What’s in a moniker?

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on January 11, 2019

THE term ‘Albanians’ as a collective noun for residents of Albany has caused a bit of a stir recently, so The Weekender decided to dig deeper into the moniker’s origin.

In conjunction with Albany historian Malcolm Traill, The Weekender found what is believed to be the earliest mention of the word ‘Albanian’ in relation to Albany residents in Perth newspaper The Inquirer in its September 29, 1852 edition.

The news story details communication from correspondents in Albany and mentions “…all first-class passengers and Albanians” in the saloon aboard the steamer The Australian.

Mr Traill said he believes the nickname began around the time of Albany becoming a mail port.

“It was known as King George Sound, mainly,” he said.

“It was also known as Sleepy Hollow in the 1840s and 1850s, because not much happened.

“So Albanians was a step up from Sleepy Hollow!”

Mr Traill pointed out that the European country of Albania was not officially independent of the Serbian and Ottoman Empires until 1912.

“So, we were Albanians before Albania was independent,” he said.

“We were also known as Albanyites during the 1890s, but that was mainly by Eastern-staters during the gold rush.”

Further Weekender research found more than 10 references to the phrase ‘Albanians’ in various circumstances.

A correspondent report in the September 14, 1870 edition of The Inquirer described a “slight gold fever at Albany” and that “the Albanians, however, could not believe in the fact, and rumours were rife to the effect that gold had been found”.

A piece written by ‘Bald Head’ in Perth publication Daily News on July 11, 1889 showed dislike to the term.

“Sir,” it reads.

“The people of Albany – not the Albanians – as they are not unfrequently styled even in the news- paper of the place – the people of Albany, let me say again, sir…”

Cricket reports from the Albany Advertiser and Katanning’s Southern Districts Advocate regularly used the phrase.

“In the Albany Week programme was included a cricket match…between players from Perth and Albany,” the February 18, 1903 Advertiser reads.

“Albanians were looking forward to the event with interest.”

“The Katanning cricketers met the Albanians on the ground of the latter on Saturday afternoon last, and had a very good win,” the February 21, 1921 Advocate states.

A conversation between Albany mayor CH Wittenoom, H. Parker MLC and Cr Paul on the controversial topic was penned by the Advertiser on April 21, 1949.

“When the visiting Fire Brigade Officials met in the Lower Town Hall last Saturday morning, His Worship the Mayor (Hon. C. H. Wittenoom) brought up the old controversy in pronunciation ‘Al-bany or Awl-bany?’,” it reads.

“He noted with amusement that Hon. H. Parker MLC favoured the latter.

“‘The reason is simple,’ Mr Parker retorted.

“‘I made no reference to Albany as I knew local inhabitants objected to being called Albanians!’

“Cr Paul with an adequate reply: ‘With the way we’ve been massacred by previous Governments, it’s an adequate term!’ he exclaimed.”

Mr Traill said one of the most recent print examples he could find of ‘Albanians’ was in Donald S Garden’s book, Albany: A Panorama of the Sound from 1827, published in 1976.

“He often refers to Albanians, even to periods as early as the 1830s,” Mr Traill said.

“On page 96, it reads: ‘Albanians have always been proud of their town and staunchly patriotic, while the climate and environment have been conducive to a tranquil and pleasant way of life’.”

Mr Traill said he had never heard the word used as a derogatory term or insult, and that the Weekender’s joint research with him about it had inspired an upcoming project of his.

“I think it’s nice to continue tradition,” he said of using the word ‘Albanians’.

“And it gets people interested in history.

“So much so, it gave me an idea for my upcoming curatorial.

“I was going to talk about Albany in an international context but now, I’m going to do the history of the name Albany – ‘What’s in a name?’

“Albany’s had many names – King George Sound, Kinjarling, Frederickstown…”

Mr Traill’s curatorial will be held on February 5 in the old co-op building at the Museum of the Great Southern.