20 December 2010

SYDNEY Words: Sirius Cove (or Mosman Bay)

The Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld ran a mission in the Newcastle, NSW, area in the period 1831-41, and while there studied the language that came to be known as Awabakal. He wrote copiously about it, in a manner that now appears opaque. Here is an example:
kurraġtoanbuġgulliko: to cause by personal agency to foam
This can be re-presented with simplified spelling and hyphens to separate component parts, together with source references, in the following manner:

garang-du-wa-nba-ngGa-li-gu =
"to cause by personal agency to foam"
foam xxx act something :
Tkld/Frsr AWA Lex [:221:4] [Awa]

A search for ‘garang’ as re-spelt (third column above) in the COASTAL database (covering coastal languages to the north and south of Sydney, as well as the Sydney district itself) yielded the following:

garang =
white  :
Tkld GDG Aust Voc  [:127.1:6] [Gdg?]

This raised the question: did ‘garang’ really mean ‘white’ as suggested by this entry? 
In Australian indigenous languages there may not have been names for colours as such; something that happened to be of that colour might serve as a colour-name instead. With this idea in mind, your researcher then looked in the COASTAL database for words for ‘white’ beginning with ‘g’. This search yielded the following among others:

"Goram bullagong"
Gurambalagang =
"Sirius Cove"
  (place, a):
Larmer (RSNSW) SydHbr [:229:13.2] [NSW COAST]
garam-BILA =
"White man"
whiteman  white fellow:
Long Dick [:3.2:20] [LD]
garambala =
"Man (white)"
whiteman  :
Oldfield, Rev. Roger [::[10]] [North]
garam-BILA =
"White man"
whiteman  white fellow:
Long Dick [:3.2:20] [LD]
guralala =
whiteman  :
Larmer (RSNSW) Brdwd [:226.3:14] [Nrgu]

together with a further entry of interest, from the Ngarigu language in the far south of the state:

gurbid =
white  :
Mathews NRGU 1908 [:340:6] [Nrgu]

All these references confirmed the idea that ‘white’ has been widely represented by words beginning with ‘gar...’. Well, so what?
Sirius Cove
The ‘so what’ is that this raises the question as to what the indigenous name of Sirius Cove (Mosman Bay) in item (3) (Goram-bullagong) might mean? Assuming this term were originally recorded more or less accurately, it may be re-presented, with hyphens, as:
Hitherto your researcher had assumed—from samples (4), (5) and (6)—that ‘-bila’, ‘-bala’ were renderings of the English word ‘fellow’, so that ‘whiteman’ were actually ‘white-fellow’.  However, the new results thrown up by the COASTAL enquiry suggest another interpretation.
First, the word stem ‘ba’ and associated stem-forming suffix ‘-ba’ [or ‘-mba’] have a connotation of ‘do’, as in the Sydney word ‘banga’ recorded by Dawes and others:

banga =
": To make or do (faire in French)"
make  (do, paddle):
Dawes (b) [b:3:29] [BB]

Second, a further piece of information is that in the Sydney language (indicated ‘BB’ for ‘Biyal Biyal)), and in other languages in the region, the termination of nouns is commonly ‘-ng’. This makes the following analysis possible for the name of Sirius Cove:

xx (noun)

And at this point the trail stops, for the present at least. The meaning suggested is:
‘(something that) does white’.
This takes us back to Threlkeld’s entry at the start, about ‘foam’. ‘Foam’ might be considered as ‘something that does white’.
What might have been taking place when the word was collected? 
—Was the name an ancient one (as say, ‘London’ is)?
—Or might it have been merely a descriptive statement of the moment? Perhaps the informant (when asked for the name of the bay he happened to be in) and, seeing some white frothy water on the beach, simply chanced to describe the circumstance as ‘the water’s breaking on the beach just now’, or ‘(water) does white’ garambalagang’.
We will never know.

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