How 9 Northern Territory National Parks Got Their Names

Have you ever wondered how the Northern Territory National Parks got their names? Well, get ready for a thrilling history lesson because the answers may surprise you!

Read on as we explore the stories and background of each of the Northern Territory’s National Park’s unique title, complete with cultural, historical nuggets of information, and much more. This is a fascinating expedition into one of Australia’s greatest treasures – our National Parks.

Top Northern Territory National Parks

two people at springs in Elsey National Park
Elsey National Park by @we_who_roam on IG

Elsey National Park

Elsey National Park has one of the most unique origin stories when it comes to its name! It is also closely linked to one of the greatest Australian Explorers of all time. In 1856 leading a scientific exploration of the North of Australia, Augustus Charles Gregory passed through the Elsey region. On this expedition Gregory was accompanied by other explorers and scientists namely, Joseph Ravenscroft Elsey.

On the expedition, Sir Gregory named places they came across along the way. He decided to name the creeks flowing into the Roper after Elsey. This was an honor to Elsey and fortunately this is the name from which the national park was named.

The park’s popular attractions were a big draw to the army which had settled on the area in 1942. The Thermal Pool became popular with troops stationed in the area and by 1946 a soldier was granted a sub-lease over the Mataranka homestead area and developed it as a tourist facility. They started the journey of the park being established.

Today, Elsey National Park is one of the most visited Northern Territory National Parks because of its amazing thermal pools, fauna and flora. 


Finke Gorge National Park

Wondering how Finke Gorge National Park got its striking name? This park was uniquely named after the Finke River. The river is believed to date back 350 million years! 

Believed to be one of the oldest rivers in the world, this river was named by John McDouall Stuart during one of his attempts to cross the Australian continent from south to north. He named the river after William, Finke, Esq.

Finke Gorge National Park is a cultural landmark as it is part of the traditional homelands of the Arrernte First Nations people. It is also home to multiple sacred sites and Dreamings. All of which are crucial to the Arrernte people. 

car parked next to the welcome sign at Finke Gorge National Park, one of the top Northern Territory National Parks
Finke Gorge National Park by @samakasam on IG

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green palm trees with golden brown rocks and fallen palm branches with blue skies in the background at Judbarra National Park
IG: @walkgi highlighting a sunset at the gorgeous Judbarra National Park

Judbarra/Gregory National Park

You may be wondering why Judbarra/Gregory National Park was given its name. Believe it or not, it has two different names, Judbarra and Gregory! Judbarra is a rich and complex living cultural landscape. The Park has exceptional historical heritage, it encompasses the traditional homelands of several Indigenous groups who have lived on the land for thousands of years. It has notable cultural value to the First Nations people and Australians too. 


The first part of the name is ‘Judbarra’, a term originating from the local First Nations people which means ‘two rivers’. This refers to the two main rivers that flow through the park, the Victoria and Roper Rivers.


The second part of the park’s name commemorates Augustus Charles Gregory, who explored this area in 1855. He was a surveyor and explorer who made significant contributions to Australian geography, including mapping much of Northern Australia. This is why his name will remain a reminder of his important work in this area for many decades to come.

Keep River National Park

You might be wondering why the Keep River National Park was named that way. Well, the answer has a lot to do with the First Nations people. The park is located at the border of Northern and Western Australia, and it’s believed that the name “Keep River” comes from the local language of the Miriuwung and Gajirrabeng people.

The Miriuwung and Gajirrabeng people have spoken about their country by referring to the various features of the landscape; these are known as “songlines” or “dreaming tracks”. The name for Keep River is derived from a word in their language meaning “to flow”, which describes both how the river runs through their country, and also how life cycles repeatedly.

trees and landscapes of Keep River National Park
Keep River National Park by @nicole_hodgson
aerial view of unique landscapes in Limmen National Park
Limmen National Park by @marls_gone-ranging on IG

Limmen National Park

As it turns out, Limmen National Park was named after the nearby Limmen River. The river itself was named by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1644. But how did the park get its name? In 1995, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority put forward a proposal to protect 14 hectares of land around the Limmen River for conservation purposes. In 1999, the area was declared a National Park and kept its original name in honor of its namesake river.

Litchfield National Park

Frederick Henry Litchfield was a member of the Finnis expedition from 1865, sent to find areas ideal for settlement. He was a surveyor and explorer greatly responsible for the mapping of the Northern Territory, for which Litchfield National Park is named after him.

In the 1980s, the Northern Territory government recognized the need to safeguard the area’s natural and cultural qualities, and thus constructed a management plan to guarantee their ecosystem’s sustainability. After extensive consultation and organizing, Litchfield National Park was made official in 1986 with its designation providing it with legal defense and solidifying its importance both nationally and globally as a site of natural and cultural heritage.

Litchfield National Park by @lukeycarling on IG
Nitmiluk National Park by @nunnsontherun

Nitmiluk National Park

The name of Nitmiluk National Park comes from the traditional language of Jawoyn and its interpretation is “place of the cicada dreaming”.  What does this mean? It turns out that in Jawoyn culture, cicadas are regarded as Dreaming Ancestors.

They link to stories and ceremonies passed down through generations. Nitmiluk National Park is just one example of a culturally significant Northern Territory National Parks names. If you ever go on a visit, make sure you take some time to learn about the history behind it!


Watarrka National Park

You may not know this, but Watarrka National Park in Australia is named for an Aboriginal word meaning “tear of the hill”. This name was given by the local Luritja people and it’s a reflection of their long-standing connection to the land.
an image of the sun setting at kings canyon in watarrka national park northern territory
Watarrka National Park by @Lifewithfab on IG
Mount Sonder Sunrise at one of the most beautiful Northern Territory National Parks
Mount Sonder Sunrise @infiniteloopphotos

West MacDonnell National Park

West MacDonnell National Park was named after William MacDonnell, who was a highly respected property owner in the area. It was largely due to his work in promoting and managing the sustainability of the park and its plants and animals. He also helped ensure that measures were in place to reduce erosion, maintain water quality and protect endangered species.

Moreover, William MacDonnell was also heavily involved in protecting sacred Indigenous sites within the park, something that’s now long-established practice but wasn’t always the case. 

In recognition of his hard work and dedication to preserving natural beauty and cultural heritage, West MacDonnell National Park was officially named after William MacDonnell in 1995. 

Each name tells a unique and memorable story from our nation’s history. From the romantic Watarrka to the historic Nitmiluk, each park brings to life a piece of past Australian history. 

*Cover image by @uplifting.adventures

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