Although I thought that the cockatoo was an Aboriginal word, it’s not! Its a relic of the first Europeans visiting the spice isles of Maluku (now Malaysia) in the 15th Century. They had birds there akin to cassowaries and cockatoos. Other well-known Aboriginal-sounding names are in fact from abroad as well.
‘Bandicoot’: an Indian name for big Asian rat
Emu – Portuguese/South American in origin, named for the rheas in South America, big flightless birds like those endemic to Australia.
Goanna – comes from the word ‘iguana’.
‘Echidna’ and ‘platypus’ – these started off as scientific names and quickly made their way into the Australian vernacular.
However despite the penchant of early Australian settlers for using foreign names, there are a few names with Indigenous heritage, such as such as wulaba for wallaby and dingu for the dingo (both from the language of the Dharawal People of NSW).
Although many biologists think we should be using the Aboriginal names instead than these foreign names.
It’s not only the authenticity and heritage of these Aboriginal names, they also have a pleasing phonetic sound on the tongue and mouth when spoken. Like the ‘Woylie’, or in English the ‘brush-tailed bettong’; or ‘kakarratul and itjaritjari’ in place of ‘northern and southern marsupial mole’. Some biologists now use these words in place of English names.
There is also a growing trend for using scientific names that draw upon Aboriginal words. One striking example is the red and yellow mountain frog or the Philoria kundagungan. In the Kabi language of southern Queensland, ‘kunda’ means mountain and ‘gungan’ means frog.
By using these phonetically beautiful and interesting words, it’s just another way that we can honour the traditional custodians of the land – by using the original names of the animals living there.
More traditional names for native Australian animals, thanks to the Dharawal People of NSW
|badagarang||eastern grey kangaroo|
|bugul, wurra||mouse, rat|
|mirrin||brown marsupial mouse|
|wubin||feather-tail or pygmy glider|
|gan||reptiles (snake, goanna or lizard)|
|garadi||glossy black cockatoo|
|gulina||rufous night heron|