colony. In 1855, it was renamed officially by Queen Victoria to put its past behind it.
Hobart was named after Robert Hobart. Ha was Earl of Buckinghamshire as well as the Secretary of State. The name went from “Hobart Town” to Hobart in 1881.
Victoria was named for Queen Victoria in 1851 after it split from New South Wales. It’s the second Australian state named for her.
Melbourne was named after William Lamb. Mr. Lamb was the 2nd Viscount Melbourne. He was Queen Victoria’s friend and advisor. He was Prime Minister of Britain from 1835-1841.
Western Australia is the largest state. It was initially settled by free people in 1826 and then had a gold boom in the 1890s.
Perth was named after the Scottish birthplace of Sir George Murray in 1829. Sir Murray was a member of the British Parliament who represented the people of this area. Perth was formerly named Swan River Colony.