5,500 Place Names of Aboriginal and European Origin Across New South Wales Mapped in Google Earth

Google Earth with overlay of 1938 Criagies Motor Map and 5,500 Place Names of Aboriginal and European Origin across NSW
Google Earth with overlay of 1938 Criagies Motor Map and 5,500 Place Names of Aboriginal and European Origin across NSW (Click for larger image)

This work is conducted in memory and respectfully honours the First Australian People,
the Aboriginal People of this land.


The full digitised manuscript of Canon Stretch’s
“Toponomy:  Place Names of New South Wales, Their Origin, Meaning and Locality” (Archives Location: A9082 )
is here: https://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au/nodes/view/101365

Please Note: Open both .KMZ files in the stand alone Google Earth Pro application Download to take advantage of the transparency filter. Do not view in Chrome, as it does NOT allow you to use the transparency filter. See the illustration above.

It has taken just under a year for archivists and digitisation officers at the University of Newcastle (Australia) to digitise and extract five and a half thousand place names, of Aboriginal and European origin, across New South Wales, in Google Earth.

The place names were meticulously recorded up until around the year [1931?] by The (Canon) J. Carlos W. Stretch in a 508 page manuscript, which he called “Toponomy:  Place Names of New South Wales, Their Origin, Meaning and Locality.”

The manuscript is in the form of an alphabetical ledger with inserts including a map that contains the grid references to all the physical locations represented by place names in the work.

Sample page from the Stretch manuscript (Click for a larger image)

This work represents the culmination of the Canon Carlos Stretch’s voluminous Aboriginal language and place name researches that we also hold in manuscript form from another donor, Mrs Helen Pankhurst. The Ledger was donated by A.S. Allably of Ballina in November 2009 along with a couple of boxes of other material.

The Project began in May 2018, with the employment of one of junior digitisation volunteers, Angus Glasper, working one day a week (Wednesdays) to digitise the manuscript and the accompanying Craigies plan, and then extract and transcribe all the entries into an excel spread sheet.  The contract provided for 30 consecutive days of work thanks to the  generosity of the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund.

Angus was supported with a team consisting of Karen Moller, an Auchmuty Library Staff Volunteer, who also transcribed entries from the ledger; Leigh Budden, a volunteer in the GLAMx who cross checked the references once the transcriptions were completed; and Lillian Eastwood, also working in the GLAMx Lab, who examined Canon Stretch’s related archival papers locating the sources of the information regarding the place names that he compiled. The Google Earth Overlays were uploaded to the Living Histories Digital Platform by Dr Ann Hardy.

Craigie’s Motorist Map of New South Wales [1931?] Click to download larger image.
We soon realised that, once overlayed in Google Earth, the original map, and the current surface of the earth did not a accurate match make. We needed something that could warp our original map scan, that would allow us to bend and shape it around existing features that had not changed across decades, if not hundreds of years. Thanks to Katrina Grant, a lecturer in digital humanities at the ANU @orientalhotel (Twitter) she was able to direct us to the work of Tim Waters and his brilliant mapping tool Map Warper (https://mapwarper.net/) which works on you uploading your map, then defining a number of control points between your map and Google Maps. Once selected, you click “rectify”, and map warper does its thing and warp the map to fit.


Canon John Carlos William Stretch was the son of the first Australian-born bishop of the Anglican Church, Bishop John Francis Stretch, who served as Bishop of Newcastle from 1906 – 1919. Canon Stretch was educated at Trinity College, Melbourne (1905 – 1907) and St John’s College Armidale. He was ordained Dean in 1909 and Priest in 1911, obtaining his Licentiate of Theology in 1911. Apart from a couple of years as Deacon at Christ Church Adelaide, South Australia (1910-1911), he lived and served most of his time in the Hunter Region. He served as Deacon-in-Charge of West Wallsend (1909-1910) and Merriwa (1911-1912), and as Priest-in-Charge of Toronto (1916-1918) and Weston (1921), before becoming Rector of Dungog (1922-1926), Merriwa (1926-1934) and, finally, St Paul’s Maitland (1934-1953), where he spent the bulk of his career. He became Rural Dean of Maitland in 1943 until his retirement in 1953, as well as Canon of Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle from 1952-1953. He was a photographer of note and loved keeping journals of his travels around the countryside in his automobile. He was also greatly interested in Aboriginal culture, especially the native languages, leaving a voluminous collection of word listings, indexes, manuscript notes, newsclippings, as well as a modest library. His correspondence reflected his interests in Aboriginal place names and fascination for the language and culture. In this regard he resembled another clergyman, the Rev L.E. Threlkeld, who, with his Aboriginal advisor, companion and friend, Biraban, recorded the words and soundings of the Awabakal language and other indigenous tongues of the Region. Canon Stretch’s papers were donated by Mrs Helen Pankhurst, and accessioned by Mrs Josie Stevenson.

A listing of the papers are here: https://libguides.newcastle.edu.au/anglican/canonstretch1 and https://libguides.newcastle.edu.au/anglican/canonstretch2

His Aboriginal related researches are listed here: https://libguides.newcastle.edu.au/dreamtime/q-z

A7731 contains a number of notebooks that appear to be working copies of his Toponomy Place Names and Their Meaning.

There’s about 5,500 names in Stretch’s work, basically what was published and known circa 1931 when he was compiling it. From our perspective, it’s only the beginning, as it is now up to the local communities who will need to look at these names, and provide some local knowledge to enhance and correct it.  Some of the places no longer exist, or have changed names and locations, so it will be interesting to see what information flows back.


Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist, Chair, Hunter Living Histories Initiative
May 2019.

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