If you do a Google search for Oodnadatta you’ll come up with lots of stuff about the Pink Roadhouse in outback South Australia. Along with info about the Witjita National Park and the Simpson Desert you will learn about the famed Oodnadatta track between Marla and Marree; two places you are no doubt familiar with. What you won’t find, is any reference to Oodnadatta in NSW.
Which isn’t surprising because unless you drive past it by accident, like I did, you’d have no reason to believe that outside of South Australia, or the planet Mars where there is a crater named Oodnadatta, there are any other places of the same name. Why should there be? It’s not like some home sick South Australian moved to the back blocks of Moree and pining for the home state, named everything in sight after it. I mean, the fertile black soiled plains of Moree are so alike to the deserts of central Australia as to be almost indistinguishable, right?
But in the best tradition of British settlement of the antipodes a Scotsman did just that. Named things after Scotland, not SA. Driving down the Croppa Moree Road and surrounds you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been transported back to the Highlands. Or more likely the highlanders were transported here. There must have been whiskey and heavy hearts a plenty when farmers named their properties Kirkland and Bonnie Downs. I’ve been to Scotland, as far as Fort William no less, and I’m confident in saying the two places look nothing alike.
The other option of course was to adopt the local aboriginal names. Faced with tongue twisters such as Pallamallawa, Pally to the locals, you can’t blame the newbies for wanting to hang on to names they could at least pronounce. But to give them their due the early settlers embraced aboriginal names with gusto. Although that has led to some head scratching from the tourists when they come across places like Koolyanobbing in WA and Ozenkadnook in Victoria. Maybe C J Dennis was thinking the same when he wrote his poem, A Song of Rain.
When you’ve run out romantic memories of home and exhausted the local’s pool of terms there’s always the fail safe adjective. Hence we have locally such classics as, Mosquito Creek, Deadman’s Creek and the highly imaginative Long Creek. But why there is an Oodnadatta in NSW you ask? The answer is simple.
Oodnadatta is aboriginal for ‘blossom of the mulga’. The Mulga Wattle or Acacia aneura, is an abundant species throughout central Australia, including the woodlands of northern NSW. Before the advent of large scale land clearing for agriculture the whole area would have been covered in it. What’s more surprising then is that the name doesn’t appear more often.
Who’d have thought a drive in the country could be so educational? I wonder what the Martians think of us naming one of their craters after a plant they don’t even know exists?
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