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Misc //

Naming the islands of Lake Northam

The Geographical Naming Board of NSW won't know what hit 'em.

Lake Northam, the glittering jewel of Victoria Park. Home to eels, turtles, ducks and ibis, this stagnant icon is the heart of USyd’s marine ecosystem. The lake is named after Bill Northam, a City of Sydney alderman who won a yachting gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Yet, according to City of Sydney Parks Coordinator Emma Corbridge, the islands inside of it aren’t afforded a similar honour.

“The two miniature islands in Lake Northam do not have names,” Emma disclosed after a query from Honi Soit.

But this isn’t all that surprising, as the islands we know today are much larger than they once were. The lake was originally part of a tidal watercourse called Blackwattle Creek which stretched from Glebe to Waterloo. After a number of industrial and commercial interventions, we’re left with the lake we have now. The islands have undergone similar growth and change, with the largest of the two islands originally being no more than a meter wide with a singular Willow tree adorning its surface. Through earth expansions and stone reinforcements, they’ve been noticeably enlarged.

So what does it take to name an island?

Well, anyone can propose a new name to the NSW Geographical Names Board (GNB), the peak governing authority for new names in NSW. Under the GNB’s definitions, the islands of Lake Northam would either be classified as islands or islets, although Islet is the likelier classification given their size.

But apart from a number of language guidelines, like no apostrophes, no prepositions, and no abbreviations (among a litany of others), the GNB provides very little guidance on what they’re looking for in new name proposals. But one can imagine that a new name should embody the history, community, and environment of a geographical feature, commemorating a unique event, like Bill Northam’s Tokyo gold, or speaking to the connotations and affiliations of the landscape. 

With this in mind, at approximately 6:50pm on the 30th of November 2021, I departed the shores of Lake Northam on the newly inflated Bloom Brigantine and set off for not so distant shores. My mission — to officially name the islands of Lake Northam for an organisation that’s near and dear to my heart: Honi Soit.

The first raft launch revealed crucial structural flaws in the vessel, namely that I hadn’t inflated an entire section. After quickly berthing the craft and making some urgent repairs, the vessel was launched a second time, with assistance from First Mate Maxim Shanahan, and began its maiden voyage upon the murky waters of treacherous Lake Northam.

The route that was initially devised from visual observations turned out to be impassable, with raised rocks lining the section’s floor. A slower route had to be selected, but it was a necessary precaution in retrospect.

Doing my best to avoid the dense vegetation and various marine life, I swiftly arrived at the larger of the two islands. A fountain statue commemorating Bill Northam’s Tokyo Games victory sat disused in the sunken middle of the island. While it had once been a functioning fountain, disuse and disrepair has long seen it out of action. Hopefully, the increased scrutiny from this name proposal will draw attention to this disgraceful neglect. Following a quick inspection of the island, an abandoned bottle of sprite was found on its Western shores and a broken water meter was spotted to the North. As the larger of the two islands, it will naturally be called the Island of Honi.

While I had intended to make the journey to the second and smaller island (the Island of Soit), a secure passage could not be found on the day. Dense plant life encircles the landmass and proved a significant challenge to my $25 Kmart raft. Perhaps one day, a route will make itself known. All the same, from distant observation, it is an excellent island and a perfect subject for the name Soit.

Rowing back to shore, I had achieved what I set out to do. Whilst visiting a geographical feature isn’t necessary to submitting a name proposal, as an editor of Honi, I contend that I have a special connection to Lake Northam. After the malicious dumping of more than 4000 copies of Honi Soit into the lake during the 90s, it’s more Honi than lake at this point. Seeping into every grain of soil, every drop of water, and every fiber of every reed. While the lake was cleaned and drained in 2017, 4000 copies is such an overwhelming volume of cultural output that I can’t imagine Lake Northam ever quite shaking the mollecular connection.

So if you’re reading this, GNB, please consider my proposal with care and kindness. Even though your language guidelines preclude the Old French dialect that Honi Soit derives from AND your naming policy prohibits an affiliation with a specific organisation or association, I hope you understand why Honi and Soit are still excellent choices for the islands of Lake Northam.

Update: the place name proposal has been submitted to the GNB!