Spanker Knob? How ten Australian mountains got their names

For most Aussie mountains, it's fairly easy to work out where the name came from. It's either descriptive, chosen in honour of some dignitary, or using the indigenous word. Others, however, are less obvious – these oddities included…

Mt Disappointment, Victoria

At 800 metres high and just 60km from Melbourne, explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell had hoped to see Port Phillip Bay from the summit of Mt Disappointment. But when they climbed it in 1824, it was an unpleasantly tough climb, and Hume suffered a serious groin injury nearby. Then, when they got to the top, the view was blocked by trees. Hence the mountain was effectively named in a tantrum.

Mt Warning, NSW

Mt Warning.

Mt Warning. 

Now often known by its Aboriginal name of Wollumbin, this prominent 1,159 metre tall peak near the NSW/ QLD border is the remnant of a larger volcano. But the name doesn't come from fears it might erupt – Lt James Cook saw it as a warning that land was near while sailing past on his voyage up Australia's east coast in 1770.

The Glasshouse Mountains, Queensland

Glasshouse Mountains.

Glasshouse Mountains.

Cook is also responsible for the name of this range on the Sunshine Coast – which is home to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo and a few cutesy towns flogging fudge to tourists. The hills reminded Cook of the area surrounding the glass foundries in his native Yorkshire, and when you've got an awful lot of things to name, any justification will do.

Mt Arapiles, Victoria

Mount Arapiles, in Victoria's west,  is a popular destination for climbers.

Mount Arapiles, in Victoria's west, is a popular destination for climbers. Photo: Tourism Victoria

Europeans being reminded of somewhere they've been before is something of a theme. The Grampians rock-climbing favourite got its name from explorer Major Thomas Mitchell, who made the first recorded ascent of Arapiles in 1836. He figured this gave him the right to name it, and he chose Arapiles as it reminded him of the Arapiles hills near Salamanca in Spain.

Mt Buggery, Victoria

Amazingly, there's not just one Mt Buggery, but two – one near Wangaratta, the other inside the Alpine National Park. The latter's name allegedly comes from the 1930s, when a member of the Melbourne Walking Club was finding the going pretty tough, and was dismayed at having to lug it up yet another mountain.


The Bungle Bungles, WA

The Bungle Bungles, WA.

The Bungle Bungles, WA. Photo: iStock

The strange beehive-shaped domes are part of the Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley, and there are several theories of how the name came about. More far-fetched ones include it being an indigenous word for a cockroach, or urination. But the most likely is that European settlers named a specific grass that formed in bundles, local Aboriginal people started to use it too, and that somewhere along the line "bundle" morphed into "bungle".

Mt Superbus, QLD

Part of the Main Range shield volcano, and the highest mountain in south-east Queensland, Superbus stands 150km south-west of Brisbane. It's best known for the wreck of a Lincoln Bomber that crashed into it in 1955. Alas, the mountain is not named after a really excellent bus. The more mundane reason is that "superbus" is Latin for "superb".

Mt Kosciuszko, NSW

Winding walkway leading to Snow Mountains at Mount Kosciuszko National Park, Australia LOVE LETTER TO AUSTRALIA
(David Whitley)
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Photo: iStock

When Polish explorer Pawel Strzelecki stumbled upon the highest mountain on the Australian continent in 1840s, his thoughts returned to his homeland for a name. Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a freedom fighter who played prominent roles in both the Polish and American fights for independence. He never visited Australia, and has no other link to the country.

See also: Why Australia's tallest mountain is named after a man who never came here

Mt Perisher, NSW

Most famously home to the Perisher ski resort, there's no official record of how this oddly-named mountain was christened. But the myth will do in lieu of anything better, and that would have us believe that graziers were trying to rescue livestock on the mountain in a blizzard, and one of them said: "What a perisher!" in relation to the snowstorm.

Spanker Knob, Victoria

In Eamon Evans' book, Mount Buggery to Nowhere Else, which looks at several Australia's strange place names, the etymology of this hill's marvellously dodgy name isn't definitive. But the theory is that it came from the enjoyably high quality of the drive past it – "a spanker of a run". This, as with many more of Australia's mysteriously strange place names, probably requires an enormous pinch of salt…

See also: The world's rudest place names

See also: How Australia's tallest mountain got its name