Indigenous Placenames

Posted on 26 Jul 2014
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Queensland Placenames.

Queensland Placenames.

"I've been everywhere, man…

I've been to Wollongong, Geelong, Kurrajong, Mullumbimby, Mittagong, Molong, Grong Grong, Goondiwindi …

Cabramatta, Parramatta, Wangaratta, Coolangatta; what's it matter?"

I've been everywhere by Lucky Starr (1962) ASM PVM ive


It should be acknowledged that the landscape of Queensland had traditional names prior to the settlement of Moreton Bay in 1824. Some have been maintained in placenames or landmarks, others have been lost and replaced by introduced names or anglicised versions. Pleasingly, there also seems to be a growing trend in recent years for the dual-naming to revive these traditional names.

This post will explore some of Queensland's Indigenous placenames and their meanings as well as direct readers to sources within State Library collections for further research.

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Nomenclature of Queensland Railway Stations, 1914.

Nomenclature of Queensland Railway Stations, 1914.

Early Surveyors such as John Oxley named geographical features after Government Officials, e.g.  Brisbane River, Port Macquarie. Thomas Mitchell, his predecessor as NSW Surveyor-General, took a different approach and encouraged his staff to 'consider the native name of a river to be the proper one in all cases where it happens to be short, and easily pronounced'. This advice applied to official placenames and was taken up on occasions; Namoi or 'Big River' is one such example; Goondiwindi is another example which referred to the 'bird droppings on a roosting spot on the McIntyre River'.

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On the banks of the McIntyre, 1880. JOL Image APE-073-0001-0001.

On the banks of the McIntyre, 1880. JOL Image APE-073-0001-0001.

Colonial placenames tended to be based on descriptions, e.g. Bustard's Bay, Point Lookout, Sandy Cape, Rocky Creek, Magnetic Island, etc. Others were named after people such as Cape Howe, Hervey Bay, Townsville, etc. In the 1800's settlers imposed names from their homeland onto the Australian landscape, including Esk, Killarney, Ipswich, Somerset, Dundee, etc. So we have Helidon Spa at the foot of the Toowoomba range named after an early pastoral run - it just doesn't have the same flair as ‘Woonarrajimmi’ from a local Jagara Dreaming story which refers to ‘where the clouds fell down’!

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Greetings from Ipswich. JOL Negative number: 63092.

Greetings from Ipswich. JOL Negative number: 63092.

Many Aboriginal traditional placenames had a more practical meaning or source. The traditional names may have referred to animals or plants found there; for example Pinkenba, a suburb in Brisbane, is anglicised from the Turrubul language: ‘Binkinba’ which means ‘place of land tortoise’ . -Ba, -bah, -da, -dah as a suffix ending in Aboriginal languages generally refers to 'place of'. This theme is explored in Rod Milne's publication 'Dahs and bahs: Aboriginal placenames of Southern Queensland' and is a great starting point for exploring Aboriginal placenames in Southern Queensland.

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F J Watson, Aboriginal Placenames.

F J Watson, Aboriginal Placenames.

Another excellent source for the South-East Queensland corner is F J Watson's 'Vocabularies of Four Representative Tribes of South-East Queensland' which lists approximately 200 placenames and their Aboriginal meanings and origins as part of the appendixes. Watson identifies that the suffix -pilly/pilli refers to a gully, hence we have Indooroopilly = 'gully of the leeches'; Yerongpilly = 'sandy or gravelly gully'; 'Mutdapilly = 'sticky/muddy gully'; and Jeebropilly = 'gully of the sugar glider'.

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F J Watson, Placenames.

F J Watson, Placenames.

Watson identifies the origin of landmarks from the 4 South-East Queensland languages discussed in the text, i.e. Yugarabul, Kabi Kabi, Wakka Wakka and Yugambeh. By the late 1800's, the expansion of the railway and postal systems had an impact on the development of placenames. Official gazetting of names began to occur along with the establishment of Placenames Boards in each State or Territory as they had the administrative responsibility for  geographical placenames.

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Nomenclature of Queensland Railway Stations, 1914.

Nomenclature of Queensland Railway Stations, 1914.

By the early 1900's nomenclature studies appeared - this work collated lists of placenames and their meanings. The State Library has a selection of such books published by Queensland Railways from 1914 and 1956. The above page is from the 1914 publication and gives a brief insight into the meaning and origins of words. However, one issue for these and similar publications is the absence of language identification. Some examples refer to a local language or dialect but mostly identify a placename as a 'native word'. One cannot always assume that it is a local Aboriginal language as there are numerous examples of Aboriginal words being used thousands of kilometres away  from their point of origin! 200 kilometres north of Cloncurry in the Gulf region is a cattle property named 'Kamilaroi Station' - the Kamilaroi Nation is located further south in North-West NSW, extending to St George in Queensland. Another example is North Queensland where many 19th Century town plans were drawn up by surveyors who worked in NSW; consequently many Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi words have found their way into North Queensland Street Directories!

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Island of Mer, A C Haddon (1908).

Island of Mer, A C Haddon (1908).

Within the Torres Strait, many traditional names are still used for geographical landmarks; Maritime Surveys imposed English names on the islands, however there is now dual-naming in place with traditional names being the preferred term. Haddon as part of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait recorded traditional placenames on maps, including the example of Mer Island in the above image.

Often landmarks and placenames were some of the first language material documented and they provide important clues to how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are constructed and used across Queensland communities.

To find out more about Indigenous placenames, use State Library's One Search or click on the 'aboriginal placenames' tag.

"Bendigo, Dorrigo, Bangalow, Indooroopilly,

Kirribilli, Yeerongpilly, Wollondilly, don’t be silly.

I’ve been here, there, ev’rywhere, I’ve been ev’rywhere."


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Researcher, Queensland Memory

State Library of Queensland Indigenous Languages Webpages

 

References & Further Readings

Belinda Music (1962) I've been everywhereASM PVM ive

Brisbane History Group (1990) Brisbane: local, oral and placename history. G 994.31 1990

Dixon, R. M. W. (1991) Words of our country : stories, place names and vocabulary in Yidiny, the Aboriginal language of the Cairns-Yarrabah regionG 499.15 1991

Greetings from Ipswich Postcard - Ipswich Railway Workshops. JOL Negative number: 63092.

Haddon, A. C. (1908) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres StraitsQ 994.38 CAM

Hercus, L., Hodges, F. and Simpson, J. (2002) The land is a map: placenames of Indigenous origin in Australia. Q 919.4003 LAN

Hodes, J. (1998) Far North Queensland place & street names: their origins & meaningsREFJ 910.014 hod

Holmer, N. (1983) Linguistic Survey of South-Eastern Queensland. Australian National University: Canberra. J 499.15 HOL

Kerwin, D. (2011) “Language and Landscape: European words in Aboriginal spaces”. Out of the Port session. Available online as a webcast via SLQ Website.

Lamington Natural History Society (199?) Place names in Lamington National Park. VF 910.3 pla

Map of Cape York, showing Aboriginal place names : Shells at Port Essington. FILM 0708

Milne, R. (1993) Dahs and bahs: Aboriginal Placenames of Southern Queensland. Q 910.014 MIL

Mitchell, T. L. (1849) Out Letters Surveyor General NSW. State Library of New South Wales Film Z2828.

On the banks of the McIntyre, 1880. JOL Image APE-073-0001-0001.

Queensland Place Names Board (1963) Interim Gazetteer of Queensland Place Names. REF 919.43 1963

Queensland Place Names Board (19-) Aboriginal place names, words and meanings collected at 'Terrick Terrick', Blackall, Central Queensland, about 1886VF 919.43003 que

Queensland place names cutting book  MFL 919.43

Queensland Railways (1914) Nomenclature of Queensland Railway Stations. GSB 929.409943 1914

Simpson, J. (1975) Placenames of Southern Queensland. P 910.014 sim

Sydney May Papers ca. 1950. OM92-127

 

Online Sources

Watch Bill Kitson's digital story 'A history of Surveying in Queensland'

Department of Natural Resources and Mines - Queensland Place Names Search.

Our Languages website - Aboriginal Place Names

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