John Brooksbank traces the origins of the names of PNG streets, rivers, towns and islands.
In many countries around the world, rivers, mountains, towns and streets are named after well-known explorers and colonial administrators. Papua New Guinea is no exception – the nation abounds in historical references.
Early maps show the names assigned by German, French and British maritime visitors to the country. They reflect the names of the explorers themselves, their patrons, crew members and even minor officials they were trying to curry favour with.
Here, we feature some examples of these little reminders of history.
Starting at the national level, the word Papua derives from the Malay pua-pua, meaning, frizzled, in reference to the people’s hair.
The Torres Strait is named after Luis Vaez de Torres, who journeyed along the south coast of the main island of New Guinea in 1606 and found that it was not joined to Australia.
Tatana Island in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour – named by captain John Moresby after his father, admiral Fairfax Moresby, when he discovered the sheltered
port location in 1873 – was initially named Jane Island by the captain after his wife, although its use didn’t last long. More enduring is the passage through the reef that took its name from his ship, HMS
The calm waters of Milne Bay were also named by Moresby, after a senior naval lord.
The exact locations of many of the PNG islands were not known until navigators and cartographers such as William Dampier (1700) and Philip Carteret (1767) travelled around them.
Dampier named the island of New Britain, and Carteret named New Ireland and the Admiralty Islands after his British masters.
Frenchman Louis-Antoine de Bougainville named the Louisaide Archipelago in about 1768, after Emperor Louis XV and, of course, the island that carries his name.
French rear-admiral Joseph Antione de Bruni d’Entrecasteaux meandered around the islands of New Guinea while searching for the ships of La Perouse, whose expedition vanished in 1788.
He named the Willaumez Peninsula in New Britain after Willaumez the Elder, an ensign on one of the lost ships, and the Trobriand Islands after the captain of another of the lost ships, lieutenant de Trobriand.
He gave his own name to the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago, whose individual islands were later named by the tireless captain John Moresby.
Moresby named Normanby after the marquis of Normanby, governor of Queensland; Goodenough after commodore James Goodenough, commander of the Australian Naval Station; and Fergusson after the New Zealand governor Sir James Fergusson.
Port Moresby’s international airport commemorates squadron leader Johnny Jackson, killed when his Kittyhawk was shot down during Japanese raids on the town.
The Kiwi premier of the time, Sir Julius Vogel, was not forgotten either, having had a cape named after him.
Some early missionaries are also immortalised in the naming of features.
Reverend W.G. Lawes, left, of the London Missionary Society, has that well-known Port Moresby road named after him.
Goldie River, a tributary of the Laloki River, just outside Port Moresby, is named after one of the country’s first permanent European residents, botanist and collector Andrew Goldie.
Continued interest in the country by the English saw captain F.P. Blackwood in HMS Fly in the 1840s naming that well-known large river after his ship, and Aird Hills after a mate on board.
A few years later, lieutenant Charles Yule was remembered in the naming of an island down the Central Province coast. Captain Owen Stanley was honoured by having the central mountain range named after him in 1889 by lieutenant governor Sir William MacGregor, above.
Not many of the German place names have survived, despite Germany’s relatively long occupation of New Guinea.
Principal coastal settlements reverted to local names – partly in response to the recommendations of a report to the League of Nations in 1923 – including Herbertshohe to Kokopo, Berlinhafen to Aitape, Kaiser Augusta River to the Sepik River, Simpsonhafen to Rabaul and Friedrich-Wilhelmshafen to Madang. One that survived is Finschafen.
Other Germanic names that remain are distinctly hard rock – the Bismark Sea, archipelago and range was named after German chancellor Otto von Bismark, along with four peaks along the range named after his four children, including Wilhemberg or Mount
Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG.
Further west, Mount Hagen, known as Hagenberg to the Germans, was named after colonial officer Curt von Hagen.
Along the east coast of New Ireland, the 193-kilometre highway from Kavieng to Namatanai – built by district officer Franz Boluminski – still carries his name.
As the seat of government, the gradual expansion of Port Moresby resulted in streets being named after colonial administrators, notably special commissioner John Douglas and his deputy, captain Anthony Musgrave. Surveyor Walter Cuthbertson named a street after himself as well.
Sir Peter Scratchley, left, gave his name to the street in Badili that leads to Kila Kila and Sabama. The less-known Mary Street, which provides access to the Grand Papua Hotel, was probably named after the wife of Sir William Macgregor, the first lieutenant- governor of British New Guinea, or Papua.
After World War 2, land was reclaimed in front of Champion Parade, named after Herbert Champion, a government officer from 1902 to 1942. The new waterfront road was called
Stanley Esplanade after Evan Stanley, the first government geologist who, although he died in 1924, presciently foresaw the future importance of petroleum to the country.
Three companies that formed the Australasian Petroleum Company (APC), active in the country for many years, are remembered in the naming of Airvos Avenue on Paga Hill –
an acronym of the initial letters of Anglo-Iranian, Vacuum Oil and Shell.
Wars are also good for leaving a few names behind. Port Moresby’s international airport commemorates squadron leader Johnny Jackson, killed when his
Kittyhawk was shot down during Japanese raids on the town. He was operating from a wartime airstrip that had been built over the local racecourse, one of seven air fields constructed around Port Moresby.
Gurney Airport, near Alotau, built as No.1 Strip by a US Army Engineer Unit during World War 2, was named after squadron leader C.R. Gurney in 1942 after he was killed during action there.
In 1935, R.A. Gordon took a 99-year pastoral lease over 40 hectares of land outside Port Moresby to run his dairy and butchery business. All too soon, however, Port Moresby expanded d and the land was taken back in 1962. The suburb of Gordon was created, taking the family name despite efforts to utilise local alternatives.
As PNG moved towards Independence, increasingly suburbs and features were named d using local languages, either using traditional place names or descriptive terms such as Hanuabada, ‘big village’ in Motu.
It has recently been the practice to name prestigious buildings after prominent politicians and other important individuals of the day – Morauta Haus, Bogan Rumana, Sir Buri Kidu Haus, Marea Haus and Danaya House in Port Moresby are among them. Sir John Guise Drive, in Waigani, commemorates the country’s first governor- general.
On the drawing board ... Port Moresby as seen by surveyor Walter Cuthbertson, who named a street after himself.
Early days ... many of Port Moresby's streets were named after colonial administrators.
Name droppers ... (from far left) Reverend William Lawes, Sir William MacGregor, Sir Peter Scratchley; Musgrave Street, Port Moresby (above).
Street scenes ... Douglas Street in 1943 (top); the Papua Hotel in Musgrave Street in 1960 (right). The streets were named after colonial administrators John Douglas and Anthony Musgrave.
The Papua Hotel in Musgrave Street in 1942.