Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where the streets have no name.

The sponsors of Old London performed their duties more conscientiously than most of their successors; as a consequence, the names of the older streets of the capital serve not only as keys to their several histories, but as landmarks by which we can measure the changes wrought by time in the topographical features of the city.

The book of days: a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography, & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
by Robert Chambers, 1832

I was interested in an article by Mary Costello in The Age this week regarding street naming, and it started me thinking about how we name our streets and what that tells us about our history, our culture and our people.

Before our time, the first settlers to Australia had an opportunity to start from scratch in the naming of the streets they were creating, and they chose to name them predominantly in a number of categories:

  • To commemorate and remember where they had come from: York Street, Kent Street, St Kilda Boulevard.
  • To honour people important at the time: King Street, William Street, Murray Street, James Street.
  • To commemorate events: Coronation Street, Centenary Drive, Olympic Avenue, Federation Way.
  • To point to topographical and/or commercial features: Mill Street, Barrack Street, Exhibition Street, Hill Street, Spring Street, Station Street, Church Street.
  • To interpret Indigenous names for local places or features: Toorak Road, Dandenong Road, Warra Street.
So these historical street names serve as pointers to the history and culture of the time.
I once lived on a Water Street named, quite obviously,because it ran down to a pool in the river. My grandparents lived in a house on School Road, which..surprise, surprise...was just along the road from the local school. I've also lived on streets commemorating places and people.
Acknowledging the origins of these street names embeds us in the context of the timeline of the history and geography of the place.
One part of Mary Costello's article that I found a little disturbing related to the naming of streets in new residential developments. She wrote, "Nowadays, naming residential areas is about selling a promise of a particular kind of utopia to a targeted demographic".
I'm not sure I feel comfortable with the idea that street naming responsibility lies with the marketers of the 21st century.
I tried to imagine myself as one of those land marketers faced with selling a hypothetical new housing estate carved out of flat featureless land that was once a municipal waste facility (i.e a rubbish tip). Knowing that a housing estate on similar land was recently in the media regarding the leaching of methane gas, if I was a clever marketer, I would be at great pains to create an image of my estate that is far removed from any such issues.
I may call it something like, "Babylon Gardens Estate", and perhaps I would label the streets with monikers such as; Heliconia Way, Cattleya Crescent, Calethea Court, Ginger Grove...all names of plants of the tropics.
Which may make for some colourful and interesting advertising and sales of the land, but in a hundred years time, what will those names tell the residents about the history and culture of their homes?
So then I imagined what I could call the streets if I used the methods traditionally used by the early settlers:
  • Rudd Road (after the Prime Minister of the day)
  • GFC Circuit (for a current day event)
  • Cholesterol Court (this will be the street the fast-food shops will be on)
  • Water Feature Way (as every housing estate has to have a man-made lake)
  • Pokie Place (for the street the local Tabaret will be on)
  • Three-ars Parade (the road where the school is)
  • Empty Nest Avenue (to commemorate and remember where you've come from)

What do you think? Would you want to live in my Flatland Estate?

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Megan said...

I'm always interested in the history behind the names of streets we live in and would be disappointed if the names were not a pointer to some historical event or fact.

We have two street addresses for our property - one commemorates a famous cricketer from the 1800s and the other named after a Columbian town surveyed by one of the first landowners! The landowner surveyed between two Columbian towns and named two adjoining streets plus his home after those towns.

That's history and tells me something about the time my area was settled. Having my street named after a flower or nut, unless indigenous to the area doesn't do much for me.

Mind you I don't think much of a Rudd avenue or Turnbull crescent either.

peppermintpatcher said...

There is a beachside suburb in Townsville where all the streets are named after tropical fish. Another with the surnames of miners killed in an accident that happened many years ago. Our own street is named for a cattle property, as this area was once large cattle holding yards.

Brenda said...

Streets and towns are interesting. I know of a family that had a lot of their own land and named their mailing address street after themselves.

Melinda said...

Our road (it's dirt and there are no dirt 'streets') is named after an early nickname for tractors. My father-in-law buys and restores old tractors and, as principle landowner on our road, got the naming rights. That is the custom in our rural area.

City streets are frequently named after important people (Zetterower Road, Marvin Avenue) or functions... the street around our local courthouse is called Court street.

the mof said...

We live in the first inland town in Western Australia consequently the streets and roads are mostly named after early settlers eg Monger Street, Smales Lane or names from the 'Old Country' eg Avon Terrace.
Some named after the people who lived at the end of the road eg Spice's Lane.

There is a lot of history to be learned from the street names.

New subdivisions are in the offing so it will be interesting to see the names of the streets in these.

Stacey said...

I too read this article with interest as its a topic that has long interested me.
The first house I lived in was in Foam Street, which was surrounded by Ebb, Anchor, Dolphin, Gale, Inlet and Helm Streets. Not surprisingly it was near the sea!
Now we live in an area that was originally subdivided as a "Melbourne riviera" and the street names all have Italian riveria references.

I think its very sad that developers now choose the names to sell an ideal.

Suse said...

Most of the houses I've lived in were peoples' first names - Michael, Scott, Glynn, Rosemary.

Now my parents live in Qld in an area where all the streets are named after famous racehorses!

Fiona said...

I read this article a few days ago. Yesterday I stumbled across a reference to an ancestor who died in France in 1916 - a street in Pimlico, Townsville was named after him! I was quite excited.

The Townsville city council has published a document listing the origins of street names. What a great idea and very interesting to read through.

A street near us is called Cakebread Mews. Hmmm. Maybe they were running out of names or something!

Mary said...

I am remembering streets where we lived too now - Greta Street, Kingsley Terrace, Sturt Road.

Everywhere around me are streets and landmarks named after the old sea captain who built our house.

I would live on Blue Mountains Drive on your estate..

Nanu said...

Our first house was on a road called Careless Green. That was in 1967 and we still haven't worked out the origins! It was one of 6 new so-called by the estate agent as "town" houses – in other words terraced houses on a field that had had a donkey in the middle of a built-up industrial area in the West Midlands in England in the conurbation of Birmingham. There was a small factory at one end and we looked over allotments at the back. The West Midlanders are wonderful gardeners. We never did find out what happened to the donkey. The factory is now a primary school and the allotments are now houses. We'd love to know where the name Careless Green came from. Green is probably referring to the field but "Careless"? Any suggestions?

persiflage said...

As a newcomer to Sydney some years ago, when I realised that George, York, Clarence, Kent, Sussex and Cambridge were all named after the sons of George III, in order of their births, I found it much easier to get around. Cambridge St is away from the others, I think, for some strange reason. I think there may have been another son too, but cannot remember what he was duke of, of whether he died early.
The streets of Canberra suburbs usually have a particular theme. Garran streets were named after Australian writers (I lived in Palmer St), O'Connor streets all have botanical names, such as Dryanda and Wattle, Red Hill Streets are named after explorers and their ships. I like that system, and applaud commemoration of significant events and people - much more interesting and informative that Lakeside Drive, etcetera.