Something has to be done about Badgerys Creek. As the seldom-visited corner of western Sydney firms as the proposed site of Sydney’s second airport, I’ve realised that we Australians are teetering on the brink of international embarrassment and ridicule.
It’s the name, of course. Badgerys Creek. Where on earth did the apostrophe go?
Ah yes, the curious absence of the apostrophe in place names, as ordained by the Geographical Names Board of NSW.
I’ve often wondered why this was allowed to happen. Was it because many of us are inexpert grammarians and, by avoiding apostrophes entirely, no one can get caught out?
Was Australia decades ahead of the punctuation-free trend now being inflicted upon us by texting millennials?
Or was it because, with some names, we’re not quite sure where the apostrophe belonged in the first place?
Whatever the reason, our wholesale elision of that little skerrick of ink has led to some eye-punishing constructions in the Sydney environs alone.
Frenchs Forest is an insult to the English language – and possibly to the French, although that’s less of a worry. Coasters Retreat, Regents Park, Ropes Crossing – how many ropes, or was it first crossed by a Mr Rope, or even Mr Ropes?
Most of those places are tucked away but consider the landmark eyesores of Kings Cross, Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout. I’ve had to restrain myself from correcting these signs with a Sharpie when showing a visitor around.
The apostrophe apostasy is even guilty of creating words hitherto unknown to the English language. Consider Sydney’s founder, Arthur Phillip, who stumbled into a creek and imaginatively named it after his monarch (instead of asking the locals, who had been calling it Tucoerah for ages).
So, George’s River, which became Georges River, which now masquerades as "The Georges". There is no such thing as a Georges and, moreover, what about the honour of poor old King George, whichever one it was? So much for the King’s English.
At least religious figures tend to be spared such abasement when it comes to churches: consider St Michael’s and St Joseph’s and, of course, St Mary’s Cathedral. But as soon as a St Mary becomes a suburb … St Marys. A thunderbolt of divine retribution is surely overdue.
But back to Badgerys Creek. How are we going to explain, as the first jet-lagged visitors arrive, that there is no curious marsupial called a badgery or even a badgerys – we just couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge the original possession of James Badgery (who really missed the top of the market).
We’ll be an object of derision for all other nations that speak English, or even pretend to.
Even if the airport is given some official name (many nations tend to name airports after a ruling strongman and, indeed, Tony Abbott International has a certain ring to it), the stain will remain on the suburb that hosts it.
Mostly, I’m worried about Lynne Truss, the combative author who wrote that wonderful primer on punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves.
Truss once got a lot of publicity by correcting the poster for a silly Hugh Grant movie called Two Weeks Notice.
I can see her now, in the arrivals lounge, adding an apostrophe to Badgerys Creek, while telling us what ignoramuses we are in a fancy accent.
So what will it take to re-possessive our place names?
Some sensible nations have ditched the possessive "s" as well as the apostrophe. Badgery Creek, French Forest – these all look better, although King Cross is a bit alarming.
But this will require wholesale and expensive replacing of road signs. I propose an easier way.
Superannuated teachers and subeditors. There are armies of retired folk with a righteous streak of pedantry, ready to reclaim the apostrophe for Australia. They’ll do it for bottom dollar – hell, some of the ones I know will do it for a bus pass and a box of indelible markers.
But it will take a while to track down every example. And therein lies the worry.
Because the pressure is building. It’s all over the media. We need a new airport and some courageous politician is going to make an announcement … oh, any century now.
There isn’t a decade to lose.
Michael O’Reilly is a Fairfax journalist.