Ophthalmia and the toponymy of outback Australia

D Ashley R Watson
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (11): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50412
Published online: 9 December 2019

A 19th century explorer and a 20th century surveyor each suffered blinding ophthalmia during their outback travels and took the most unusual step of naming outback places after their afflictions

Two men — one a 19th century explorer and the other a 20th century surveyor of the Australian outback — suffered blinding ophthalmia during crucial times in their exploits. Each then undertook a distinctive step in toponymy (the study or science of place names) by naming places in the Australian landscape after their afflictions, each place given a different name. Ophthalmia Range was named by Ernest Giles in 1876 after suffering debilitating conjunctivitis, known as ophthalmia in the 19th century. Sandy Blight Junction was named by Len Beadell in 1960 when he too suffered from this disease, also known as “blight” or “sandy blight”. While there has been speculation that what these men suffered was actually trachoma, this cannot be proven. This is both the story of how these places acquired their names and a study of what motivated these men to undertake such unique acts.

  • Australian National University Medical School, Canberra, ACT



I am very grateful to Dr Dean Beaumont, retired surgeon, Canberra, and to Laureate Professor Hugh Taylor AC, Harold Mitchell Professor of Indigenous Eye Health, University of Melbourne, for their valuable comments on the manuscript. And for the inspiration to write this paper, I owe a salutation to Dr Bob Allan, general practitioner, Echuca.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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