The Project

The aim of the Australian National Placenames Survey (ANPS) is to complete a national cultural database of geographical names, forming a supplement to the Composite Gazetteer of Australia. The database is formed on established principles within the disciplines of history, geography, linguistics, cultural studies, surveying and mapping. It aims to record all known Australian names, documenting their pronunciation, generic class, status (official or unofficial), origin, meaning, history, cultural significance (of both name and site), and map reference and location. Information collected for the database will be made accessible for public enquiry and will be available to enable the production of placename dictionaries, both local and national.

The project has important beneficial effects not only for the cultural aspect of geographical names but also on the technical aspects of government function (such as efficiency in communications, transport and defence). The project involves support from government agencies, academic institutions and individuals. A non-profit incorporated association, Placenames Australia, has been established to provide an administrative home for the Survey.

The Scope of the ANPS

The task of the Australian National Placenames Survey is to investigate the history, meaning, and motivation for use of each name ever current for a geographic feature or inhabited locality in Australia, and to make public the results of these investigations. The cultural aspects of placename study have never formed an area of systematic research in Australia, and the Survey aims to remedy this deficiency.

The ANPS collaborates closely with the state and territory nomenclature authorities who are responsible for the technical aspects of toponymy and placenames standardisation, to which we seek to add cultural information about the history, origin and meaning of placenames. This practical research work is carried out by a network of volunteer Research Friends, coordinated by state/territory ANPS committees representing a wide range of interests and expertise, such as history, geography, Australian languages and archaeology. The results are entered in a uniform national database which will ultimately be available for browsing and searching on the Internet. Various Reports are published, and made publicly available on this website.

The database currently contains technical data for about 360,000 placenames from all the States and Territories, along with the beginnings of documentation for those placenames.

History of the ANPS

The attempt to prepare a comprehensive survey of Australia's placenames began in 1970 when the Australian Academy of the Humanities set up a national committee to establish guidelines for research and to coordinate work in this field.

Work on the project began in 1972 at the University of New England, Armidale, led by Dr John Atchison and building on earlier research by Professor J.S. Ryan. Funding difficulties, as well as interState and inter-university rivalries, brought the project to a lengthy halt.

There were several attempts to re-commence the project, but it was not until 1997 that the Academy was able to secure short-term research funding from the Australian Research Council to enable the work to go ahead. The project was now located at Macquarie University, Sydney, with David Blair as director and Flavia Hodges as research fellow. When ARC funding finished in 2001, the University set up the Asia-Pacific Institute for Toponymy with 5-year funding from the Vice Chancellor's Millennium Innovations Fund, and the project (now with the name Australian National Placenames Survey) had its home within that Institute until 2006.

Since 2007 the Survey has found its home within a non-profit voluntary association, Placenames Australia (Inc).

A fuller version of this history appears in this chronological account:
The Australian National Placenames Survey: A History