Mapping the history of settler Australia: Critical toponymy, social education and digital cartographies of commemoration

Year: 2019

Author: Smith, Bryan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Since their arrival in Australia, settlers have engaged in widespread “prohibitive cartography” by using maps to determine and constrain imaginations of and access to space and place (Monmonier, 2010). In Australia (and other settler-states), the prohibitions of cartography have largely centred on normalising the racial segregations central to settler spatial practice (Byrne, 2003); by representing into existence space as settler-space, colonial cartographers carefully curated imaginations of space that asserted control and dominion over colonised lands. While contemporary liberal views on place have rendered cartographic violence decidedly less aggressive (although by no means less pernicious), the use and representation of space remains a powerful vehicle for determining and reproducing settler spatial and historical privilege on invaded lands.

In this paper presentation, I argue that contemporary cartographic practices are an instrumental part of what Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2015) calls the white possessive logics, the rationalisation strategies that normalise white settler control over space. This is evidenced in what critical toponymer (place-name) Maoz Azaryahu (2009) calls the “city-text,” the complex web of place-names that cement a particular vision of the past into the material and symbolic circumstances of everyday mapped space. Through this presentation, I discuss how the settler city-text, as a tool of white possessive logic, normalises white settler place-making by virtue of the complex and omnipresent commemorative landscape, accomplished through the reach of settler naming schemes that persistently (re)claim the lands as “ours.” By way of demonstration, I present a web based application that surfaces the settler commemorative work done through the naming practices of a regional Queensland city, arguing that the everyday and common-place naming practices re-assert white settler dominion through a medium (ie. place-naming) that benefits from what Timothy Stanley (2009) has called the “banality of colonialism.” Further, I argue that encounters with the toponymy (place-naming) of our respective communities provides a critical and necessary space for pedagogical critique. If we take seriously, as the Australian Curriculum does, that place is a fundamental organising skill/practice in social education, engagements with the common-place settler toponymy can and must support more critical readings of place.