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Value of Victorian Aboriginal clan names for toponymic research.

This paper discusses the value of clan name research as a means of uncovering Aboriginal place names. It argues that clan names are able to provide a layer of place names that in some instances is the only source of information available to researchers of indigenous toponymy. They are an important data set that is useful in the mapping of Aboriginal spatial organization.


When documenting the grammar of Aboriginal spatial organization in Victoria during doctoral and subsequent studies, the value of research into Aboriginal clan organization as a means of capturing Aboriginal toponyms became increasingly evident (Clark 1990, 1996, 2003; Clark & Harradine 1990; Clark & Heydon 2002). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the value of clan name research for place name research; to show the high proportion of clan names that are derived from place names, and finally to reveal the extent of clan names that are in current use in Victoria. In terms of the grammar of Aboriginal clan nomenclature in Victoria, names generally have two distinct parts: first elements (or stems, or roots) and second elements (or suffixes).

The first elements are usually based on one of four classifications: geographical i.e. place names of certain localities within the clan estate that had totemic significance; ecological, i.e. generalized around the type of terrain of the clan estate; idiosyncratic, i.e. descriptive of group characteristics; and proper nouns without known meaning (Tindale 1974). Approximately 95 percent of the first elements of clan names in Victoria are derived from place names.

The second elements of clan names are suffixes that mean 'a number of people', 'dwellers', or 'originating from', 'belonging to', or 'pertaining to' a particular place. They serve the same function as--ian in Araratian,--ite in Stawellite, and other examples used in non-Aboriginal place names. Table 1.1 shows the diversity of the suffixes commonly found across Victoria. This confirms the absence of a universally accepted vocabulary of local organization.

Clark (1990, 2003) has uncovered some 400 variant clan names across Victoria. Using the Djabwurrung language area of Ararat, Stawell, and Hamilton, the 40 or so clans speaking the Djabwurrung tongue will serve as a case study. All the Djabwurrung clans take their names from a place name (see Table 1.2 for a selection).

Although there are some 400 clan names in Victoria, only some 15 percent (60) of these names are official place names on the Victorian Register of Geographic Names. The following is a sample of some of these names and the clan names that are connected with them, along with their meanings, where known:

* Carranbalac: Corrin corrinjer baluk, 'corrin' meaning 'sand'.

* Koroit: Koroit gundidj, 'koroit' is suggestive of volcanic activity.

* Lake Purrumbete: Burrumbidj gundidj, 'burrumbidj' meaning 'muddy water'.

* Mt Leura: Leehoorah gundidj, from 'lehuura kang' meaning 'nose-mountain'.

* Lake Keilambete: Killambidj gundidj, from 'kilambidj killingk' meaning 'brackish water lake'.

* Mt Warrnambool: Warnambul gundidj, 'wurn' meaning 'house/hut'.

* Lake Elingamite: Yelingamadj gundidj, from 'Yelingamadj kilingk', 'kilingk' meaning 'lake'.

* Mayune: Mayune baluk, meaning unknown.

* Toolern Creek: Tallin willam, meaning unknown.

* Gunbower: Gunbower gundidj, meaning 'tortuous or twisting', possibly in reference to creek which forms part of anabranch of the Murray River.

* Lake Moira: Moraduban, after 'moira' meaning 'lake, sea'.

* Mallacoota: Malloketer mittung, after 'marloo' meaning 'white pipeclay'.

* Genoa: Jinnoorer mittung, meaning unknown.

The first example, Carranbalac, is believed to be the only currently used place name in Victoria that preserves both elements of the clan name.

Some 95 percent (380) of clan names are derived from place names. Approximately half of these place names are confirmed by other primary sources of Aboriginal place names (such as Smyth 1878; Dawson 1881). The other half are known only through clan name research, thus clan name research recovers up to 190 place names. Table 1.3 presents some examples of Djabwurrung clan names and the variant place names that confirm the integrity of the clan name. Table 1.4 presents some examples of Djabwurrung clan names for which the clan name is the only evidence we have of the place name.

Part of the place name Weeribkwart is cognate with Wirribi-yaluk (Werribee River), which means 'backbone river/creek'. The name for Mt William, Tuwul, is also the name for Sisters Point, near Port Fairy. With reference to Muddadjug (Mt Abrupt), place names sometimes refer to body parts of mythological ancestors or heroes, responsible for the creation of the landscape; in this instance, a probable reference is to the buledji brambimbula (the two Bram brothers), ancestral heroes who created many of the landscape features in northwestern Victoria (see Clark and Harradine 1990; Hercus 1986).

This paper has demonstrated the value of clan name research as a means of uncovering Aboriginal place names. Clan names have been shown to be able to provide a layer of place names that in some instances is the only source of information available to researchers of indigenous toponymy. They are an important data set that is useful in the mapping of Aboriginal spatial organization. Using one Aboriginal language area, Djabwurrung, as an example, this paper has shown the value of clan name research to toponymic studies.


Clark, ID 1990, Aboriginal Languages and Clans: an historical atlas of Western and Central Victoria, 1800-1900, Monash Publications in Geography No. 37, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton.

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

Clark, ID 2003, Place Names and Land Tenure--Windows into Aboriginal Landscapes: Essays in Victorian Aboriginal History, Ballarat Heritage Services, Ballarat.

Clark, ID & Harradine, LL 1990, The restoration of Jardwadjali and Djabwurrung names for rock art sites and landscape features in and around the Grampians National Park, A submission to the Place Names Committee on behalf of Brambuk Inc. and the Koorie Tourism Unit, Victorian Tourism Commission, Melbourne.

Clark, ID & Heydon, TG 2002, Database of Aboriginal Placenames of Victoria, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Melbourne.

Dawson, J 1881, Australian Aborigines; the languages and customs of several tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Robertson, Melbourne.

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

Smyth, RB 1878, The Aborigines of Victoria; with notes relating to the habits of natives from other parts of Australia, Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne.

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

Ian D. Clark. Associate Professor, School of Business, University of Ballarat.

Dr Ian D. Clark is an Associate Professor in Tourism in the School of Business at the University of Ballarat. He has been a Lecturer in Tourism Management at Monash University, Research Fellow in History at AIATSIS, Manager of the Brambuk Living Cultural Centre in Halls Gap, and Senior Researcher with the former Victorian Tourism Commission. His areas of interest include regional tourism, cultural heritage management, attractions management, indigenous tourism and Victorian toponyms. He is an avid collector of the music and memorabilia of Ella Jane Fitzgerald.
Table 1.1 Clan name suffixes in Victoria

Clan suffix -baluk -gundidj -willam
Meaning 'people (of)' 'belonging to' 'dwellers'
Equivalents in other -wundaiuk -lar
languages -barap -bara

Table 1.2 Djabwurrung clan names--a sample

Clan Name Place name Current usage Meaning of
 equivalent place name

Beeripmo gundidj Beerip-beerip Mt Cole wild mount
Duwul baluk Duwul Mt William the mountain
Ngareeb Ngareeb Ngareeb Ngareeb Nareeb Nareeb uncertain
Taapuuk gundidj Taapuuk Mt Napier uncertain
Mitteyer baluk Mitteyer Barton Morass aka uncertain
 Nekeeya Swamp
Murdadjug gundidj Murdadjug Mt Abrupt blunt,
 (his) arm
Kulurr gundidj Kulurr Mt Rouse lava; lava
 stone used
 to rub ochre
Wurgarri gundidj Wurgarri Mt Sturgeon black
Buluk bara Buluk Lake Bolac lake, swamp

Table 1.3 Djabwurrung clan names and variant placenames

Clan Name Variant placenames where known

Beeripmo baluk burberry;; wild mount
Kurrak baluk Witterbekurruk; Witterbecurrac kurak = sand
Kulurr gundidj Kolorer, Kuulor lava, lava
Muddadjuk gundidj Mutterchoke, Muttetchoke blunt,
 useless arm
Boit baluk Widjibaboit, Wichepaboite boit = grass
Tapuk gundidj Tappoc, Tawpook, Taapuuk unknown
Tuwul baluk Tool, Duwil, Tuuwuul the mountain
Wattenneer baluk Wattenneer, Wattenneher unknown
Wurgarri gundidj Wurcarre, Workarre black
Weeribkwart baluk Weeripquart, Weripkut weerib =
 trunk, stem,
Worrembeetber gundidj Worrembeetch beet = water

Table 1.4 Djabwurrung clan names as exclusive sources of place names

Clan Name Locative information where Meaning of
 known stem, where
Cartbonong gundidj Caramut cart/kang =
 konong =
Cartcartworrate gundidj Plains between Narrapumelap and weerite =
 Ngareeb Ngareeb home stations banksia
Neetsheere baluk Mt William, Barton station, and
 Mt Moornambool
Terrumbehal gundidj Between Hopkins River and Fiery bial =
 Creek redgum
Tillac gundidj A river northwest from Mt Rouse
Tin baluk La Rose and Mokepilly stations
Toorac gundidj Presumably Mt Pierrepoint reedy grass,
 weed in
Yamyam burer South of Barton station may be a
 reference to
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Author:Clark, Ian D.
Publication:The Globe
Geographic Code:8AUVI
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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