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On giving Mount Canobolas a dual name, it's time to zip our lips and open our ears

August 6, 2022

Supplied/Orange City Council/Digitally altered.


Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Neil Ingram is leading the push to have Mount Canobolas given a dual title acknowledging its original Wiradjuri Nation name of Gaanha-bula.

“Mount Canobolas” is an Anglicised version of “Gaanha-bula”.

“They are white man’s words,” Uncle Neil told me.

Uncle Neil has shared the Dreaming story of the three mountains with the modern names of Canobolas, Panorama and Macquarie. It was a story passed on to him by his Elders.

It’s one we should all read, as it relates to the history and mythology of where we live, and plays its part in shaping who we are.

“A long time ago there were three brothers,” Uncle Neil said in the story. “The elder brother was Gaanha-bula, the middle brother was Wahluu and the younger brother was Galbuman Ngiilinya, near Carcoar.

“Gaanha-bula is the traditional name for Mt Canobolas. Gaanha meaning shoulder and bula meaning two. Two shoulders.”

Uncle Neil also wrote that Gaanha-bula was a men’s initiation site and a place used for corroboree and ceremonies (burbung).

"The Wiradjuri people camped on the mountain during these major ceremonies. To the Wiradjuri people Mt Canobolas is a place of spiritual connection through worship of Baiame (the Creator God and Sky Father)."

There was a considerable reaction on social media to Uncle Neil raising the issue of the mountain at Tuesday night’s council meeting. The meeting also moved to add the words “Wiradjuri Country” to its official address.

The overwhelming majority of people who commented were in support of both ideas.

I was intrigued by one remark that was repeated by a few others: “It will always be Mount Canobolas to me”. The need to hold onto traditions spans history and humanity, but a few things occurred to me reading this comment.

First, “Canobolas” was likely nothing more than a lazy and racist interpretation of “Gaanha-bula” made by those responsible for colonising Orange.

Second, there was surely a sad irony inherent in holding onto one historical name that only came into being because another historical name was obliterated.

On these two matters, now is the time for non-Indigenous members of the Orange community to listen. To stop advising, lecturing, deciding, suggesting, and to just listen. It’s one of the hardest things in life to do, particularly in the digital age where everyone has been handed a megaphone and is encouraged to use it.

There are famous quotes dating back hundreds and thousands of years about why we were given two ears and one mouth. The Bible has a bit to say about the wisdom gained when zipping your lips and listening.

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame …”

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding …”

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Ultimately, isn't this about what First Nations people in Orange and surrounds would like? This should be their call, and the community at large should have their back, whatever the outcome.

Some Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in our community see any such changes as mere tokenism. They say it won’t directly and immediately address the shocking disadvantage experienced by many non-Indigenous and Indigenous people in Orange.

But these two matters are not mutually exclusive, are they? Can we not try and address the poverty in our city that makes life unnecessarily hard for people of all stripes and listen to First Nations people on what they would prefer for the mountain?

The Wiradjuri Elders, and the First Nations people of Orange - of which there are thousands - are the right people to lead this discussion and, as challenging as it might be, the rest of us should close our mouths, and open our ears.

Peter Holmes


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