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Aboriginal vernacular names of Australian cycads of Macrozamia, Bowenia and Lepidozamia spp.: a response to "Cycads in the vernacular: a compendium of local names".

Abstract: In 2007 Bonta and Osborne published "Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names" in which they concluded that, in contrast to other cycads around the world, very few names and meanings had been documented for Australian Macrozamia species. This paper, aims to better document the cycad species utilised by Aboriginal people for the benefit of researchers in diverse disciplines. It draws on information contained in primary sources and many early historic documents to present Aboriginal names and meanings for various species of Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia in Australia, to clarify the names of some Australian species, and to provide additional names for species and plant components not included in the compendium. In addition, it compares patterns in the meanings of names in Australia to those used overseas, finding similarities and differences. By providing a more comprehensive synthesis of information on Indigenous names and meanings of these three genera, the paper demonstrates that the gap identified by Bonta and Osborne is more apparent than real, and highlights the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration in ethnohistorical, ethnobotanical, linguistic, anthropological and archaeological research.


Biologists, anthropologists, ethnobotanists and archaeologists have long been fascinated by cycads, an ancient group of comparatively rare plants (Beck and Webb 1991; Beck et al. 1988; Bonta et al. 2006; Cox 2004; Jones 1998; Theiret 1958; Whitelock 2002; Whiting 1963, 1989). Cycads, seed plants resembling palm trees or tree ferns, vary in height from centimetres to metres, grow slowly but are long lived, and produce toxic seeds. The order Cycadales comprises three families (Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae and Zamiaceae), and 11 genera (Cycas, Stangeria, Bowenia, Dioon, Encephalartos, Macrozamia, Lepidozamia, Ceratozamia, Microcycas, Zamia and Chigua) (Stevenson 1992). Plants grow in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, including the Americas, United States, Australia, Asia, Japan, India and Africa. Bowenia, Macrozamia and Lepidozamia are endemic to Australia, while Cycas species (spp.) also grow overseas. Cycad plants have been utilised by Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, and researchers have been particularly interested in the relationships between people and these toxic plants. Considerations of past Aboriginal use of Macrozamia seeds have played an important role in debates in Australian archaeology, with arguments that they may have underwritten large-scale gatherings associated with the intensification of socio-political complexity in the past 5000 years (Lourandos 1997; see also Asmussen 2008).

Reflecting this interest, and 'using all available cycad literature', Bonta and Osborne (2007:1) published a worldwide review, 'Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names', in which they 'compiled a table of scientific names, localities, languages, vernacular names and where known, translations into English'. The compendium stemmed from the authors' interest in cycad systematics, and the recognition that, although a comprehensive scientific body of literature existed, an equivalent list of 'folk taxonomies' and 'cultural meanings' was lacking. Also recognised was that a compendium of Indigenous names would be beneficial for science by demonstrating the importance of traditional, ethnobotanical knowledge systems, allowing a common language to be spoken between Indigenous peoples, locals and a scientific outsider, and enhancing Western understandings of these traditionally utilised plants. Benefits for cycad conservation were also identified--a common language would facilitate scientists locating current and historic plant populations, some of which are threatened or endangered, and generate village level protection of populations. The authors produced a 23-page document, including a table of scientific names, localities and vernacular names of African, American, Asian and Oceanic cycads.

In their review, Bonta and Osborne found that the Indigenous names for many cycad species had been richly documented. Available information for all 11 cycad genera across five cultural regions was examined in the compendium, including Africa (and adjacent Indian Ocean Islands), the Americas, Oceania (Australia, eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and South Pacific Islands), South Asia (the Indian subcontinent) and East Asia. The authors found 145 of the 302 currently recognised cycad species had at least one vernacular name (48%) and a total of 494 names in 128 languages (Bonta and Osborne 2007:1). Patterns of meaning were identified: cycad-palm and cycad-fern homologies (Africa, Australia, Asia, Latin America, Mesoamerica), maize analogies (Mesoamerica), references to starch and household uses (Mesoamerica, Africa), localities and habitats (Asia, Honduras, New World), morphology (Asia, Mesoamerica, New World), specialised vocabularies (Australia, Mesoamerica), non-Western taxonomies (Asia), and local folklore (Africa, Indian subcontinent, Mesoamerica) (Bonta and Osborne 2007:4-7).

Bonta and Osborne found that while names for Australian Cycas spp. had been richly documented, the same could not be said for another large genus, Macrozamia. The authors interpreted this difference as reflecting a lack of attention from Australian ethnobotanists and the loss of cultural knowledge (Bonta and Osborne 2007:4):
 relatively few names have been documented
 for the 41 species in another large genus,
 Macrozamia, in Australia. Sadly, this does
 not imply a lack of indigenous names but
 the fact that Australian ethnobotanists
 have given limited attention to local traditional
 cultures in areas where Macrozamia
 cycads are found. It also reflects the fact that
 Westernised generations of Aboriginal people
 have lost much of the cultural knowledge of
 their forebears.

Given the apparent gap, this paper is focused upon cycad species within the Zamiaceae.

Bonta and Osborne's list of Indigenous names for Australian cycad species is presented here in Table 1. Bonta and Osborne hoped that gaps in knowledge identified within the compendium (such as Macrozamia) would inspire botanical scientists, and also social scientists, to 'search out the cultural meanings' and 'inspire sustained scientific engagement with the "cultural side" of cycads', including details of Indigenous languages, meanings, and relevant botanical notes (Bonta and Osborne 2007:2, 7). This paper builds on the work of Bonta and Osborne by:

* providing the meanings, spellings and pronunciation of words collected by the earliest recorders

* providing primary source references for names presented in the compendium

* identifying languages for words described as 'Australian Aboriginal'

* identifying geographic area of observation when words were collected

* providing Aboriginal names of species not included in the compendium

* clarifying the names and species presented, and

* providing information on named parts of particular species.

In so doing, this paper provides a comprehensive synthesis of information on Indigenous names and meanings for Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia (presented in Table 2), and highlights the value of early texts and cross-disciplinary collaboration in research (see Asmussen 2011).


Information presented here was compiled following an extensive literature review of early historic sources drawn from Aboriginal people, explorers, colonists, convicts, botanists, biologists, government officials, missionaries, settlers and anthropologists, in early newspapers, books, illustrations, diaries, academic journals and government reports. Recent sources, including websites and dictionaries, were also utilised.

Many early accounts are not from trained linguists and each person recorded Indigenous names phonetically, using their own methods to document the sounds of words from languages that were very different to their 'native tongue' (English, German, Spanish and Italian in the cases below). Following Bennett (1991:1), rather than present a dominant spelling (and thus pronunciation), I reproduce the range of early spellings as recorded in the original literature, listed in order of publication date. This allows Aboriginal people and linguists primary data regarding orthography, allowing change through time to be identified and permitting a preferred spelling and pronunciation to be identified from the historical accounts (Abbott 1983; Dench 1994:181; Evans and Jones 1997; Nash 1997). Note that the terms used by the original sources may not be botanically or taxonomically correct (e.g. nuts, fruit, tree, palm, fern, zamia). The locations of species can be found in Jones (1998). It should be noted that Macrozamia were often referred to simply as 'zamia', which has been reproduced here for

historical accuracy. The spelling of Aboriginal group and language names is preserved from the original sources.

The results below are organised by genera and species, and words discussed in the order that they were presented in the compendium. More than 150 sources were searched to extract vernacular names applied to Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia plants in Australia. It is evident that much data exists in a range of primary sources.

Bowenia spp.

Bowenia serrulata

As indicated by Bonta and Osborne, the common English name for B. serrulata is the Byfield fern, as it is restricted to the Byfield area (Jones 1998:107). No Aboriginal names were identified.

B. spectabilis

Bonta and Osborne listed bungkay as a Yalanji word; and chiroo, gunyoo and jayur from 'unidentified Aboriginal languages'. The word bungkay was unable to be located in this search. However, chiroo, gunyoo and jayur were identified. Chiroo was used by Aboriginal people around Cairns (Roth 1901:10; also confirmed by Bailey's informant Nugent (Nugent in Bailey 1902:1507)). Gunyoo was a term used by people at Cardwell (Bailey 1909:518). Ja-yur was used by the Kungganji at Cape Grafton (Roth 1901:10; Bailey 1902:1507), and by the Yidin or Djabugay-speaking peoples of the Cairns rainforest region (Anon n.d.:2). Giyoor (?jayur) was recorded by Meston as the word used to refer to the 'thick yam like roots' of the plant that was eaten at Bellenden Ker (Meston 1904:16).

In addition to those listed by Bonta and Osborne, two additional words were identified. Bailey recorded that the word moo-nah was used by people at Mount Cook to refer to the 'root or yam' of B. spectabilis (Bailey 1909:518; see also Banfield 1908), while yawala is used by Ngadjonji Elders of the north-east Queensland rainforests to refer to the 'rainforest Bowenia', B. spectabilis (Ngadjonji n.d.a).

Lepidozamia spp.

L. hopei

Bonta and Osborne listed the Yalanji words julbin and miray for L. hopei and binggira, bingir, ngarumba and wunu as 'other Australian Aboriginal' names for L. hopei.

Bailey recorded that jul-bin referred to B. spectabilis (rather than L. hopei) by people who were living at Mount Cook (Bailey 1902:1507; Bailey 1909:518), and Roth (1901:10) indicated the Kokoyimidir at Cooktown also called B. spectabilis julbin. The word miray was not located in this research. Meston (1904:16) recorded that the Mullinburra word binggera related to M. hopei (now L. hopei). Binggir, if the same as binggira, refers to Entata phaseoloides, the Matchbox Bean; while binyja, if the same as bingir, refers to stored black bean in Yidiny (Dixon and Irvine 1991:280). Bailey's informant Nugent indicated that arumba (?ngarumba) was a name used around Cairns (Bailey 1902:1506; Bailey 1909:518) for M. hopei, while wunu is a generic term in Yidin, along with mayi, for edible nuts (Dixon 1980). Dixon and Irvine (1991:28) recorded the word bigir as mayi. Wunu is used by present-day Yidin or Djabugay-speaking peoples of the Cairns rainforest region to refer to L. hopei (Anon n.d.:2; see also Dixon and Irvine 1991:28).

In addition to those listed by Bonta and Osborne, several other words were identified. Ngadjonji Elders state the large seeds of L. hopei are called juubari (Ngadjonji n.d.b). Meston (1904:6) recorded that the nut of the Macrozamia was called yoco and tooambie on the Batavia River (now the Wenlock River). It is unclear if these words relate to Macrozamia or Cycas species. No Macrozamia are currently recorded at the Wenlock River; however, Cycas sp. grow in the area today (see Hill and Osborne 2001: 25, 37).

L. peroffskyana

Not included in the compendium was the Aboriginal name kinney-buck, which was recorded by Bennett (1871:4) to refer to L. peroffskyana (then called M. denisonii, Everist 1981:237) on the Manning River in New South Wales (NSW).

Macrozamia spp.

M. spiralis and M. communis

Bonta and Osborne list vernacular names for M. communis in NSW as burrawang (pref. to burrawan, burrawong) from Dhurak [sic]. As discussed by Clarke (2008:50, 157, endnote 62), there has been considerable taxonomic confusion regarding burrawang. It is likely that early accounts used the term to refer to Macrozamia spiralis (Francis and Southcott 1967:21), which was identified in 1842 (see Moore 1883:117, 119). However, Macrozamia communis, the most common and geographically widespread species growing in eastern NSW, where early accounts were made, was not formally identified as a separate species until 1959 (Johnson 1959). In addition, M. diplomera, M. heteromera and M. stenomera have since been identified as separate species in NSW. As such, it is possible some early accounts of burrawang refer to species other than M. spiralis (see Kennedy et al. 2001:13; Whitelock 2002:250). Burrawang has also been used to refer to other species including Macrozamia denisonii and Lepidozamia peroffskyana and in general reference to Macrozamia and Cycas (e.g. Brewster 1920:162; Cribb and Cribb 1987:101, 103; Jackson 1937:44; Kennedy et al. 2001:13; Leiper 1984:39; Levitt 1981; Tindale 1925:76).

One of the earliest sources discussing NSW Macrozarnia plants is Dawes (1790). With the assistance of Aboriginal informants, Dawes recorded names for many plants in the Sydney region, including buruwan as 'the poisonous kernel or pine nut' (see also Attenbrow 2002:78). Burwan was recorded by Atkinson (1826:19) to refer to 'a plant' around Berrima. Cunningham (1827:221) wrote that around the Hunter River, burwan referred to the nut. Robinson (1844, in Mackaness 1941:335) recorded bunggow was the word used for 'Zamia' nuts near Bega. Henderson (1851:238) recorded the word burrowan, but no location was given. Jones (regarding Mt Buddawang) recorded budawang, elaborating 'a corruption of buddawong, the Aboriginal word for Macrozamia palm' (Jones 1887, in New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service 2001:3). Moore recorded burrawang related to M. spiralis, 'the name by which it is known to colonists, its native name' (Maiden 1889:218; Moore 1883:117), while buddawong appeared in Morris (1898) as 'a variation of Burrawang'. Burrawang also appears in Morris (1898), alongside burwan, for the 'Australian nut tree', M. spiralis. Burrawong is referenced as a locality name in Hassell's (1902:99) reminiscences from the year 1794 and in the Official Year Book of New South Wales 1887.

Given the taxonomic confusion, it is perhaps not surprising that there is also linguistic confusion regarding Aboriginal names for NSW Macrozamia species. Dixon et al. (1992:115) indicate buruwan and burwan derives from the Dharuk (Dharug) language of the Sydney region; and Hill and Osborne (2001:84) suggest burrawang or burrawan were from the Dharuk language of Aboriginal people from the Sydney and Illawarra regions (see also Kennedy et al. 2001:13). Others suggest burrawang was a loan word derived from the Bandjalang language of northern coastal NSW (Clarke 2007:50; Ramson 1966:113-15; Ramson 1988:111; Sharpe 1994:14).

It is worth noting that in the early period some Macrozamia species in Queensland were also referred to as M. spiralis. Bailey (1885:50), for example, lists M. spiralis habitat 'about Brisbane'. Leichhardt recorded gnunti was used to refer to Macrozamia spiralis around Brisbane in 1842/3 (Darragh and Fensham forthcoming:267). The species currently closest to Brisbane is M. miquelii, located on hill slopes in the Upper Brookfield area (PACSOA n.d.).

M. douglasii

Bonta and Osborne presented the Badtjala words coobine and goulbine for Macrozamia douglasii. There are several different spellings of the Aboriginal name for M. douglasii, which grows on Fraser Island and in the Wide Bay district (Osborne 2003:6). Fuller (1872:5) recorded the name kulbhine, and indicated the 'fruit of the zamia' was used to make 'native bread'. Alternative spellings include coobine (Bailey 1883-90:500; Bailey 1902:1505), coobyn on 'Fraser's Island' (Bailey 1906:188; Bailey 1909:518) and coolbine (Meston n.d. in Devitt 1979:59). Gaiarbau, a Dungidau man who travelled in the Wide Bay region, stated that the Badtalda called the plant or fruit gulbun (in Langevad n.d.:55; Winterbotham n.d.:72; see also Symons and Symons 1996:80). Goulbine was recorded by Osborne (2003:7), while Davison and Nicholls (1935:165) recorded the word coolmoya 'for the zamia' on Fraser Island.

In addition to those listed by Bonta and Osborne, Aboriginal words for M. douglasii were identified. On Fraser Island, Meston (1905:9) wrote that Wanggoolba, the name of a creek on the west coast, meant Macrozarnia (see also Anon 1933:11, who recorded alternative spellings of Woogoompah and Woomgoolba), and Birrabee, a small intermediate creek between Mooan Point and Watoonba, meant small Macrozarnia (Meston 1905:6). Today, Birrabeen is the name of a lake on the island.

M. macdonnellii

Bonta and Osborne presented eastern Arrernte words atyikwarle and atywekekwerle and western Arrernte tywekekwerle for M. macdonnellii (see Latz 1995:223; Latz 1999:181).

M. miquelii

The compendium lists the possible Bayali name for M. miquelii as banga. Several sources record the word banga for M. miquelii. Maiden (1889:41) recorded that banga was used by 'the Central Queensland Aboriginals' (see also Anon 1867:4; Brough Smyth 1878:233). Bailey (1909:513) recorded banga was used at Rockhampton (see also Bailey 1902:1504). Watson (1943/1944:245) recorded the word as ban'ga in Kabi Kabi (see also Symons and Symons 1996:80).

M. mountperriensis

Not included in Bonta and Osborne's compendium, Bailey's informant James Keys suggested M. mount-perriensis was called tchalli by people living at Mount Perry (Bailey 1902:1505; Bailey 1909:518).

M. riedlei

Bonta and Osborne cited several names from Abbott's (1983) extensive review of Noongar names for M. riedlei in Western Australia: baian, budjan, djiriji, dyergee, gigijee, jeerajee, jeerja, jeerli, koondagoor, kundagur, quinine and quinning, with booyo attributed as 'Australian Aboriginal'. Considering these names in order, Abbott recorded baian was the name for M. riedlei at Vasse. Budjan was included in Bonta and Osborne for M. riedlei; however, Abbott (1983:7) records it as referring to Dryandra spp. by Moore (1842:14). Moore recorded djiriji as a name for the zamia tree (Moore 1842:30; Moore 1884:22, 118 referring to E. spiralis); Abbott noted M. riedlei was known as djiriji at Perth, Pinjarra and Bridgetown. Lyon (1833:59) recorded dyergee as a name for the ground palm, while Grey (1839b:143, 144; 1840:42) recorded dir-i-jee for the zamia tree, Symmons (1842:vii) as diriji, and Stokes (1846:131-3) as djirjy or jirji. Aboriginal informants Balbuk, Joobaitch and Ngalyart recorded the word as jeerajee, Ngalyart as jeerja and Bardeet as jeeriji (Abbott 1983:9). More recently, Dench (1994:186) indicated slight regional variations as djirridji (eastern region), djirrdji (northern region) and djirrdja (south-western) (see also girijee, the zamia tree, Grey 1840:42; City of Joondalup 2010). Jeerli was not found in Abbott 1983 and gigijee was not located. Koondagoor, kundagur, kundagor and koondagoore were given as the spellings for a species of zamia growing near the coast (Grey 1839c:147, 148; Moore 1842:62; Moore 1842:171; Moore 1884:45, 119). Quinine was used at Jerramungup to refer to the Macrozarnia palm (Hassell 1936:705; Meagher 1974:25; also spelled quinning in Hassell 1975). Grey (1840:72, 114) recorded kween-een, 'the nut of a species of zamia', while Moore recorded, in the King George Sound area, kwinin as the 'Zamia tree, nut of, a species of' (Moore 1842:64, 171; Moore 1884:46, 119) and gwin-een as 'the common stock of food' (Grey in Brandenstein 1988:60). Quenine was recorded as the 'zamia palm' by Drummond (1862:27).

Bonta and Osborne listed booyo as 'Australian Aboriginal', however several references indicate it is likely a Nyungar language word. Bindon (1996:173) indicated booyo was a term throughout the south-west of Western Australia. By yu is thought to have come from the Nyungar language term bayu (Clarke 2008:54; Dixon et al. 1992:115; Meagher 1974:54-5, 65; Ramson 1988:126; see also Clarke 2008:113, endnote 113). Dixon et al. (1992:115) suggest by yu (pron. Bai-yu), is probably 'derived from bayu, seed, aka by yu nut' by Nungar between Perth and Albany. In all accounts, By yu referred to the seed. Early records present biyoo as the 'fruit of the zamia' (Lyon 1833:59), by-yu, the fruit of plants 'when enveloped in pulp' (Grey 1839a:139-40; Grey 1840:22) and 'when covered in red flesh' (sarcotesta) (Grey 1840:22). Moore (1842:23, see also 1844:17) recorded by yu, as 'subst. fruit of the zamia tree', while Stokes (1846:131-3) recorded baio for the 'red fruit of the nut'. In the mid to late 1800s, Salvado, a Spanish Benedictine monk writing in Italian (Abbott 1983:18), recorded poio to refer to the plant in the dialect by those living east of the New Norcia mission (Stormon 1977:264). Edwards (1894:233) recorded that the fruit of the zamia palm was called boyah 'on account of its symmetrical form ...' (see also Grey 1840:17, who suggests By yu relates to boy), biu or bayio, the 'nut of the zamia palm' (Ward and Fountain 1907:211-12), and baio-tree (Fountain 1907:212, who also presents bi-u, biu and bayi-o). Boya was recorded for the zamia palm by Herbert (1921:44). Hammond (1933:28) indicated that boyoo referred to the 'fruit of the zamia palms'. Boyern was recorded by Whitworth (M. riedlei) (in Abbott 1983:7). In addition, the word gherge was defined as a 'nut called bay-i-o' (Fountain 1907:211; see also Ward and Fountain 1907:211-12). Boyan and bayou have recently been recorded for nut and seed of zamia palm M. riedlei (bayu/boyu) (Nyungar NRM Wordlist 2009). Dench (1994:186) indicated some regional differences in spelling: boy (east), bayu (north) and boya (south-west). Booyoo has recently been recorded for M. riedlei (City of Joondalup 2010); however, Lyon (1833) recorded it to mean 'to eat', while Brandenstein (1988:59) lists boya as a word for stone, possibly referencing the hard stony sclerotesta of the seed.

Abbott was concerned with identifying Aboriginal names for the most common plant species occurring in the south-west, rather than plant components. As a result, several names are not included in Abbott (1983), nor the compendium. These include gar-goin, which was recorded by Grey (1839b:143-4; Grey 1840:41) to refer to the 'stone' of the zamia nut (sclerotesta), and Moore as the 'stone of the zamia tree' and 'kernel' of the zamia nut (Moore 1842:142; Moore 1844:119) and the 'stone' of the zamia fruit (Moore 1842:171; Moore 1884:28). Dyundo is given as the kernel of the zamia nut (Grey 1839a:139, 140; Grey 1840:34) and was recorded as dy-un-do by Moore as the kernel of the zamia nut, 'substit. for the kernel' (Moore 1842:36,171; Moore 1884:26, 119). Moore also records Wi-da (1842:171; 1884:76) as a 'substit. for the kernel of the zamia nut'. Goon-dail and goon-doy-ul are recorded by Grey (1839b:143-4; 1840:44) to refer to the 'down which grows at the roots of the branches of the zamia', which is present on M. fraserii plants and in lesser amounts on M. riedlei plants (Forster 2004:5). Symmons (1842:vii) recorded that the downy wool of the djirifi was called kundyl, although Moore (1842:63) records kundyl as the interior of the zamia plant.

As noted by Bonta and Osborne, detailed naming systems are used when cycads are important subsistence items. Other words were identified concerning the collection, preparation and use of the seeds. Burnur, or burnuro, the name for autumn (including February and March) was by yu fruit season (Moore 1842:22; Moore 1884:16). Mor-dak (Grey 1841:296; moredak in Grey 1839c:147) was recorded as the hole in the ground in which the by yee is buried while it detoxified. Moore (1842:129) indicated that mordak meant deep or steep (Moore 1842:77, 160), although Grey (1839c:147-8) records morda to mean 'high, steep, deep'. Niran was recorded to mean 'to plant, to sow, to put in the ground. They do not plant, but they put the by yu in the ground to prepare it for eating' (Moore 1842:84, 151). Burangyuyurungween was defined as 'rubbing, cleaning by rubbing, this term usually applied to rubbing by yu nuts' (Grey 1839a:139-40; Grey 1840:20) and was spelled barrang-yurar-angwin by Moore (1842: 6; 1884:5). By-yu ngannoween was recorded as 'the season for eating by yu' (Grey 1839a:139-40; Grey 1840:16). Salvado recorded paiera as a word referring to Macrozamia in the dialects to the north of the Benedictine mission at New Norcia, north of Perth (Stormon 1977); however, it is possible that Salvado recorded the word for a species of Banksia (spelled biara, beera and piara; Abbott 1983:18) rather than Macrozamia.

Some of the Aboriginal names above, currently attributed to M. riedlei, may, however, relate to different species of Macrozamia plants in Western Australia. Today, three Macrozamia species are recognised in Western Australia: M. riedlei (southwest corner), M. fraseri (north of Perth) and M. dyeri (on the southern coast) (Jones 1998). In his accounts, Grey (1841:263) repeatedly stated that there were two species of Macrozamia and 'a third sort, which, like the second, is found only in the northern parts' (Grey 1841:295). Based on Grey's records and current species distributions, Aboriginal names for these species may be gir-ijee (M. riedlei), tdongan (M. fraseri) and koondagor (M. dyeri). Koondagoore was the name for a species of zamia growing near the coast (Grey 1839c:147, 148; presented koon-da-goor in 1840:67), which is repeated by Moore as kundagur 'zamia tree, a species of, growing near the coast' (Moore 1842:62; Moore 1884:45; spelled kundagor in Moore 1842:171; 1884:119). Tdongan was recorded by Grey as a species of by yu (Grey 1840:117), with Moore (1884:119) recording tdongan as 'zamia tree, fruit of-By yu'. Another specific name, Queeneen, may be the specific name for prepared food made from Macrozamia riedlei, which was traded to Jerramumgup by peoples 'inland'. Hassell recorded the word Quinine was used around Jerramungup to refer to the Macrozamia palm (Hassell 1936:705; Meagher 1974:25), also spelled quinning (Hassell 1975), the fruit of which was received via trade with the inland groups. Qu-ern-in < ku-rni-in was reported by Brandenstein (1988:60, also querning) as 'the after treatment one, prepared seed, nut of the zamia palm M. riedlei', lending support to Hassell concerning the name of the prepared fruit traded from inland areas. It is possible that quernin is the name following detoxification.

Abbott (1983:27) suggested that the common name for M. riedlei should be djiridji (see also Bennett 1991; City of Joondalup 2010), while bayuo has recently been indicated as the most commonly used name for the seeds of M. riedlei (City of Joondalup 2010).


In addition to a list of Indigenous names and meanings, Bonta and Osborne (2007) also aimed to search out 'patterns of meaning' in vernacular names worldwide. Many of the prominent themes identified by Bonta and Osborne are also present for the genera covered by this paper.

Palm and fern homologies

Bonta and Osborne identified that a widespread unifying theme was the physical similarity between palms and cycad genera in Latin America and Africa, while a physical similarity to ferns was also identified in Colombia and Southeast Asia. As identified by Bonta and Osborne, the term zamia palm was frequently used by farmers in generic reference to Macrozamia (2007:4). However there are many variations on this theme: 'native palm' (M. spiralis, Bennett 1871:4), 'ground palm' (M. spiralis, Walker 1875-1910:34-5; M. riedlei, Armstrong 1836:793-4), 'long palm' (M. spiralis, Marks 1912:1056-7), 'zamia palm' (M. spiralis, Marks 1912:1056-7; M. riedlei, Herbert 1921:44) and 'zamia palm tree' (M. riedlei, Stokes 1846:132). In addition, there are references to the similarity to ferns: 'zamia fern' (White 1928:608; B. spectabilis, Wilson and Rowles 1997) and 'fern nuts' (Bennett 1871:4). The Australian context appears to mirror overseas there were more references to palms than ferns in common names.


Many direct references to plant morphology were identified in Australia, reflecting trends in Colombia, China, Japan and Vietnam. Australian references include 'native pineapple' in general reference to Macrozamia spp. (Hill 1867:3) and M. spiralis (Bailey 1909:513), 'wild pineapple' for M. spiralis (White 1928:608; see also Marks 1912:1056-7) and M. miquelii (Turner 1893:159), and 'pineapple country' for the area in which M. spiralis grew in NSW (Marks 1912:1056-7). Seeds were sometimes called 'dwarf pineapple-shaped fruit' (Tindale 1925:76-7). Clarke (2008:50, citing Cawte 1974) indicated British settlers called burrawang 'fools pineapple', referring to the shape of the stroboli and the seeds' toxicity when raw. Bennett (1871:4) stated M. spiralis seeds were called 'Blackfellow's potatoes' (see also Maiden 1897:20) by the 'colonial youth'. Uniquely, Morris (1898) referred to burrawang and burwan as the 'Australian nut-tree'. Macrozamia plants were known as 'long zamia' (Bailey 1883-90:500) or 'dwarf zamia' (e.g. M. miquelii, Anon 1867:4; Bailey 1885:41; Brough Smyth 1878:233), referring to differences in height between species. In another nod to morphology, a poem by Australie (1877) references the leaves on plants as 'The Buddawong's Crown'. In Western Australia similarities were drawn between plants and seeds and male reproductive anatomy (Edwards 1894:233).

References to localities and habitats

Habitats or areas of occurrence feature in the vernacular names for the species considered in this paper, adding to those from Mexico and the New World and Asia. For example, Bowenia serrulata is known as the Byfield fern, as it only grows around this area. The Ngadjonji Elders of the north-east Queensland rainforests refer to B. spectabilis as the 'rainforest Bowenia' (Ngadjonji n.d.a), which grows in and around rainforest in north-eastern Queensland (Hill and Osborne 2001:61). Several location names also relate to Burrawang. Maiden (1889:41), under M. spiralis, recorded that the Burrawang nut was 'so called because they used to be, and are to some extent now, very common around Burrawang, NSW', while Dixon et al. (1992:115) state 'the name of Mount Budawang, NSW, relates to this plant'. Other names identified include the 'Western Zamia' for M. riedlei (Bennett 1991) and sandplain zamia for M. fraseri (City of Joondalup 2010). Macrozarnias underwent extensive clearing in eastern Australia because they were poisonous to stock. It is possible that related placenames have been lost as a result of early land and livestock management practices. Supporting Bonta and Osborne's point concerning conservation and relocation of past populations, it is possible that placenames recorded by Meston (1905) on Fraser Island reference past locations of Macrozamia plants.

Specialised vocabularies

As identified by Bonta and Osborne, rich vocabularies occur when plants are utilised in subsistence. Rich vocabularies have been recorded for important Aboriginal foods in Australia; for example, the water lily has more than a dozen terms associated with it (recorded by Jeffrey Heath 1978, see Clarke 2008:46-7). Detailed vocabularies were recorded for Macrozamia species in Western Australia, where different species, plant parts, seasons and processing activities had specific names. Farmers also used the terms 'zamia staggers', 'zamia rickets' or 'zamia wobbles' to describe the effects on cattle of eating Macrozamia leaves and seeds (Edwards 1894). Seeds of M. heteromera were called 'sheep nuts' (Everist 1981:239).

Non-Western taxonomies

Despite the early involvement of Aboriginal peoples in describing Australian plants (Clarke 2008:42), no Aboriginal names are reflected in the Linnaean system of classification for Bowenia, Lepidozamia or Macrozamia. Instead, Linnaean names for these plants honour Europeans or reference physical features, growth habits of plants or their geographic location (Haynes n.d.; see also Hill and Osborne 2001). In fact, very few Australian plants have an Aboriginal name included in the species name. One exception is the Lawyer Vine, Calamus moti (FM Bailey), where the species name moti is based on the Yidiny name mudi (Dixon and Irvine 1991:211), while another is Eucalyptus wandoo subsp, wandoo, the epithet 'wandoo' from the Nyungar name for the tree (Sharr 1996:218). Several common names for Australian plants (and animals) are based on Aboriginal names (e.g. Waratah, Jarrah). In recognition of a lack of Indigenous names, efforts are being made to identify and publicise preferred Aboriginal names and spellings for certain species and plant components (Bennett 1991; City of Joondalup 2010; Dixon et al. 1992).

Loan words

It is clear that two Aboriginal words have been adopted by Europeans in general reference to these plants, and have become loan words: Burrawang, possibly from Dharug, for species in NSW and Queensland, and by yu for Western Australian species, from Nyungar. This general trend is consistent with Dixon (2008:130), who found many words in common usage in English were loan words from Dharug and Nyungar.

References to starch and other uses

In Australia there appears to be no vernacular names that reference European uses of the three genera of cycads in this paper. Despite not having identified vernacular names, it is clear that Macrozamia were well utilised by Europeans. One of the most common uses was the extraction of 'arrowroot' from Macrozamia (Milford 1876:296-7). Bailey (1885:93) reported that 'the wooly substance found at the base of the petioles of some of the species of this genus is one of the very best materials for stuffing beds, saddles etc'. Maiden (1889:627) recorded M. spiralis was used occasionally to stuff couches (see also Moore 1883:117). Similarly, the 'wool of dense down covering the bottom of the petioles' (of M. miquelii) was 'used for stuffing pillows' (see Hassell 1936:705), while a similar substance obtained from M. fraseri plants was used by colonists to light fires (City of Joondalup 2010). Bennett (1871:295) recounted that the fronds of the M. spiralis were used in Catholic churches on Palm Sunday, and for other decorative purposes, while similar uses were identified for palm fronds in Catholic ceremonies overseas (Day of the Dead and Day of the Cross) and also used for decoration (Bonta and Osborne 2007:4). There were also many Aboriginal uses, in addition to subsistence. The cotton-like substance at the base of M. fraseri plants was used as a feminine hygiene product and to line coolamons for sleeping babies, and fronds were used to provide shade and for the roofing of mia mias (shelters) (City of Joondalup 2010). Hassell (1975) also reported the Aboriginal use of M. riedlei under 'herbal remedies'.


Substantial word and language loss occurred as a result of European colonisation of the continent (Evans 2009:18; Turner and Turner 2008). As a consequence, many Aboriginal words and languages were rapidly lost or were disused, with some languages today having few surviving speakers (Schmidt 1993; NILS 2005). This has made it difficult for modern botanists working with communities to record traditional names, particularly in the areas where Macrozamia grow--distributed along the eastern coast of Australia, where intensive European colonisation occurred from a relatively early time. However, as Buenez et al. (2004:494) note, as has been demonstrated here, as 'generational losses of traditional knowledge accrue, original texts become increasingly valuable' as 'a preexisting resource that documents the traditional uses of various species' (see also Patzlaff and Peixoto 2009). Documenting and collating information on Indigenous names and uses of plants from early accounts involves sourcing widely scattered and hard-to-retrieve published material (Abbott 1983) 'gleaned from brief sentences in otherwise unrelated texts' (Clarke 2007:7).

This paper demonstrates that significant information can be recovered from diverse historical sources. It also highlights the importance of collaboration between specialists in allied research fields, including archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and historians, with the aim of 'combining scientific data collecting with cultural perspectives in the study of plant uses' (Clarke 2003:24). As Clarke (2007:147) states, ethnobotany 'is a topic that will continue to be enriched by the different, but complementary, approaches that specialists bring to it'.

Note: it is worth noting that Bonta and Osborne's lists are incomplete regarding Australian Cycas: in addition to the work done by cycad taxonomists, many names and much ethnobotanical information has been recorded for Australian Cycas spp. by anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, explorers, settlers and early plant researchers, which are not included in the compendium (see Anderson 1996; Bailey 1909; Banfield 1918; Beck 1993; Beck and Webb 1991; Beck et al. 1988; Bradley 2005, 2006; Harvey 1945; Leichhardt 1847; Levitt 1981; McConnell 1930; Meehan 1982; Meehan and Jones 1977; Meston 1904; Palmer 1884; Pedley 1993; Roth 1901; Thomson 1938; Tindale 1925).


Many thanks to Professor Bob Dixon, Professor Nick Evans and Dr Philip Clarke for their help, advice and discussions about Indigenous names for cycads. Many thanks to Val Attenbrow for the Anna Walker and Edgeworth David references; Susan Mercer (State Library of New South Wales) for transcribing Anna Walker's original text and David Parkhill (Queensland Museum) for Bailey 1885. Thanks also to the reviewers of this paper, for their helpful comments; and to Malcolm Mclnnes, Paul McInnes and Clio Reid for comments on a prior draft of this paper.


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Brit Asmussen

Queensland Museum and The University of Queensland

Dr Brit Asmussen is Curator of Archaeology in the Cultural Environments Program at the Queensland Museum, Southbank.

Brit joined the Queensland Museum in 2011. She has previously worked as an adjunct lecturer in taphonomy, zooarchaeology and environmental archaeology in the Archaeology Program at the University of Queensland, as a contract zooarchaeologist and archaeological consultant for the University of Queensland's Cultural Heritage Unit, and was Postdoctoral Fellow with the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, America, and held a Collections Fellowship at the Australian Museum, Sydney.

Brit has been involved in a number of archaeological research projects investigating the relationships between past climatic change, technological and subsistence strategies, and landscape use. Brit regularly used taphonomic and experimental techniques to unlock information from the archaeological record.

Her recent research, supported by AIATSIS funding, focuses on the effects of past El Nino--Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-driven climate change on societies in eastern Australia over the past 10 000 years.

Table 1: List of Indigenous names for Bowenia, Lepidozamia and
Macrozamia cycads of Australia (Bonta and Osborne 2007:18-20)

Scientific name Locality Vernacular name Reference

Bowenia QLD Eng. -Byfield fern Jones 2002
serrulata (W
Bull) Chamb.

Bowenia QLD Yalanji Ab.- Wilson 2002; R
spectabilis bungkay; unident. Hill pers.comm.
Hook. ex Hook. Ab. langs.chiroo,
f. gunyoo, jayur

Lepidozamia QLD Yalanji Ab.-julbin, Forster 1996;
hopei Regel miray; other Aust. R Hill pers.
 Ab.-binggira, comm.
 bingir, ngarumba,

Macrozamia NSW Dhurak Ab.- Kennedy et al.
communis L.A.S. burrawang (pref. to 2001
Johnson burrawan, burrawong)

Macrozamia QLD Badtjala Ab.- Osborne 2003
douglasii W coobine, goulbine
Hill ex F.M.

Macrozamia NT Eastern Arrernte Latz 1995;
macdonnellii (E Ab.-atyikwarle, Osborne 1999
Muell. ex Miq.) atywekekwerle;
A. DC. Western Arrernte

Macrozamia QLD Bayali Ab.(?)-banga Thozet 1866
miquelii (F.
Muell.) A. DC.

Macrozamia WA Aust. Ab.-booyo; Abbott 1983;
riedlei Noongar Ab.-baian, Bindon 1996
(Gaudich.) C.A. budjan, dfrif,
Gardner dyergee, gigijee,
 jeerajee, jeerja,
 jeerli, koondagoor,
 kundagur, quinine,

Macrozamia Miq. Australia Eng. (Aust.) -wild White 1928;
(generic) pineapple, zamia common
 fern, zamia palm knowledge

Table 2: Table of Aboriginal names for Bowenia, Lepidozamia and
Macrozamia plants and components in Australia identified by the

Species name Place Language group (underlined), Aboriginal
 name (for plant component) *

Bowenia serrulata Qld Not located

Bowenia spectabilis Qld Chiroo (1, 2)
 Gunyoo (3)
 Kungganji, Yidin, Djabugay Jayur
 Giyoor (?Jayur) (5)
 Moo-nah (root or yam) (3,6)
 Ngadjonii Yawala (plant, seeds) (7)
 Kokoyimidir Jul-bin
Lepidozamia hopei Qld Mullinburra Binggera
 Arumba (?Ngarumba) (2,3)
 N adjonii luubari (7)
 Yoco, Tooambi (edible nut) (5)
 Yidin, Djabugay Wunu (4,8)
Lepidozamia Qld/ Kinney-buck (9)
peroffskyana NSW

Macrozamia spiralis Qld Gnunti (plant) (10)
(possibly M.

Macrozamia spiralis NSW Buruwan (kernel or nut) (11)
([dagger]) Burrawang (12)
 Burwan (plant) (13)
 Burwan (nut, tree) (14)
 Bunggow (nut)
 Burrowan (16)
 Budawang (17)
 Dharuk, Bandjalang Burrawang (19,18)
 Buddawong (nut tree) (20)
 Burrawong (locality) (21)

Macrozamia douglasii Qld Kulbhine (fruit) (22)
 Coobine (23,2)
 Coobyn (24,3)
 Coolbine (25)
 Badtalda Gulbun (26,27)
 Goulbine (28)
 Coolmoya (plant) (29)
 Wanggoolba (plant, location) (30)
 Woogoompah, Woomgoolba (31)
 Birrabee (creek, meaning small
 Macrozamia) (30)

Macrozamia NT Eastern Arrernte Atyikwarle,
macdonnellii atywekekwerle
 Western Arrernte Tywekekwerle (32,33)

Macrozamia miquelii Qld Banga (34,35,18)
 Ban'ga (36,37)

Macrozamia Qld Tchalli (2,3)

Macrozamia riedlei WA Nvungar Baian (38)
 Bayuo (seed) (39)
 Booyo (40)
 By yu, Bayu (seed, nut) (43,44,42,41)
 Biyoo (fruit of the zamia) (45)
 By-yu (the fruit when enveloped in
 pulp, covered in red flesh) (46,47)
 Baio (red fruit of the nut) (48)
 Biu or Bayio (nut) (49)
 Baio, Bi-u, Biu, Bay-i-o (tree) (50)
 Boya (zamia palm) (51)
 Boyoo (fruit of the zamia palm) (52)
 Boyern (53)
 Burangyuyurungween (rubbing, cleaning
 by rubbing, rubbing by yu nuts)
 Barrang-yurar-angwin (54,55)
 By-yu ngannoween (season for eating
 by yu) (46,47)
 Djiriji (plant) (38,54,55)
 Dir-i-jee (56,47)
 Diriji (57)
 Djirjy, jirji (48)
 Djirridji (eastern region), Djirrdji
 (northern region), Djirrdja
 (south western) (58)
 Djiridji (plant) (38,59,39)
 Dyergee (plant) (45,38)
 Dyundo (kernel of the zamia nut)
 Dyundo (kernel of the zamia nut,
 substit. for the kernel) (54,55)
 Gar-goin (stone of the zamia nut
 (sclerotesta)) (56,47)
 Gargoin (stone of the zamia tree, stone
 of the fruit, kernel of the zamia
 nut) (54,60,55)
 Gigijee (38)
 Girijee (plant) (47,39)
 Gherge (nut called bay-i-o) (50)
 jeerajee (38)
 jeeriji (38)
 jeerja (38)
 jeerli (38)
 Goon-dail and Goon-doy-ul (down
 growing at the roots of the branches
 of the zamia) (56,47)
 Kundyl (downy wool at base of the
 petiole) (57), interior of the
 plant (54)
 Koondagoor (38)
 Kundagur, Kundagor and Koondagoore
 (plant) (61,54,55)
 Kundagur (38)
 Koondagoore, Koon-da-goor (a species
 growing near the coast) (61,47)
 Kundagur, Kundagor ('zamia tree, a
 species of, growing near the
 coast') (54,55)
 Pauyin (unprepared food) (62)
 Quinine (plant) (38,63,43)
 Quinning (38,64)
 Kween-een (nut) (47)
 Kwinin (nut) (54,55)
 Gwin-een (food) (65)
 Quenine (palm) (66)
 Quernin (64)
 Queeneen, Quinine, Quinning (63,64,43)
 Qu-ern-in, Ku-rni-in, Querning (after
 treatment, prepared seed) (67)
 Mor-dak, moredak (hole for burial of
 By yee) (61,68)
 Mordak (deep, steep) (54)
 Morda (high, steep, deep) 61
 Tdon-gan (a species of by yu, fruit
 of by yu) (47,55)
 Wi-da (as a 'substit. for the kernel
 of the zamia nut') (54,55)

Notes to Table 2: * Please refer to text for detailed discussion of
language and vernacular name and meanings.

([dagger]) See text; some early words for Macrozamia spiralis could
refer either to M. spiralis or M.communis.

Many early accounts are not from trained linguists and each person
recorded Indigenous names phonetically, using his or her own method
to document the sounds of words from languages. Following Bennett
(1991:1), rather than present a dominant spelling (and thus
pronunciation), I reproduce the range of early spellings as recorded
in the original literature, listed in order of publication date. Note
that the terms used in the original sources may not be botanically or
taxonomically correct (e.g. nuts, fruit, tree, palm, fern, zamia). The
spellings of Aborieinal arouo and laneuaee names are vreserved from
the original sources.

(1) Roth 1901

(2) Bailey 1902

(3) Bailey 1909

(4) Anon n.d.

(5) Meston 1904

(6) Banfield 1908

(7) Ngadjonji n.d.b

(8) Dixon and Irvine 1991

(9) Bennett 1871

(10) Darragh and Fensham forthcoming

(11) Dawes 1790

(12) Francis and Southcott 1967

(13) Atkinson 1826

(14) Cunningham 1827

(15) Mackaness 1941

(16) Henderson 1851

(17) Jones 1887

(18) Maiden 1889

(19) Moore 1883

(20) Morris 1898

(21) Hassell 1902

(22) Fuller 1872

(23) Bailey 1883-1890

(24) Bailey 1906

(25) Meston n.d. in Devitt 1979

(26) Langevad, n.d.

(27) Winterbotham n.d.

(28) Osborne 2003

(29) Davison and Nicholls 1935

(30) Meston 1905

(31) Anon 1933

(32) Latz 1995

(33) Latz 1999

(34) Anon 1867

(35) Brough Smyth 1878

(36) Watson 1943/1944

(37) Symons and Symons 1996

(38) Abbott 1983

(39) City of Joondalup 2010

(40) Bindon 1996

(41) Clarke 2008

(42) Dixon et al. 1992

(43) Meagher 1974

(44) Ramson 1988

(45) Lyon 1833

(46) Grey 1839a

(47) Grey 1840

(48) Stokes 1846

(49) Ward and Fountain 1907

(50) Fountain 1907

(51) Herbert 1921

(52) Hammond 1933

(53) Whitworth in Abbott 1983

(54) Moore 1842

(55) Moore 1884

(56) Grey 1839b

(57) Symmons 1842

(58) Dench 1994

(59) Bennett 1991

(60) Moore 1844

(61) Grey 1839c

(62) Brandenstein 1988

(63) Hassell 1936

(64) Hassell 1975

(65) Grey in Brandenstein 1988

(66) Drummond 1862

(67) Brandenstein 1988

(68) Grey 1841
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Author:Asmussen, Brit
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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