The quirky origins of Australia’s native animal names

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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.

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Kangaroo rat 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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).

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Rodent 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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.

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Wild dingo 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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.

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Kangaroo 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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

Local animals
badagarang eastern grey kangaroo
banggarai swamp wallaby
buduru potoroo
bugul, wurra mouse, rat
bungu flying phalanger
burumin possum
dingu dingo
djubi sugar glider
dun tail
ganimung Gaimard’s rat-kangaroo
marriyagang tiger cat
mirrin brown marsupial mouse
wanyuwa horse
wirambi bat
wiring female animals
wubin feather-tail or pygmy glider
wulaba rock wallaby
wularu wallaroo
wumbat wombat

 

Reptiles
bayagin leaf-tailed gecko
daning death adder
gan reptiles (snake, goanna or lizard)
malya, diamond python
ngarrang bearded dragon
wirragadar bandy-bandy
Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Banksian cockatoo 1790s.Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Birds
binit tawny frogmouth
binyang bird
bubuk boobook owl
buming redbill
bunda hawk
bunyarinarin masked lapwing
burumurring wedge-tailed eagle
diamuldiamul whistling kite
dyaramak sacred kingfisher
dyuralya brolga
gaban egg
garadi glossy black cockatoo
garrangabumarri pelican
garrawi sulphur-crested cockatoo
girra~girra seagull
gugurruk black-shouldered kite
gulina rufous night heron
gulungaga red-browed finch
guma king parrot
guriyal parrot, parrakeet
Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Red breasted or blue parrot. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
guwali shag, cormorant
marrigang sittella
mulgu black swan
munu. bill
murradjulbi singing bushlark
muruduwin fairy wren
ngunyul feather
ngurra birds’ nest
nuwalgang magpie goose
urwinarriwing eastern curlew
wangawang ground parrot
wilbing wing
wirgan noisy friarbird
wugan crow
wungawunga wonga pigeon
Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Psitt. pusullis 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

 

Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h
Red shouldered parrot 1790s. Unseen Art from Australia’s First Fleet http://wp.me/p41CQf-8h

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