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2003-09, 339, Australiana, Brian Taylor, Language


Tasmanian Place Names – The Aboriginal Connection . By J.A. Taylor, Launceston: John A. Taylor [1994]. 128 pp.

Place–Names of the Alexandra, Lake Eildon and Big River Area of Victoria by Nigel Sinnott, Alexandra: Friends of the Alexandra Library, 2003. 180 pp + loose insert. (Obtainable either from the Friends of the Alexandra Library, Grant Street, Alexandra, Vic. 3714 or – signed copies- from the author at 5 Moira Street, Sunshine, Vic. 3020, for $28.50 including postage to anywhere in Australia.)

In my recent three-issue article on collecting books in the area of Australian English ( Biblionews 335th-337th Issue), I mentioned that one area that was relevant but with which I would not deal there was that of onomastics. This is the technical term for the study of names, and this study subdivides into the study of personal names – anthroponyms – and place names – toponyms. The receipt of two books that deal with place names in particular parts of Australia has prompted me now to write something on collecting in the area of Australian place names (also written “place-names” and “placenames” by authors), or Australian toponyms.

To give some sort of historical perspective, I will again have recourse to listings I have compiled on the subject over recent years, but will restrict myself to monographs and not mention articles in journals, though these predominate numerically in this field. For my information I am very much dependent on information I obtained direct from other bibliographies, especially those compiled by Professor J.S. Ryan for the specialist names journal Onoma. I myself possess scarcely half a dozen books from this area.

The earliest book I can find listed is J.G. Saxton’s Victorian place names and their origin (Clifton Hill: Saxton & Buckie, 1907). The following year there appeared R. Cockburn’s Nomenclature of South Australia (Adelaide: W.K. Thomas, 1908), made up of letters and other items reprinted from three South Australian newspapers: The Register, The Adelaide Observer and The Evening Journal. (It is evidently the basis for a publication with a related title that appears more than seventy years later as R. Cockburn, What’s in a name? Nomenclature of South Australia: authoritative derivations of some 4000 historically significant place-names (Glen Osmond, S.A.: Ferguson Publications, 1984.) Then comes J. Moore-Robinson’s A record of Tasmanian nomenclature with dates and origins (Hobart: Mercury Printing Office, 1911).

In the second decade of the 20th century a spate of booklets began to appear that dealt, rather oddly, only with the names of railway stations, thus: A.N. Day, Names of South Australian railway stations with meanings and derivations (Adelaide: South Australian Government Printer, 1915), T. O’Callaghan, Names of Victorian railway stations with their origins and meanings, together with similar information relative to the capital cities of Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, and a few of the border stations of New South Wales and South Australia (Melbourne: H.J. Green, Acting Government Printer (compiled for the Railway Commissioners and the Historical Society of Victoria, 1918)), C.A. Irish, “Names of the railways stations in New South Wales and their meaning”, which actually appeared in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society 13, pp.99-144, but which is said to have been published as a booklet, though I have never sighted a copy and have no details of it as a monograph.

In the 1940s A.E. Martin published a spate of books with the NSW Bookstall Co., namely One thousand and more place names in New South Wales (1943), Twelve hundred and more place names in South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory (1943), Place names in Victoria and Tasmania (1944), Place names in Queensland (1944), and the more ambitious, because going beyond Australia, Place names in Queensland, New Zealand and the Pacific (1944).

It will be noticed that all of these publications concern themselves with place names at a state or territory level. The fifties and sixties seem to have produced almost no works on place names, but the state/territory-based publications recommence in the 1970s with R. Praite and J.C. Tolley’s Place names of South Australia (Adelaide: Rigby, 1970) and Les Blake’s Place names of Victoria (Melbourne: Rigby, 1977) and go on into the eighties and nineties, though only, apparently, with G.H. Manning’s The romance of place-names of South Australia (Adelaide: Grange, 1986) and the self-published Manning’s place-names of South Australia (Adelaide: G.H. Manning, 1990). For the Northern Territory there is also the anonymously compiled, evidently for educational use, What’s behind the name? An alphabetical list of the origin of selected place names in the Northern Territory(Darwin: Northern Territory Department of Education, 1978).

In these last three decades of the 20th century we begin to encounter books that deal with place names on an Australia-wide basis. The earliest appears to be A.W. Reed’s Place names of Australia (Sydney/Wellington/London: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1973), though the volume of proceedings of a Conference of Historical Societies held at Lismore in August 1963 and edited by BCSA member – and doubtless Australia’s foremost authority on place names – Professor John Ryan, Papers on Australian place names (Armidale: University of New England, 1963; 2nd ed. 1964) should be mentioned here too, especially as it contains two relevant papers by Ryan himself: “Towards an Australian place-name society– techniques to be employed in a new worlds context” and “Australian place names – a neglected study”. Relevant too are his 1971 A methodology for the collecting and processing of Australian place names and his 1972 First report on the Armidale Project on Place-names, both published in Canberra by the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Two compendious reference works, both compiled by couples to judge from their names, are Brian and Barbara Kennedy’s Australian place names (Sydney: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989) and Richard and Barbara Appleton’s The Cambridge dictionary of Australian places (Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), which latter does deal with place names. A deceptive work from the last year of the nineties – some would say the first year of the noughties – is Simon Blackall and Brian Woodward’s The official book of Australian placenames (North Ryde, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, 2000), which contains a listing of genuine place names but with nongenuine, humorous explanations of their meanings.

In my earlier article on collecting books in the area of Australian English, I mentioned that in some cases it may be possible to obtain an offprint of a relevant paper from a book whose contents are otherwise not relevant. A case in point for the present article would be Jane Simpson’s paper “Hypocoristics of place-names in Australian English” in English in Australia (Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2000) edited by David Blair and Peter Collins, where it appears on pp.89-112, but the author received (collectable) offprints of it as well. There she deals, using a rigorous linguistic methodology, with the way people play around with place names in Australian English, so Brissie for Brisbane, Gundy for Goondiwindi, The Loo for Wooloomooloo and Darlo for Darlinghurst etc.

Obviously, a most important feature of place naming in Australia is the use of names of Aboriginal origin, and most of the books already mentioned will contain such names. But from relatively early there are books on the subject that have the word “Aboriginal” explicitly in their title. The earliest such book would be W.W. Thorpe’s List of New South Wales Aboriginal place names and their meanings (Sydney: The Australian Museum,1921; 2nd ed. 1927; 3rd ed. 1931), followed in the next decade by Australian Aboriginal place-names and their meanings (Glebe: Simmons, 1933) by James R. Tyrell, founder of one of Sydney’s longest lived secondhand bookshops. A frequently revised book is F.D. McCarthy’s New South Wales Aboriginal place names and euphonious words, with their meanings (Sydney: The Australian Museum, 1943; further eds. 1946, 1959, 1963 and 1971). Later A. W. Reed published two such books: Aboriginal placenames and their meanings (Sydney: A.W. Reed, 1973; reprinted 1970, 1973, 1974 and 1976) and Aboriginal words and place names (Adelaide: Rigby, 1977). In 1980 there is F.S. Colliver’s Aboriginal placenames (Fortitude Valley, Q.: Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement), which probably deals with such place names only in Queensland. Geographically more specific in their titles, like Thorpe’s and McCarthy’s books, are A. Massola’s Aboriginal place names of southeast Australia and their meanings (Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1968) and R. Milne’s Ups and ings: Aboriginal place names of south western W.A. (Perth: W.A. Milne, 1992), where the title refers to place names such as Kojanup and Katanning. Like the 1984 version of Cockburn’s book mentioned (parenthetically) early in this article, that prolific author Anonymous has a book whose title opens with the same cliché: What’s in a name? Dictionary of historical facts and Aboriginal meanings of over 1,200 names of New South Wales (Milson’s Point, NSW: Currawong Press, 1981; repr. 1985 Sydney: Golden Press). The year 2002 saw for Victoria the publication of Ian D. Clark and Toby Heydon’s Dictionary of Aboriginal placenames of Gippsland and northeast Victoria (Melbourne: Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages) and their Dictionary of Aboriginal placenames of Melbourne and central Victoria (Melbourne: Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages). The most recent publication covering the whole of Australia is one edited by two major academic authorities on Aboriginal languages and a place name specialist (Hodges): Luise Hercus, Flavia Hodges and Jane Simpson (eds), The land is a map: placenames of indigenous origin in Australia (Canberra: Pandanus Books, c2002).

The titles preceding the last one will serve to draw our attention to the fact that some books deal with place names at a more local level than that of state or territory. For instance, the Richmond- Tweed Regional Library in northern New South Wales has published Place names of the Richmond region (Lismore: Richmond-Tweed Regional Library, 1983), which is in series 1 of Place names of northern New South Wales, and Place names of the Tweed, Brunswick and Upper Richmond regions (1984), which is in series 2. And there are books that focus down on virtually one suburb, like Mary Vintner’s Naming North Sydney (North Sydney: Stanton Library, 1985).

The two books to be reviewed here belong in the last two categories discussed.

While J.A. Taylor’s Tasmanian place names – the Aboriginal connection deals with the names statewide, it explicitly focuses on the Aboriginal ones. I cannot clearly recall how John Taylor (no relation) and I got into contact, but it had something to do with his needing to access to the information in Wilhelm Schmidt’s book Die tasmanischen Sprachen. Quellen, Gruppierungen, Grammatik, Wörterbücher [The Tasmanian languages: sources, groupings, grammar, dictionaries](Utrecht-Anvers: Spectrum, 1952), a copy of which I had purchased in Germany in 1961 when studying at the University of Heidelberg. Schmidt was a Swiss Catholic priest who had never been near Tasmania, or even Australia, but had collected and collated all the material he could access from and about the languages of the first Tasmanians written down by government officials, settlers and others. In a moment of excessive generosity, if not insanity, I offered to translate this book of over 500 pages into English for John Taylor with the assistance of students of mine who were doing a course on translation from German with me. He sent me his book, but I’m afraid I never got beyond first base with the translation, so he has to date received nothing in return.

At the beginning Taylor’s work shows a certain level of inexperience in book compilation: there is no title page as such, apart from the cover, the book begins with an “Index”, which is in fact a table of contents providing not just the page number but also the paragraph number where the information referred to can be found, and facing the “index” is a Bibliography that contains for each of the thirteen items the name of the authoring person or institution, sometimes inadequately (e.g. Macquarie – Aboriginal words) and the title of the work, but no indication of place or date of publication or by whom it was published. The introductory material before the actual dictionary of names is very detailed indeed: there is page and a half “Preface” giving the background to sources on asmanian languages, then a six page section on “the use of Aboriginal ords as place names”, and after that an almost thirty page ection on “The meanings behind Tasmanian Aboriginal place ames” – this being the section divided into paragraphs, numbered rom 0.01 to 7.94; it is packed with information and finishes about quarter of the way down page 40, after which the dictionary immediately uts in – no new page and no heading. It ends in the iddle of page 127 and is followed immediately by a one and a alf page “Glossary” of anthropological and linguistic technical terms.

And now to the dictionary itself. Where a Tasmanian Aboriginal nae is or has been a generally accepted one it is given at thehead of the entry about it in the standard spelling and the authorattempts an etymology for it, so that an entry is structured as follows:

NUNAMINA AVENUE  (Launceston) & NUNAMINACAVE(Florentine River, formerly Bluff Cave) From Tas.noonameenameaning bush sleeping place. In turn the wordwas probably derived in part from a word forgrass[7.40].

 The number in square brackets is, of course, a reference to oneof the introductory paragraphs; in this case paragraph 7.40 openswith the words: “Syllables derived form [= from, B.T.] words forgrassand grasslands appear in place names of all areas” and goeson to list the – quite disparate – Aboriginal words for these sensesover seven areas of Tasmania.

In very many cases a name is given in the peculiar form, characterisedby full stops, used by George Augustus Robinson (1788-1866), from 1829 the Conciliator to the Aborigines, who claimedto have acquired fluency in four of the island’s dialects, but “[t]hatclaim must now be rejected as a result of the study of his diariesand notes”(p.4), even though these are “[t]he principal source ofour present knowledge of the Tasmanian Aboriginal languages”(p.14). In transcribing the names he took down from hisnative informants he, who had no linguistic training, showed careand “some skill in recording the separate syllables as heard byhim” (ibid.). An example of such an entry is:

DRAY.NUN.ROO.HER[7.36] The Ab. name for an unidentifiedplace S. ofSpring Hill N. of Melton Mowbray whereRobinson camped overnight.nunamina means bush sleepingplace, and ra(nge) means night. The name means place tocamp at night

 Often a European place name is listed and one or more versionsof the Aboriginal name given, as in the following part-entry:

WELLINGTONMountain. Ab. names as recorded by RobinsonwereB(G)ur.nang.ye, as recorded by Milligan Unghanyahletta&Pooranettere, and as recorded by Sterling Go.nun.ye. The names are clearly related. B(G)ur and Poor areprobably synominous [sic, B.T. = synonymous] (see 7.35) andrefer to the top of the mountain and/or its organ pipes. […]

 In the case of some names the Aboriginal connection is notwith a Tasmanian language, but rather perhaps with a mainlandAboriginal language, especially of N.S.W. or Victoria. Thus in thecase of

WOOLOOMOOLOO CREEK(Hudson River) The namesakeis the bay and suburb east of Sydney Cove and is derivedfrom the name for the bay which appeared on maps of the1820s. Suggested sources are N.S.W. [1]Wallamulla an Ab.name for the bay. [2]wallah.bah.mulla an Ab. word for kangaroo[3]Wal.loo.yen.wal.loo [a] where are you [a false linebreak here, B.T.]going? [b] resting place for the dead [4]whirling around/ an attempt by the Aboriginals to say windmill

.These comments and examples show that, while the book is notwithout its internal blemishes, it is a valuable addition to any Australiana collection, particularly one specialising on Australia’s indigenouspeoples and/or one specialising on the country’stoponymy. As a collector’s item it is made all the more attractiveby the front and back covers. The front cover (Illustration 1) hasthree coloured views of parts of Tasmania with their Europeanplace names followed by their Aboriginal equivalents (thoughwith Mt. Wellington having the Robinsonian formGur.nan.gye, sodiverging slightly from that above), while the back cover has, aswell as a blurb about the book at the top, biographical informationabout the author down below accompanied by a small colouredphoto of John Taylor (whose visage was already familiar to me, asI had met with him in Launceston in 1996).

Nigel Sinnott’sPlace-names of the Alexandra, Lake Eildon andBig River area of Victoriadiffers typologically from Taylor’s inthat it deals with an area at sub-state level and is not explicitlyconcerned with the Aboriginal element, at least in its title. Thearea it deals with is readily inferrable, for those like me relativelyignorant of the geography of Victoria, from a two-coloured map ofthe area itself on the inside front cover and the opposite endpaperalong with another small “Location Map” in the top right handcorner of the latter showing the area as a small square in relationto the rest of the state. The map is reproduced again at the correspondingplace at the end of the book (which makes it altogethervery convenient if one is looking for the location of a place listedin the dictionary). The inference is that it is north east of Melbourneabout halfway between the Bass Strait coast and the N.S.W. border. The book is dedicated “To the memory of / GORDONBEATON (1911-88) / of Eildon, / mycologist and engineer”.

Unlike Taylor’s book, Sinnott’s is set out as a book should bewith a proper title page and a brief Contents page. It opens with aquite amusing and, of course, laudatory Foreword by StephenMcDonald, who appositely begins by summing the book up as“one that details place-names down to the smallest dot on the largestmap”. Then follow a couple of pages of the author’s Acknowledgements and his three and half page Introduction (pp.5-8), inwhich he refers to his book as “[t]his gazetteer” and from a subheadingof which we see that he will be dealing, inter alia, with“Aboriginal Names”. His listing – what I would call his dictionary– commences under the heading “Place-names” at the top ofp.9 and runs through to the top of p.173, where his “References”begin, divided into the Bibliography (pp.173-179) and Maps(pp.179-180). The quite long bibliography is set out as a bibliographyshould be, including all the items of information that Taylorleft out in his. Inserted loose in the copy I received is a doublepage “ADDITIONS AND CORRECTIONS:LIST No. 6(cumulative)”, which presumably contains the contents of the previousfive lists and affects 14 pages of the book itself.

As McDonald indicates in his foreword, the book does seem tocontain the name of every possible feature in the area, from townslike Eildon, Healesville, and Mansfield and a river like the Goulburnthat non-locals, even non-Victorians, might have heard ofdown to virtual dots that possibly not even most locals know of,such as:

The Deviation. A section of 610 mm gauge tramway linkingthe old road between Thornton and Alexandra with UltimaThule Creek Road at Forsythe’s Corner. The tramway followedthe existing road from Thornton and Eildon Bridge asfar as the foot of McKenzie’s Hill, but then had to deviatenorth as the gradient along parts of today’s Mount PleasantRoad was too steep. The Modern Goulburn Valley Highwayfollows the line of The Deviation, bypassing the old sectionof road.

 And of course all the other virtual dots mentioned in this entryhave their own entries with the requisite detailed information too.

As to the Aboriginal element, most of the place names havingthis element appear to have come from local Aboriginal languages,the main one evidently being that known as Taungurong,though reconstructed by linguists as Daung Wurrung, along withits relative Woiworung (Woi wurrung or Woiwurru) and possiblyBunurong (Boon wurrung). All belong to the Kulin group of Aboriginallanguages. Sinnott is very much dependent on Les Blake’s1997 bookPlace names of Victoria mentioned above for themeanings of many of the Aboriginal names, but has been fortunatein having the corrective assistance too of that compiler’s“surnamesake”, the prominent Australianist (= specialist on AustralianAboriginal languages) Professor Barry Blake, who has publishedfor instance “Woiwurrung, the Melbourne language” in vol.4 ofThe handbook of Australian languages (Melbourne: OxfordUniversity Press Australia, 1991) edited by Professor R.M.W.Dixon and himself.

A characteristic entry on an Aboriginal place name is:

Terip Terip, Highlands. The settlement and school were atfirst called Dropmore East (school renamed 1905). “Abor.word for rough” (Les Blake). It is probably Taungurong forvery rough, as doubling a word is a convention in a number ofAboriginal languages for signifyingvery or a lot of.Terikterikmeans gravel in Wembawemba, a related Kulin language.

As Taylor also found, some names of Aboriginal origin derivefrom languages other than the local ones. Many words from theSydney Dharuk, or Dharug, language were spread across thewhole of Australia by whites and entered place names in other areasincluding this one, such as:

Koala Creek, Big River State Forest (mainly). Rises fromLake Mountain; tributary of the Torbreck River. Koala wasborrowed into English from Aboriginal (Dharuk):gula(wany).

Sinnott’s exactitude comes out nicely here, for he even uses asuperscripty in the element wany indicating that the n is palatalised.

But etymologies are not limited to names of Aboriginal origin. -The etymology of any name is provided if it can be traced backeven at several removes to, say, Old English or Irish or ScottishGaelic, as the following two entries will illustrate.

Higginbotham. Former mining village. After a gold discoveryin 1866, a settlement called New Chum arose about 16 km upthe Murrindindi River from Yea.[(…)] In 1869 it was renamedafter a gold miner George Higginbotham. […] Old Englishæcen, oaken, and botma wide valley.

McKays Flat, Goulburn State Forest. About 1 km north-west ofFrenchman’s Gap, on an unnamed tributary of Godfrey Creek,by site [sic, B.T.] of the McKays Quartz Mine (A1MA). Gaelicand IrishMac Aodha, son of Aedh, Aodh, “Hugh”: Old Gaelicéd, fire.

One can see from this selection of entries that Sinnott’s book isbursting with information and is the sort of “gazetteer” an outsiderof the district he deals with could leaf through with considerable interest.As to its physical appearance, apart from having the attractivecoloured map at both its ends, it has on the front cover (Illustration2) a coloured photograph Sunrise, Brooks Cutting near Alexandrataken by Robert Douglas and on the back another of his colouredphotographsNigel Sinnott at McKenzie’s Pinch, Alexandra (MountTorbreck in background). Altogether a very pleasing combination,the more so for me, as I have been in frequent e-mail contact withNigel in connection with his contributions toBiblionews and my curiosityas to what he looks like is now satisfied.

So, these two books, both because of their immensely informativecontent and because of their attractive appearance, would befine acquisitions for anyone collecting in the area of Australiannames (onomastics) or, more narrowly, place names (toponymy)and/or in the area of Australian Aboriginal language and culture.

Brian Taylor



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