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Birrdhawal language and territory: a reconsideration.

Abstract: This paper offers a fundamental critique and re-evaluation of the historical sources and more recent reconstructions which have been used to determine the language area of the Birrdhawal people of far eastern Victoria. In relation to Birrdhawal tribal territory, this paper addresses three critical issues: first, whether the Birrdhawal language is related to the Ganai language, is part of the Yuin language cluster or is a standalone distinct language; second, whether or not their country included any coastline or was landlocked; and, third, whether or not any of their country was subsumed into that of the Krauatungalung through land succession as argued by Wesson (1994, 2000, 2002). The paper offers a comparative and quantitative analysis of vocabulary from the study area and critiques previous research into constituent local group organisation.


The Birrdhawal people are generally associated with the localities of Bendoc, Bondi, Mt Delegate and the head waters of Cann River. Their neighbours are Krauatungalung (Krauatangalung), a subgroup of Ganai, to the south; Thawa to the east; and Ngarigu to the west and north (Figure 1). According to Tindale (1974:91), a small number of Birrdhawal people were living at Wallaga Lake in 1939. Wallaga Lake was an Aboriginal reserve on the south coast region of New South Wales, where many people from Delegate, Bombala, Queanbeyan and Gippsland visited or resided during the twentieth century. Tindale (1974:203) also notes that in 1970 Birrdhawal descendents were living at Nowa Nowa in Gippsland. Descendents were resident at Delegate in the 1960s when Luise Hercus (1969, 1986) conducted her field research. Hercus (1969) was informed in the 1960s that the Brabrolung (or Mukthang) language became the lingua franca at the Delegate reserve. But as more people from broader, and non-Ganai, non-Gippsland origins began to move there, the English language gradually superseded Ganai. And while some of the people she recorded could remember some words of Ganai, they had adopted the English grammatical structure and phonologies (Hercus 1969). Hercus was unable to record any remnant vocabularies of a Birrdhawal language. Genealogical research undertaken by Young et al. (2000) has suggested a greater number of Birrdhawal descendents today. This study is focused on the primary sources of the nineteenth century and has not included work with any existing language programs in eastern Victoria (see Wafer and Lissarrague 2008:99 for information on neighbouring language programs).

Names of the Birrdhawal group and language

The earliest known recording for Birrdhawal is as 'Bid.doo.wul' by GA Robinson, which he interpreted as meaning 'wild black' and was attributed to 'Maneroo', i.e. Ngarigu (August 1844 in the papers of GA Robinson, see Clark 2000b:194). Birrdhawal has also been recorded and translated as follows: Bidooal or 'Wild Black', in the Thawa language (Robinson 1844 in Clark 2000a); Birtowall or 'scrub people' in the Ganai language (Bulmer in Curr 1886-7); Biduelli which Howitt interprets as 'derived from brida, "scrub", and uelli, "dweller"' in the Biduelli language (Howitt 1904:79); Birdhawal or 'scrub dwellers' in the Bidawal language (Mathews 1907:347); and 'B(r)ida = scrub welli = dweller' in the Bidawal language (Fesl 1985:54). Mathews (1907) suggests Birrdhawal is an endogenous term and this view has support from Fesl (1985:54). The form appears to be divisible as bida + wal. A suffix, -gal, meaning 'denizen of', is well attested in eastern Australia. The form -wal could be a lenited form of this suffix. If it is the denizenal suffix, then the form means 'scrub-dweller' (probably actually 'thick forest-dweller') and not 'wild black'. The 'wild black' meaning was given to Robinson by a Thawa speaker, and it is quite possible that this speaker said 'Bidawal wild black', meaning that the Bidawal people were 'wild blacks' (an ascriptive predication) rather than that the word Bidawal meant 'wild black' (an equational predication). Mathews, who was the most sophisticated recorder, gave the form 'Birdhawal' and translated it as 'scrub-dweller'. This suggests that the actual form was bidhawal, with a medial lamino-dental. Given that Mathews is by far the most linguistically authoritative recorder, the transcription 'Birrdhawal', after Wafer and Lissarrague (2008:96), will be favoured. Although it is recognised that alternative names for the Birrdhawal language exist (see below), for consistency throughout this paper the term 'Birrdhawal' is used, unless quoted in other sources.


Variant spellings include Bidwilli (Clarke 1860:202); Biduelli (Howitt 1904:79); Bidwelli (Turlburn in Howitt Papers SLV); Biduell-mittang (Howitt Papers SLV); Bidwell (Bulmer in Howitt Papers SLV); Beddiwell (Mathews 1898b:67); Birdhawal (Mathews 1907:347); Bidawal (Tindale 1940:197); Bida:wa:l (Hercus 1965:202); Bidwill (Tindale 1974:203); Birrdhawal (Wafer & Lissarrague 2008:98); and Birdawal (Massola 2010:20). Variant spellings contained in the source being quoted are retained in this paper.

Alternative language names

Tindale (1974:203) listed three alternative names for the Birrdhawal language: Maap, Muk-dhang and Kwai-dhang. Maap was recorded by Howitt (Papers SLV; 1904:80) and Mathews (1907:347; see Table 1) as being the Birrdhawal word for 'man', and Howitt was informed by Jemmy Lawson (a Birrdhawal man (1876 in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5 b), that it repre sente d the 'tribe', i.e. their own word for 'man' or 'mankind'. Howitt (1904: 80) remarked, 'The Biduelli were few in number, inhabiting small open spaces in the dense jungle, and called themselves "men" (maap)'. On this subject, Mathews (1907:347) noted:
   In the Birdhawal, mawp means mankind ...
   The Birdhawal call their own dialect mukdhang,
   but they distinguish the dialect of the
   Kurnai as gunggala-dhang. The termination
   dhang in both instances means 'mouth', and
   is symbolical of speech. It may also be mentioned
   that the Kurnai call their own local
   dialect muk-dhang, and that of the Birdhawal
   kwai-dhang. Muk means good or great, and
   kwai signifies rough; I forget the meaning of

In Dixon's (1980, 2002) analyses, the name Muk-thang is used to describe the language spo-ken by Birrdhawal people. His research found that the Muk-thang spoken by the Birrdhawal was an easterly form of the language Ganai Muk-thang, which was spoken throughout much of Gippsland. Of these variants, Mukdhang/Mukthang and Maap are valid alternative names for Birrdhawal.

Sources of Birrdhawal vocabulary Sources of Birrdhawal vocabulary include two word lists:

(1) a 'Biduelli' vocabulary recorded in 1876 by Frank James, Senior Constable at Bendoc, from Birrdhawal man Jongai Jemmy (in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b). The list comprises 26 words that correspond with those of the same meaning published by Mathews (1907)

(2) a list of 311 Birrdhawal words presented by Mathews (1907), which represents the most comprehensive Birrdhawal vocabulary.

Classification of the language

A central linguistic issue for Birrdhawal is the degree to which it is associated, or not, with Ganai. Wesson (2002) conducted preliminary lexicostatistical analysis of the languages of eastern Victoria and far south-eastern New South Wales and found that the Birrdhawal language (as represented in Mathews (1907)) shared five percent commonality with Thauaira (Thawa) and 11 percent commonality with Ngarigu. However, she did not undertake quantitative comparative analysis of the Birrdhawal language with Ganai. Table 1 lists a selection of Birrdhawal vocabulary from Mathews (1907) and compares it with examples, where they exist, from Bulmer's word list (in Curr 1886) from the Snowy River (Ganai), Hercus' (1986) list of southern Ngarigu and Robinson's list from Cape Howe (Thawa) (Clark 2000b). The results of a lexicostatistical analysis of these vocabularies are shown in Table 2.

Table 2 provides percentages of common vocabulary between Birrdhawal and the languages listed. This study follows the rationale outlined by Dixon (2002:45) for subgrouping languages: in situations where there is more than 70 percent common vocabulary between two languages, they are probably dialects of the same language; between 51 and 70 percent, the two are different languages or family-like languages of the same subgroup; between 26 and 50 percent, different subgroups of the same group; and between 16 and 25 percent, different groups of the same phylic family; but when the commonality is less than 15 percent the two are from different phylic families. The quantitative results show that Birrdhawal shares less than 15 percent language commonality with Thawa and 23 percent with Ngarigu. With regard to Ganai, Birrdhawal shares 51 percent commonality, which suggests a possibly closer relation to Ganai, either a language in the same subgroup or dialects of the same language, which is consistent with Dixon's (1980, 2002) analyses of Ganai and Birrdhawal. However, on the basis of such a small sample of core vocabulary, it would be prudent to acknowledge that this classification is speculative and to suggest 'the matter may still require further research' (Wafer and Lissarrague 2008:95).

Wafer and Lissarrague (2008) have surveyed the literature concerning whether or not Birrdhawal was a separate language. Oates (1975) and Dixon (2002) consider that Birrdhawal is related to the Ganai language. Dixon (2002:44) commented that 'The grammatical forms given by Mathews for Bidhawal are almost identical to those for Muk-thang [Ganai], as are most of the verbs and a good proportion of the nouns'. Wafer and Lissarrague (2008:95) note that if this is so, then 'Birrdhawal would be the only dialect of the Gippsland language [Ganai] that extends into NSW'. However, they also comment that:
   These various divergences in the classification
   of Birrdhawal suggest that the matter
   may still require further research, so for
   present purposes we treat it as being distinct
   from other Victorian Border languages. But
   we note that it is unlikely to be a linguistic
   isolate, and the evidence suggests that it is
   most likely related to Kurnai (Ganaay)
   (Wafer and Lissarrague 2008:95).

The author of this paper concurs with Wafer and Lissarrague's (2008) interpretation and conclusion.

Birrdhawal territory: historical sources

Primary (historical) information about Birrdhawal territory is found in at least six sources ranging in date from 1840 to 1907: Bulmer (1878 in Bulmer Papers); Curr (1886-7); Howitt (1870-1890 in Howitt Papers SLV, 1880, 1904); Mathews (1907); Robinson (1840, 1844 in Clark 2000a, 2000b; 2001); and Smyth (1878). The main questions here relate to the extent of Birrdhawal territory, the neighbouring groups that delimit it, the named groups that are mentioned, the territory of each, and of which major group (tribe) it was a component.

GA Robinson (1840, 1844)

George Augustus Robinson served as Chief Protector in the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate from 1839 until early 1850. Robinson's papers and journals (see Clark 2000a:vol. 1,186; vol. 4, 143; 2000b:288-9; 2001) contain specific information on Aboriginal tribes in far eastern Victoria. This information was collected by Robinson in March 1840 in western Victoria, and in July and August 1844 during his journey to the Upper Murray, Monaro, Twofold Bay and East Gippsland districts. Robinson did not record any collective name for the Birrdhawal, but he did record the names of local groups that fell within country delineated by others as Birrdhawal territory. On 3 March 1840, Robinson met a 14-yearold Thawa youth named 'Toon.gig.ger', in the employ of Charles Lynott at Glen Imlay station near present-day Elmhurst, in western Victoria. Lynott, who was a superintendent for Peter Imlay, had brought the youth with him from Lynott's 'Wongerrerbarl' (Wangrabelle) station on the Genoa River (Robinson Journal 3/3/1840 in Clark 2000a:vol. 1, 186). Robinson spent some time collecting information from Toon.gig.ger, and recorded that the name of the lad's 'tribe' was 'Han.ner.ker', and his word for 'blackfellow' was moo.hoo (Robinson Papers 3/3/1840 in Clark 2000b:288-9). Analysis of this word list reveals that it is similar to other Thawa vocabularies recorded by Robinson in 1844. As well as word lists, Robinson (Journal 6/8/1844 in Clark 2000a:vol. 4, 143) recorded information about the languages spoken within the study area, including the following from a man named Kalbinder (aka Rodney, the Cape Howe speaker from the Malloketer mitter clan that Robinson had met at Twofold Bay), who agreed to be his guide:
   Rodney says Cape How [Malloketer mitter],
   Tinnoor [Genoa],Wongererbul [Wangrabelle],
   Twofold Bay, and Panbuller [Pambula] all
   speak same language [Thawa]; the Bicker
   [Bega] is another language [Dyirringan]. The
   tribe at Bane [Bemm] and Karn [Cann] speak
   same language as the Buckun [Buchan]
   [Krauatungalung] and probably Gipps Land
   tribe [Ganai] (Clark 2000a:vol. 4, 143).

The importance this information brings to determining Birrdhawal language boundaries and local group organisation is significant. The Tinnoor group at Genoa, for example, has been considered to be a Birrdhawal group in all modern reconstructions (Clark 2003; Massola 2010; Thompson 1985; Wesson 1994, 2000), yet Kalbinder was clear that they were Thawa people. It is also significant in that he states that Birrdhawal (i.e. the Karn group in this list) spoke the same language (Ganai) as the people of Gippsland.

Robinson's information concerns the linguistic affiliation of groups in the north-east part of the study area--the Genoa River catchment--as well as the western part--the Snowy River catchment, and lower reaches of the rivers Cann and Bemm. It concurs with Howitt's (1880) boundary for Birrdhawal and Krauatungalung territory. Robinson's evidence that local groups occupying the north-east (and possibly part of the south-west) of Mallacoota Inlet and the Genoa River watershed are Thawa stands in contrast to Birrdhawal territory delineated by Tindale (1974) and Wesson (1994). Kalbinder's attribution that the Karn people spoke the same language as the Buckun people would, on face value, seem to imply that they are Krauatangalung (the eastern division of the Ganai), but this attribution needs careful interpretation. As we have established through lexicostatistical analysis that Birrdhawal was linguistically related to Ganai, this comment by a Thawa speaker from country east of Birrdhawal is not unexpected. What convinces us that Karn is not a Krauatangalung clan is the fact that the primary source for Ganai local organisation, AW Howitt, does not assert Ganai affiliation for this group. Confirmation of this position is found in the movement of the Dangaia subgroup of the Karn people to Delegate with other Birrdhawal, and not with the Krauatangalung and other Ganai groups to Lake Tyers or Lake Wellington.

J Lingard (1846)

Joseph Lingard was an assigned convict whose 1846 publication 'A narrative of the Journey to and from New South Wales, including a seven years' residence in that country' is one of the earliest accounts of European settlement in the Monaro district. His work has been accorded a critical significance by Thompson (1985) and Wesson (1994) but on consideration this is not merited. According to Thompson (1985:4), Lingard 'calls the Aborigines on the Genoa River near Mallacoota the Bidawal'. However, Thompson's source is not Lingard 1846 but a misinterpreted passage attributed to Lingard 1846 in 'Mallacoota Memories', a Mallacoota and District Historical Society publication (1980:23) (1) which reads, 'The Genore River was followed by the Biduelli tribe--"scrub dwellers" = on their annual treck [sic] to the Monaro each Spring, hunting for a type of yam and the Bogong moth larvae'. On a number of occasions Wesson (1994:44) references Lingard 1846 but fails to provide page numbers, making it hard to check her primary source. Thus, for example, under the heading 'Lingard (1842) (publication 1846)' she provides the following quote: "'The Genore River was followed by the Biduelli tribe ... on their annual trek to the Monaro each spring hunting for a type of yam and the Bogong moth larvae.' (visited the area in 1842)"' (Wesson 1994:49), and that '... Lingard, who was in Maap country two years before Robinson, does recount the people as Biduelli (Lingard 1846)' (Wesson 1994:51). (2) In fact, Lingard's 1846 publication does not contain the name 'Biduelli', 'Bidawal' or any variant spelling. It is likely, therefore, that Wesson's (1994:49) attribution is based on Thompson's misrepresentation of 'Mallacoota Memories' and that neither she, nor Thompson, consulted Lingard 1846 directly. Analysis of Lingard (1846) shows that while a valuable early source of observations about far east Victorian and southern New South Wales Aboriginal people, this publication does not provide any language or group names nor present any information on Aboriginal territorial boundaries. (3)

RB Smyth (1878)

Robert Brough Smyth was one of the first people in Victoria to attempt to collate information on the Aboriginal people of that state, and in his role as Secretary to the Board for the Protection of Aborigines he was well placed to do so. Smyth's (1878) sources for the study area were Rev. John Bulmer and AW Howitt (both of whom are also considered separately below). Bulmer supplied Smyth (1878:vol. 1, 36) with the following comments:
   The Krowithun Koolo claimed the territory
   east of the Snowy River to the River Genoa,
   near Twofold Bay ... The Bidwell people lived
   in the back-country from the Snowy River to
   the Great Dividing Range. All the tribes on
   the Gippsland side of the Great Dividing
   Range are known as Karnathan Kani, or
   Lowlanders; the word Karnang meaning at
   the foot of a hill, or in a low place. The tribes
   on the other side are styled Brajerak, which
   means men who are to be feared. The word is
   formed from Bra, a man, and jer-ah, to fear.
   Mr Bulmer supposes that the blacks meant to
   imply that the people beyond the great range
   were strangers, and not safe to deal with.

Smyth's cartographic representation of Bidwell and Krowithun Koolo territory is informed by Bulmer's descriptions (in Smyth 1878:vol. 1, 36). However, Bulmer's understanding disagrees with other sources. According to Bulmer, Birrdhawal territory is located entirely west of the Snowy River, along a 30 to 40 kilometre-wide piece of land bounded by the Snowy River to the east, the Great Dividing Range to the west, and to around Timbarra in the south, and north by an undefined boundary north of the state border. Howitt (in Fison and Howitt 1880) also attributes this country west of the Snowy River to Birrdhawal, but in addition to the lands east and south-east of the Snowy River. Other sources have defined Smyth's 'Bidwell' country as Ngarigu (Clark 1996; Eades 1976; Tindale 1940) and Ganai (Mathews 1908:336).

In contrast with all the other sources consulted in this paper, Smyth places the Krauatangalung territory east and south-east of 'Bidwell', from the Snowy River in the west to the Genoa River at Mallacoota Inlet in the east, and includes all of the country from the coast to the New South Wales border. Most other sources--including Howitt (1880), Mathews (1907), Tindale (1940, 1974) and Fesl (1985) but excluding Jemmy Lawson (in Howitt Papers SLV; Wesson 1994, 2000, 2002)--attribute a strip of coastal land between the Snowy River and Point Hicks or Wingan Inlet to Krauatangalung.

EM Curr (1886-7)

Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1886-7) described himself as one of Victoria's 'pioneers' of the pastoral era. His major contribution to scholarship surrounding the spatial organisation of Australian languages and clans was published in four volumes in 1886-87, under the title The Australian Race. Following the example set by Howitt, Curr circulated a list of more than 100 English words to pastoralists and magistrates across Australia, instructing them to gather Indigenous language renditions. Thereby he compiled a compendium of Aboriginal vocabularies, informed by Aboriginal people, although recorded by Europeans. These vocabulary lists can be valuable, not least due to the people he chose to collect the Aboriginal words on his behalf, who often had direct and long-term relationships with Aboriginal people. These included Rev. John Bnlmer (who collected word lists for Curr from people of the Moneroo, Gippsland, Omeo and Snowy River districts), who was (see below) also one of Smyth's and Howitt's contacts, and Rev Hagenauer (who collected word lists from Gippsland). Curr (1886:54) writes of Bulmer's contribution:
   Immediately to the east of the Kroatungolung,
   itself the most easterly of the Gippsland
   tribes, we have one named Birtowall, or
   scrub people, and Mr. Bulmer remarks that
   the Kroatungolung, in whose country is the
   Snowy River, fraternize with the Brabrolung;
   and the Birtowall, or as they are commonly
   called Bidwell or Bidwelli Blacks, with the
   tribes of Moneroo, to whose speech their
   own is akin. Examining into this subject I
   find, in fact, that from the Snowy River westerly
   to the limits of Gippsland the several
   languages are closely related amongst themselves,
   and allied to those of Central Victoria,
   and through them to the Wiiratheri and
   Kamileroi; on the other hand, passing over
   the Birtowall language, said to be related to
   that of the Moneroo, but of which I have not
   been able to obtain a specimen, we find the
   languages between Cape Howe and Sydney
   Cove differing from those of Gippsland, and
   strongly connected amongst themselves.

By describing the Snowy River as located within Kroatungolung country, Bulmer's findings support the western Birrdhawal boundary delineations of Howitt (1904) and Mathews (1907) (see below). The observations on the commonality and continuity of eastern Victoria and south-eastern New South Wales languages also support Hercus' (1965) claim that Birrdhawal was a language that exhibited intermediate features between the Yuin languages of south coast New South Wales and the Ganai languages of Gippsland.

AW Howitt (Papers c. 1870-1890, 1880, 1904)

Alfred William Howitt is widely regarded as the most substantial and comprehensive contributor to the scholarship on the spatial organisation and cultural practices of the Aboriginal people of Gippsland, and specifically the Kurnai (Ganai) (Wesson 1994). His diligence and accuracy in documenting the Ganai clans is verified by its accord to other primary sources, with the partial but notable exception of some of the findings of Mathews. Much of his data were gathered first hand, among Ganai groups in the 1870s and 1880s. Howitt's sources on Birrdhawal were Senior Constable Frank James (a policeman at Bendoc), who interviewed Jemmy Lawson (and, probably, Jongai Jemmy) (both Birrdhawal), the east Gippsland Aboriginal men Long Harry and McKay (both Ganai), and Monaro (Ngarigu) men Mickey and Munday (Old Munday). It appears that much, if not all, of this information was collected by Howitt in the late 1870s, prior to his 1880 delineation of Gippsland tribal organisation.

According to Senior Constable James, his 'informant' Jemmy Lawson (also referred to by Howitt as 'Old Lawson') had supplied the information that the Maap (Birrdhawal) people occupied '... the whole of the Snowy River watershed (eastern side river only) from Little Plain River [a tributary of the Delegate River] (N.S.W.) to the coast in Victoria' (James 1876 in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b). James identified Lawson in 1876 as a Maap (Birrdhawal) man, and regretted the 'meagre' quantity of information gathered from him, while hoping to obtain further details about the people of the Bendoc district when some Maap men returned from seasonal harvesting and shearing work (in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b). In a letter to Howitt dated 6 February 1876, he claimed that Lawson was 'not very intelligent':
   The fact is he smokes too much Opium and
   has been so long with the Whites that the
   Senr Const. fears he really knows little about
   his own tribe or their language or customs.
   The Senr Const. saw and questioned informant's
   Mother (Loah) and his sister (Maak)
   but could get nothing out of them, they sent
   Jemmy Lawson as better informed than
   themselves (Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b). (4)

James' information about Jemmy Lawson needs to be considered very carefully. It is unlikely that a man called 'Old' in 1876 would know little of his own country and about Aboriginal culture in general and it is instead far more likely that the police officer had poor relations with Aboriginal people, which would explain why Jemmy Lawson's mother did not divulge any information. Yet this information is moderated by the fact that the interpretations of Howitt, who is widely regarded as an authority on eastern Victoria, and the information recorded by Robinson in 1840 and 1844 do not concur with the information provided by Lawson.

In demarcating territories, Ngarigu Elder Old Munday (1881? in Howitt Papers SLV 1050/2c) stated that the Ngarigu people were adjoined by 'the Kurnai about Gelantipy, to the south-west by the Biduelli at the Coast Range', and that 'the names of the tribes bordering the Ngarigu were ... the Bondi mittong at Bondi, Biduell mittong at Bendoc'. This was supported by another Ngarigu man, Mickey, who told Howitt that the 'Bondi Blacks = Bondi mittung' and 'Bendoc Blacks--Biduell Blacks' (n.d. in Howitt Papers SLV 1050/2c). References to the Bondi mittong and Ponedang mittong need careful consideration as it appears that there are two distinct groups with similar names belonging to two distinct languages: the Bondi mittong at Bondi station near Nangutta, Victoria, and thus a Birrdhawal local group, and the Ponedeang mittong at Cathcart in New South Wales, a Ngarigu local group (Koch in press).

Howitt (n.d. in Howitt SLV Papers 1053/3a) recorded the following explanation from two Ganai men, Long Harry and McKay, regarding the peoples neighbouring the Ganai:
   The blackfellows over the mountain toward
   Goulburn are called Ngur-all-it; those towards
   Melbourne To-tur-ung...; those of Omeo
   and Maneroo Brajerak, those of Twofold Bay
   War-al and those the other side the Snowy
   River who were almost Kurnai--Bidwelli

Aside from this brief information supplied by Long Harry and McKay, Jemmy Lawson's description of Maap (Birrdhawal) country is the only evidence that supports the western boundary delineations provided for Birrdhawal by Wesson (1994, 2000, 2002). However, evidence provided by Howitt and others (see below) records a different delineation.

Howitt's (1880) publication, co-authored with Rev. Lorimer Fison, presented important information on the territory of the five Ganai groups, and while no specific delineation of Birrdhawal was included in this work, one map and a description of the Krauatangolung eastern boundary effectively constructs the western boundary of Birrdhawal. According to Howitt:

Kroatungolung (Kroat=East, lung=father), claimed all the sea-coast from near Cape Everard to the Snowy River; all that river, with its tributaries, up to about Willis; the sea-coast from the Snowy River to Jimmy's Point, near the entrance to the Gippsland Lakes, with all the streams flowing into Ewing's Marsh and Lake Tyers (Howitt in Fison and Howitt 1880:227-9).

In 1904 Howitt described tribal organisation in east Gippsland in the following terms:

In that part of Eastern Victoria called Croajingolong there was a small tribe called the Biduelli, who occupied the forest and jungle covered country between the high coast ranges and the immediate coast along which the Kurnai lived. This tribe may be considered an appendix to the Ngarigo, Murring, and Kurnai, being a mixture from them all ... These people were enclosed in one of the most inhospitable tracts of country which I know of in south-eastern Australia, lying behind a narrow strip of coast country which the Krauatun Kurnai held between the Snowy River and Cape Everard. The Ngarigo lived beyond the coast range to the north of them, and the Coast Murring along the littoral tract north of Cape Howe ... The Biduelli were few in number, inhabiting small open spaces in the dense jungle, and called themselves "men" (maap) (Howitt 1904:79-80).

RH Mathews Papers (1907)

Surveyor Robert Hamilton Mathews has published one paper relevant to this study, in which he delineated Birrdhawal country as follows:

Their hunting grounds were mainly in the extreme eastern corner of the State of Victoria but they also occupied a small strip of country within the New South Wales frontier. Their boundary may be approximately defined as follows: Commencing on the sea coast, at Cape Conron [sic], and reaching thence along the coast to Mullacoota [sic] Inlet, including the following rivers and their tributaries--Bemm, Cann, Thurra, Wingan and Genoa. The Birdhawal territory extended inland from the sea coast to Bonang, Delegete, Craigie, and some other places in that district. It will be seen that the foregoing description crosses the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria, and takes in the headwaters of the Queenboro, Bondi and Nungatta creeks (Mathews 1907:346).

Mathews' delineation includes some Victorian coastline from Cape Conran east to Mallacoota Inlet. It does not include the Snowy River, as suggested by Jemmy Lawson. Also significant is his assertion that Birrdhawal included a 'small strip of country' within New South Wales.

JM Bulrner Papers n.d.

Rev. John Bulmer served as a missionary at the Church of England mission at Lake Tyers in Gippsland from 1861 until 1907. In its first few decades of operation, Lake Tyers functioned as a Gippsland-wide refuge for the remnants of Indigenous clans. So with such a variety of representatives of the Gippsland and east Gippsland clans present, Bulmer was able to collect samples of word lists from languages of the Snowy River, Omeo and Monaro people (in Curt 1886-7), and provide valuable contributions to the works of Howitt (Papers SLV; 1904). His papers contain some information relating to territorial boundaries in the study area and these, like his language lists, are generally published in secondary sources such as Smyth (1878) and Curr (1886-7). However, his papers do provide some additional information. For example, they reveal that, unlike other writers, Bulmer placed the Tambo River as the westward boundary of Birrdhawal: 'The Tambo River was regarded by any wandering blacks of Maneroo or Bidwell as the boundary on their excursions westward into Gippsland and they were unwilling to cross the river for tribal reasons' (Bulmer Papers n.d.).

King Charley (a Krauatangalung Ganai, see Pepper and De Araugo 1985; Young et al. 2000) gave the following information to Bulmer, who recalled in correspondence with Howitt:

King Charley told me that they did not consider the Twofold Bay Blacks as Brajerak but as Kroatungalung. The Snowy River & Bem Miter seems to have had an intercourse with them. Charley tells me that they got their wives from Maneroo both by stealth and as free gifts (Bulmer 11.1.1878 in Howitt Papers MoV).

Elsewhere, Bulmer noted:

The Bidwell Blacks are not exactly Brajerak as they are able to understand the language of the Kanis. I think the term [Brajerak] is confined to men whose talk is not understand as Barbarian as with us, it is a word made up of Bra a man and Jerra to fear, consequently the Bidwells would not be among that class (10.10.1878 in Howitt Papers MoV).

Modern reconstructions of Birrdhawal territory

During the twentieth century, Norman Tindale, Luise Hercus, Robert (Bob) Dixon, Eve Fesl, Kym Thompson, Ian Clark and Sue Wesson have all conducted research into delineating Aboriginal language areas in far eastern Victoria. In addition, Birrdhawal local group organisation has been researched by Clark (2003), Fesl (1985), Aldo Massola (2010) and Wesson (1994, 2000, 2002).

NB Tindale (1974)

From the early 1930s until the mid-1960s, anthropologist Norman Tindale undertook extensive fieldwork in south-east Australia. These and other notes form the basis of Tindale's (1940, 1974) publications on Aboriginal spatial organisation. His delineation of Birrdhawal territory is as follows: 'Coast between Green Cape, N.S.W., and Cape Everard (Point Hicks); inland to Delegate, N.S.W., and on headwaters of Cann and Bem [sic] rivers, chiefly in rainforest and wet sclerophyll country inhospitable to others...Mathews placed the western boundary at Cape Conran but this area belonged to the Krauatungalung' (Tindale 1974:203). Tindale's (1974:205f) delineation of Krauatungalung is 'Cape Everard (Point Hicks) to Lake Entrance; on Cann, Brodribb, Buchan, and Snowy rivers; inland to about Black Mountain'. Tindale here addresses one of two issues central to reconciling the boundaries of Birrdhawal country--the status of the long coastal strip of land attributed to Krauatangalung in Howitt (1904) and to Birrdhawal by Jemmy Lawson (in Howitt Papers SLV) and Wesson (2002).

Like Fison and Howitt (1880), Tindale considered the western side of the Wingan River, and most of the Thurra, Cann, Bemm and Brodribb River catchments to be in Krauatangalung country. He considered the headwaters of the Cann and Bemm rivers belonged to Birrdhawal. This spatial delineation renders the Ben mitter people (at Sydenham Inlet and Bemm River) and the Karn (at Cann River) as Krauatangalung. Tindale's reconstructions also place the Mallakoterer mitter (east of Mallacoota Inlet), Tinnoor mittong (Genoa River) and Wongererbul (Genoa River near Wroxham) as Birrdhawal clans. However, this conclusion contradicts the information supplied by Kalbinder aka Rodney (in Robinson Journal in Clark 2000a) that these three groups spoke the same Cape Howe (Thawa) tongue.

LA Hercus (1969, 1986)

Linguist Luise Hercus researched Victorian languages extensively in the 1960s, including those of the study area. Although she did not record any surviving Birrdhawal language during her field research, she did record and analyse a southern form of the Ngarigu language at Wallaga Lake that was spoken by some people who had previously lived at Delegate. However, the impact which this southern Ngarigu has on the identification of the Delegate region as Birrdhawal country remains uncertain. Further research needs to be carried out into the pre-contact origins of the people Hercus recorded, of whom she remarked: 'Ngarigu was once spoken on the southern Monaro from Bombala to Nimmitabel and along the upper Snowy Valley in the Delegate area, and around Goongerah in Victoria' (Hercus 1985:165). At the time of her research, Hercus knew that other informants from Orbost also came from Delegate, and consequently she termed the language words 'Bidawal'. But on closer inspection, she found that the vocabulary was so much like Mathews' (1908) Ngarrugu that she reconsidered her previous finding and called that language Southern Ngarigu (personal communication, Luise Hercus, 2003).

While researching the Southern Ngarigu tongue, Hercus noted that her informants mentioned some people called Danggai (elsewhere 'Tongi' in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b, and 'Tangai' in Young et al. 2000). Of these people, she recorded the following: ' of a subtribe of the Bidawal. The Danggiai were displaced by white settlement and most went to Delegate. The tribal name survived as a surname and a Mrs Tangeye was the last "clever" woman at Delegate. She died about 1915' (Hercus 1986:244).

It was Hercus' opinion at the time (personal communication, 2003) that these Danggai people had something to do with Tonghi Creek, a tributary of the Cann River approximately 10 kilometres west of Cann River township. While it cannot be confirmed because of the dearth of genealogical information, it is possible that the people referred to by Hercus as 'Danggai' were the same group to which Tongi Jemmy (in Howitt Papers SLV) and Sarah 'Granny' Tongi belonged (in Young et al. 2000) and that they may have been descendents of the remnants of the Karn people (referred to in Robinson Journal 1844 in Clark 2000a), who, according to Pepper and De Araugo (1985:10001), survived the massacre of Krauatangalung and Birrdhawal clans people at Milly Creek in the 1840s, a reprisal attack for the killing of hutkeeper Moylan at Cann. However, it would seem unlikely that the Tongi/Dangai people constituted a local group from Tonghi Creek (between the Cann and Bemm Rivers) that was separate from the Karn, given that Robinson recorded details of Bemm River and Cann River people in 1844, and did not mention Dangai. Howitt (1876 in Howitt Papers SLV) did not record Tongi Jemmy's name as representing anything other than his family.

E Fesl (1985)

Eve Fesl's (1985) linguistics master's thesis, 'Ganai, A study of the Aboriginal languages of Gippsland based on 19th century materials', while primarily concerned with that language, does contain a reconstruction of Birrdhawal spatial organisation. Fesl delineated Birrdhawal territory as extending easterly from Marlo to Cape Everard, approximately two to ten kilometres, then north towards the headwaters of the Thurra River, west to Goongerah and south including the Brodribb River. She does not attribute any of the sea coast to Birrdhawal. Fesl (1985:54) attests that only two divisional names of Birrdhawal are to be found in the records: 'Wakeruk--east of Snowy River' and 'Dangiai--a sub-group of Bidawal which moved to Delegate following displacement'.

K Thompson (1985)

In 1985 Kym Thompson prepared a report on the history of the Aboriginal people of east Gippsland for the Land Conservation Council of Victoria. He summarised the knowledge of Birrdhawal as follows: 'While the Krauatungalung and the Ngarigo are relatively well documented, virtually nothing is known about the Bidhawal. Even the location of the tribe is uncertain' (Thompson 1985: 45). In Thompson's (1985) analysis, Tindale's reconstruction of Birrdhawal country is incorrect, which, given its significance for this paper, is worth quoting in full:

Tindale's boundaries for the Gunnai tribes appear to be based on Howitt's earlier work (Fison and Howitt 1880: 227-9), for there is virtually no difference between the two maps. Howitt also gives the easternmost limit of the Krauatungalung on the coast as Cape Everard, but does not explicitly define the territory of the Bidawal in this work. Two papers by Howitt published a few years later, however, place the Krauatungalung further to the east. They are described as occupying the coast from Lake Tyers to Mallacoota Inlet, where their neighbours were the southern-most of what Howitt calls the Coast Murring tribes of southern NSW coast, with whom they intermarried. The important point to note here is that the Bidawal are excluded from the coast.

A further slightly different account is given in Howitt (1904: 73-81), where it is claimed that the Krauatungalung and southernmost Coast Murring tribe are neighbours along the coast. Howitt gives Cape Everard as the eastern-most limit of the Coast Murring, but makes no specific mention of Mallacoota Inlet, although it is possible that he considers Mallacoota Inlet to be included in the general reference to Cape Howe. In this publication he stresses that the Bidawal are an inland tribe, occupying 'small open spaces in the dense jungle' between the high ranges and the 'narrow strip along the coast' occupied by the Krauatungalung. The important conclusions that can be drawn from Howitt's publication are that while the eastern limits of the Krauatungalung are very uncertain, it is clear that the Bidawal area does not include any coastline (Thompson 1985: 46-7).

Although Thompson erred in his reliance on a secondary source that misrepresented the value of Lingard's (1846) discussion of the Aboriginal people of the Genoa River (see above), his analysis of the territorial boundaries of the Birrdhawal is otherwise sound.

ID Clark (1996, 2003)

Ian Clark is a historical geographer who has been researching Victorian Aboriginal languages and local organisation since 1982. Clark's (1996) boundary descriptions of Birrdhawal were derived from Wesson (1994) (see below). Clark (2003) also delineated ten Maap (Birrdhawal) clans (Table 3), making two changes to Wesson's (1994) reconstruction. Dura was placed in Krauatangalung, and the Dangiai clan was added to Maap on the basis that Hercus (1986) considered that it was a Birrdhawal clan that had been displaced into Ngarigu country.

SC Wesson (1994, 2000, 2002)

Sue Wesson has been researching eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales Aboriginal spatial organisation since 1992. In 1994 she published a literature review of the sources available for an ethnographic study of this region, which included a detailed case study of Maap (Birrdhawal). In 2000 she published an atlas in which she presented her reconstruction of Aboriginal spatial organisation in Gippsland and southern New South Wales.

Wesson (1994) conducted language boundary and clan organisation reconstructions for Maap (Birrdhawal). Her reconstruction attributes more land to this group than any other source, including the sea coast from the Snowy River mouth to Mallacoota Inlet, inland as far as Bombala and the upper Snowy River in the north, with the western boundary fixed along the Snowy River. She (1994:54) concluded that:
   the Krauatungalung bounded the Maap at
   the Snowy River (Howitt Papers 1876), the
   Thawa inhabited the southern New South
   Wales Coast from Twofold Bay (Eades 1976)
   to the eastern entrance to Mallacoota Inlet
   (Robinson 1844, Howitt 1904, Mathews
   1907), the Maap inhabited the Snowy River
   mouth (Lawson, Long Harry and McKay [in
   Howitt Papers] 1876) to the western entrance
   to Mallacoota Inlet (Robinson 1844,
   Mathews 1907), the Victorian coast from the
   Snowy River on the west (Jongai Jimmy,
   Long Harry and McKay in Howitt Papers
   1876) to the Genoa River catchment on the
   east (Lingard 1846 [sic], Robinson 1844) and
   north to the ranges of the state border, including
   those ranges (Jongai Jimmy in Howitt
   Papers 1876) (which takes the territory part
   way into New South Wales).

Wesson's (1994)language boundary reconstruction is based on her understanding of clan organisation within the study area. She (1994) undertook the first detailed analysis of Birrdhawal, and initially delineated ten clans (Table 3). In a later publication (2000), she reduced this number to six, deleting Maapkoolong as a clan name, treating Karang-gil and Wallergerer as place names, and identifying Pondiang mittong instead as a Ngarigu clan. In 1994 she was unsure if the Wal-ler-ger-rar group belonged to Maap or Thawa and while she (1994:45) follows Howitt (in Fison and Howitt 1880)in locating the Dura at present day Orbost, she nonetheless attributes this group to Maap (Birrdhawal) (Wesson 1994:56; 2000:106). Her definition of Tinnon mittong as a Maap clan (1994:56; 2000:114) is questionable, as Robinson recorded that this group spoke Thawa, and similar difficulties are inherent in her definition of Bemm mittong, as both Robinson and Howitt record these people as speaking Krauatangalung (Ganai). Dangiai is attributed clan status, but Wesson claims they are Ngarigu. In her 2000 publication she does not recognise Bondi mittung and Ponedeang mittong as distinct groups. The Dangiai group suggested by Hercus to be Birrdhawal has presumably been considered by Wesson as a variant of the Kyrekong mittong group at Delegate.

A Massola (2010)

Aldo Massola served as the curator of anthropology at the Museum of Victoria from 1956 until 1965 and published widely on many topics relevant to Victorian Aboriginal people. His manuscript on the Birrdhawal was prepared in 1975 but only published in 2010 through the work of his grandson Christopher Riley. Massola concluded that they were divided into at least two clans (one named Wakeruk and the second unknown) and several 'hordes' or 'groups' including Wingin, Kam, Mallekotang, Tjinor and Tjooroonoo (or Wallagaraugh), Worarer-Mitton (or Wongrabelle), Timbiluker and Dangiai (Massola 2010:25, 26). However, Massola's reconstruction has little integrity, as, for example, Mallekotang, Tjinor and Wallergerrar are identified as Thawa groups in the primary sources.


Detailed analysis of the primary and secondary sources enables a reconstruction of the territories, languages and social organisation of Birrdhawal and, to a degree, their neighbours. The conclusions are summarised in Tables 3 and 4.

Table 3 is a summary of clan organisation in the study area as recorded in the primary sources. It shows the primary source of information for each group and includes language affiliation where given. In the final column is the analysis of this study.

Table 4 summarises the tribal affiliation of local groups in the reconstructions of Thompson, Wesson, Clark and Massola, and then provides the conclusion of this study. Note that Maap is an alternative name of Birrdhawal. It includes two names (Karang-gil and Maap koolong) that have been incorrectly attributed as clan names in previous studies.

Major issues in dispute

Wesson's (1994, 2000, 2002) delineation of the western territorial limits of Maap (Birrdhawal) relies totally upon information obtained from Jemmy Lawson. Lawson claimed that the Maap territory extended eastwards from the Snowy River mouth. This information was gathered by Frank James (in Howitt Papers SLV), who expressed serious doubts as to the capacity of Lawson to give factual accounts of traditional 'tribal' country and culture. The fact that Howitt disregarded Lawson's information when charting his own boundary delineations for the Birrdhawal would lead to the conclusion that Howitt was sufficiently unconvinced. Hence, Howitt attributes the strip of land from the mouth of the Snowy River at Marlo to Cape Everard to the Krauatangalung, and lists as Krauatangalung the clans Bemm mittung (Bemm River, Sydenham Inlet) and Dura (Orbost). Howitt's attribution is consistent with information Robinson recorded in 1844.

To support her delineation of that coastal country as Maap (Birrdhawal), Wesson (2000) introduces the notion of succession of territory. By promoting succession she is attempting to reconcile the conflicting attribution of Lawson (that the Snowy River is the western boundary of Birrdhawal) with that of Howitt, who describes the coastal territory as Krauatangalung. While an attempt was made by Wesson (2000:19) to articulate this theory, the discussion is at best ambiguous and must at present remain unsubstantiated.

Bulmer, the missionary at Lake Tyers, has noted how one Krauatangalung speaker, King Charley, told him that his people did not consider the 'Twofold Bay blacks', a term that loosely applied to the people of far east Victoria, 'as Brajerak [a pejorative term] but as Kroatungalung' (11/1/1878 Bulmer Papers MoV). Krauatangalung may be interpreted as Krawathan(g)-kulung, where -kulung is the 'mob' suffix, and Krawa could be something like 'east' (in Howitt's etymology Kroat = East), thus Krawathan(g)-kulung may be interpreted as 'easterners'. This comment introduces the possibility of overlapping identities. For example, it may be possible that the same people may be being called 'easterners', 'scrub-dwellers' and 'maap' (people). The possibility of these overlapping terms with different referential scope may provide a different solution to the contradictory claims in the primary literature, in addition to Wesson's suggestion of the notion of succession.

This is hinted at in Mathews' (1902) reference that Brabirrawulung is the language of all the Ganai tribes. He may similarly have used Birdhawal as a term for all the eastern Gippslanders, including those called by others the Krauatangalung. This may have influenced his claim that their territory went to the sea. Further, if Birrdhawal means 'forest-dwellers', might not some forestdwellers live west of the Snowy River? And 'maap' 'people', as used by Jemmy Lawson may have included both forest-dwelling Birrdhawal and coastal Krauatangalung.


Although Wesson has conducted the most detailed research into Birrdhawal spatial organisation, this study has found that there is insufficient evidence in the primary sources to support her inclusion of coastal land in Birrdhawal territory or her suggestion that the inconsistency in accounts might be explained by this land having succeeded to Krauatangalung.

Most sources--including Howitt (1880), Tindale (1940, 1974) and Fesl (1985) but excluding Jemmy Lawson (1876 in Howitt Papers SLV 1053/5b) and Wesson (1994, 2000, 2002)--attributed a strip of coastal land between the Snowy River and Point Hicks or Wingan Inlet to Krauatangalung. Like Fison and Howitt (1880), Tindale (1974) considered the western side of the Wingan River and most of the Thurra, Cann, Bemm and Brodribb River catchments to be in Krauatangalung country. This spatial organisation renders the Bemm mittung (at Sydenham Inlet and Bemm River) and the Karn (at Cann River) as Krauatangalung. Tindale's reconstructions also place the Mallakoterer mitter (east of Mallacoota Inlet), Tinnoor mittong (Genoa River) and Wongererbul (Genoa River near Wroxham) as Birrdhawal clans, but this contradicts the information supplied by Kalbinder aka Rodney (in Robinson Journal 6.8.1844 in Clark 2000a:vol. 4, 143) that they all spoke the same Cape Howe (Thawa) tongue. Tindale's delineation of Karn as a Krauatangalung clan is not supported by AW Howitt, the primary source for Ganai local organisation. Confirmation of this position is found in the movement of the Dangaia subgroup of the Karn people to Delegate along with other Birrdhawal, and not with the Krauatangalung and other Ganai groups to Lake Tyers or Lake Wellington.

The re-analysis of primary sources in this study supports the conclusions of Fesl (1985) and Thompson (1985) that the Birrdhawal were landlocked and did not have any coastline as a southern boundary. The justification for this view comes from analysis and scrutiny of the ethnohistorical sources on clan organisation along the south-east coast. Fesl (1985) delineated Birrdhawal territory as extending easterly from Marlo to Cape Everard, approximately two to ten kilometres, then north towards the headwaters of the Thurra River, west to Goongerah and south including the Brodribb River. Kym Thompson's (1985) analysis also supports the conclusion that the Birrdhawal were landlocked. This is supported in part by the information provided by Bulmer to Smyth, which gives the Krauatangalung as occupying the country from the Snowy River to Mallacoota and the Genoa River, and locates the Birrdhawal in the 'back country from the Snowy River to the Great Dividing Range' (Smyth 1878:vol. 1, 36, map). As well as questioning Wesson's theory of succession, this paper has also discussed the possibility that overlapping identities in group names (with different referential scope) may provide a different kind of solution to the contradictory information in the primary literature. Figure 1 proposes a new determination of language boundaries in far eastern Victoria based on the current study.


Bulmer, John M Papers MoV (Museum of Victoria), no accession number, Box 11, Folder 10.

Clark, lan D 1996 Aboriginal Language Areas in Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Melbourne.

--(ed.) 2000a The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, 1839-1852, six volumes, Heritage Matters, Clarendon.

--(ed.) 2000b The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume 2: Aboriginal Vocabularies: South East Australia, 1839-52, Heritage Matters, Clarendon.

--(ed.) 2001 The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume 4: Annual and Occasional Reports 1841-1849, Heritage Matters, Clarendon.

--2003 'Victorian Aboriginal clans: A reconstruction' in lan Clark (ed.) 2003 Place Names and Land Tenure--Windows into Aboriginal landscapes: Essays in Victorian Aboriginal history, Ballarat Heritage Services, Ballarat, pp.173-209.

Clarke, William B 1860 'Bendoc and Deleget Goldfield. Report No. XIV on the auriferous character of the country along the Bendoc and Deleget Rivers, 22 March 1852' in William B Clarke, Researches in the Southern Gold Fields of New South Wales, Reading and Wellbank, Sydney, pp.200-14.

Curt, Edward M 1886-7 The Australian Race; its origin, languages, customs, places of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent, four volumes, Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne.

Dixon, Robert MW 1980 The Languages of Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

--2002 Australian Languages: Their nature and development, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Eades, Diana K 1976 The Dharawal and Dhurga Languages of the New South Wales Coast, AIATSIS, Canberra.

Fesl, Eve 1985 'Gunai: A study of the Aboriginal languages of Gippsland based on the nineteenth century materials', unpublished doctoral thesis, Monash University, Clayton.

Fison, Lorimer and Howitt, Alfred W 1880 Kamilaroi and Kurnai, George Robertson, Melbourne.

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--1969 The Languages of Victoria: A late survey, AIATSIS, Canberra.

--1986 Victorian Languages: A late survey, Department of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, Canberra (Pacific Linguistics Series B. No. 77).

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--Papers MoV (Museum of Victoria), no accession number, Box 1, Folders 5 & 6.

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--1904 The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, Macmillan, London.

Koch, Harold In press 'Aboriginal languages and social groups in the Canberra region: Interpreting the historical documentation' in Brett Baker, Ilana Mushin, Mark Harvey and Rod Gardner (eds), Indigenous Language and Social Identity" Papers in honour of Michael Walsh, Pacific Linguistics, Canberra, pp.131-53.

Lingard, Joseph 1846 A Narrative of the Journey to and from New South Wales, including a seven years' residence in that country, J Taylor, Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Mallacoota and District Historical Society 1980 Mallacoota Memories, Mallacoota and District Historical Society, Mallacoota.

Massola, Aldo 2010 The Scrub Dwellers: Pages in the early history of East Gippsland and south-east New South Wales, edited by Christopher Riley, The Estate of Aldo Massola, Kentucky.

Mathews, Robert H 1898a 'The Victorian Aborigines: Their initiation ceremonies and divisional systems', American Anthropologist 11:325-43.

--1898b 'Initiation ceremonies of Australian tribes', Proceedings American Philosophical Society 37(157) :54-73.

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--1907 'Language of the Birdhawal tribe, in Gippsland, Victoria', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 46: 346-59.

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Pepper, Phillip and Tess De Araugo 1985 You Are What You Make Yourself To Be, Hyland House, Melbourne.

Smyth, Robert B 1878 The Aborigines of Victoria, two volumes, Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne.

Thompson, Kym 1985 A History of the Aboriginal People of East Gippsland: A report to the Land Conservation Council of Victoria, Land Conservation Council, Melbourne.

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--1974 Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names, Australian National University Press, Canberra.

Wafer, Jim and Amanda Lissarrague 2008 A Handbook of Aboriginal Languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, Muurrbay Aboriginal Language & Culture Co-operative, Nambucca Heads, NSW.

Wesson, Sue C 1994 An Overview of the Sources for a Language and Clan Atlas of Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales, Monash University, Clayton.

--2000 An Historical Atlas of the Aborigines of Eastern Victoria and Far South-eastern New South Wales, Monash University, Clayton.

--2002 The Aborigines of eastern Victoria and far south-eastern New South Wales, 1830 to 1910: An historical geography, unpublished PhD thesis, Monash University, Clayton.

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Ian D Clark

School of Business, University of Ballarat


(1.) A revised Mallacoota local history was published in 1990 edited by KR Howe and JG Browne. Other than using the spelling 'Bidewel', the entry regarding the Genore River is the same as the 1980 edition.

(2.) In a later publication, in a detailed listing of variant spellings to Birrdhawal, Wesson (2000:120) does not include Lingard as a source.

(3.) Lingard (1846) is a rare book and copies are difficult to locate. A copy is held by the National Library of Australia. Detailed excerpts relevant to Aboriginal people are reproduced in Young (2005:123-32).

(4.) Young (2005:349-50) reproduces this letter to Howitt.

Dr lan D Clark is an Associate Professor in Tourism in the School of Business at the University of Ballarat. He has a Doctorate in Aboriginal Historical Geography from Monash University. His areas of interest include regional tourism, cultural heritage management, attractions management, Victorian Aboriginal history, Indigenous tourism, the history of tourism, and Victorian toponyms.

Table 1: Comparison of Birrdhawal vocabulary provided by
Mathews (1907) with that of neighbouring languages
(Italicised words are considered to agree with Mathews 1907)

English      Birrdhawal        Snowy River
             (Mathews 1907)    Ganai
                               (Bulmer in Curr

man          mawp (mankind)    kani
             gidyang (a man)
old man      muyulung          boordine
woman        kurragan
water        yarn              yarn
fire         mretch            mrit
good         linya             laan
bad          ngallen           dindin
sun          nau-in            woorin
moon         yedding           wane
possum       gungarang         wachan
father       babang            lang
mother       yuggan            yakkan
night        bunman            lalat
swim         banggadyan
canoe        guladung          gree
one          gu-du-ge          kootook
two          bolang            boolong
head         duduk             kowat
nose         gung              koong
tongue       thalin            jellin
ear          wring             wring
eye          mring             mree
mouth        dhang             kaath
hand         bretch            bret
foot         dyinnang          jan
rain         dhau-ak           willang
mountain     marru
camp         bang              ngoya
smoke        dhumbak           thone
kangaroo     burru             jirra
crow         marrangan         woggara
tomahawk     kuyan             gavian
dead         yuragat           yurrutkatbo
large        barraude          parrewatti
small        ngullaburi        tarlit
eat          dhalane           bangathang
drink        nungblane         glucknan
sleep        beandani          barnding
see          dhakani           tiarwark
hair         mundyugan         lirt poork
beard        yerran            yaan
teeth        ngurndak          ngerndak
thigh        thurrin           yerran
snow         dhulwurung
ground       wruk              wrack
cold         murbak            merbaak
grass        nalluk            ban
wombat       banggadhang
emu          mai-au-ra         miowera
reed spear   dhallandyil       dhrak
hungry       miran             merman
thirsty      kyan              kuan
talk         dhanggarani
give         yukananga
dance        mundadyan

English      Southern Ngarigu        Cape Howe
             (Hercus 1986)           (Thawa)
                                     (Robinson 1844 in Clark

man          marinj                  yin

old man      djiriban                my.o.long
woman        balan
water        bubul, ngadjung         moe.ko
fire         wada, djigun  
good         yalaganj, damaradj      oo.ti.yoo.ner
bad          dalang                  wo.ray.jun
sun          djaua                   now.we
moon         buriga                  kar.per.tang
possum       wadjan        
father       babang                  beeng.oong
mother       ngadjan                 me.moon
swim                                 par.tal
two                                  marn.dow.lo
head         gadagan                 kut.te.ker
nose         gung
ear          djandjung
mouth        munda
foot         djinang                 0.100
rain         bana
camp         mai-mai
smoke        dumbug (smoke-signal)   karn.der
kangaroo     ganjgrung               poy.rare
crow                                 munung.un
tomahawk     ngambaranj    
dead         birug                   mur.ko.lo
large        yaram, nguyung
small        mumung        
eat                                  tum.mer.ral
drink        gulug                   ar.kone.yer.dun
sleep        gabug                   koeng.o
see          dununag
hair         yarung                  kar.ung.gar.ung
teeth        njandug
thigh                                poen.der
snow         gunuma                  tarn
ground       dinadj                  moon.der
cold                                 kut.te.ker
grass        nalug                   wit.yan
wombat       migundan, banggadan     bunketer
reed spear
hungry       njanban                 it.tul
give                                 oo.tuc.wer
dance                                yare.ko.ral

Table 2: Birrdhawal word list (Mathews 1907): percentages of
common vocabulary with word lists of neighbouring languages

                   Snowy River-Ganai     Southern Ngarigu
                 (Bulmer in Curr 1886)    (Hercus 1986)

Birrdhawal                51%                 22.9%
(Mathews 1907)       (24/47 words)         (8/35 words)

                     Cape Howe-Thawa
                 (Robinson 1844 in Clark

Birrdhawal                14.6%
(Mathews 1907)        (6/41 words)

Table 3: Language affiliation of local groups in the study area
according to primary sources (where information is
absent, affiliation is not provided in the source)

Local group name    Language affiliation   Language
                    in Robinson 1844 in    affiliation in Fison
                    Clark 2000a            and Howitt (1880)
                                           and Howitt (1904)

Bemm mittung        Krauatang-alung        Krauatang-alung

Bondi mittong


Dura                                       Krauatang-alung
                                           (Howitt 1904)

Karn                Krauatang-alung

Kyrerkong mittong

Tinnoor mittong     Thawa

Waggarak                                   Bidwelli
                                           (Fison and Howitt


Local group name    Language         language affiliation
                    affiliation in   as determined in this
                    other sources    study

Bemm mittung                         Krauatangalung

Bondi mittong                        Birrdhawal

Dangiai             Bidawal          Part or subgroup of
                    (Hercus 1986)    Karn, Birrdhawal local

Dura                                 Krauatangalung

Karn                                 Birrdhawal

Kyrerkong mittong                    Birrdhawal

Tinnoor mittong                      Thawa

Waggarak            Birdhawal        Birrdhawal
                    (Mathews 1907)

Wallergerrar                         Thawa

Table 4: Birrdhawal local group organisation: analysis
of previous reconstructions

Local group name   Thompson     Wesson    Clark       Wesson
                   1985         1994      2003        2000

Bemm mittung       Krauatang-   Maap      Maap        Maap

Bondi mittung                   Maap      Maap        Ngarigu

Dangiai                         Ngarigo   Maap        Variant of

Dura               Krauatang-   Maap      Krauatang   Maap
                   alung                  -alung

Karang-gil                      Maap      Maap        Place name

Karn                            Maap      Maap        Maap

Kyrerkong                       Maap      Maap        Maap

Maap koolong                    Maap      Maap

Tinnoor mittung                 Maap      Maap        Maap

Waggarak                        Maap      Maap        Maap

Wallergerrar                    Maap      Maap        Place name

Local group name   Massola    This study

Bemm mittung                  Krauatang-alung

Bondi mittung                 Birrdhawal

Dangiai            Birdawal   A part or subgroup
                              of the Karn

Dura                          Krauatang-alung

Karang-gil                    Ceremonial and
                              place name only

Karn               Birdawal   Birrdhawal

Kyrerkong                     Birrdhawal

Maap koolong                  not a clan

Tinnoor mittung    Birdawal   Thawa

Waggarak           Birdawal   Birrdhawal

Wallergerrar       Birdawal   Thawa
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Author:Clark, Ian D.
Publication:Australian Aboriginal Studies
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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