15 December 2013


Although William Dawes is a splendid resource for understanding the classical Aboriginal language of Sydney (Biyal Biyal) there are numerous mysteries. Some of these he left deliberately, being too modest to put in writing the blunt truth. One instance of this is:

yanga =
copulate  :
Dawes (a) [a:33:0.2] [BB]

But your researcher has filled in the translation, based on the less prudish entries in the Anon notebook:

yanga =
copulate  :
Anon (c) [c:28:9] [BB]
yanga =
"For Copulation he uses all these words"
copulate  :
Anon (c) [c:23:11.1] [BB]
gana-di-nga =
"For copulation he uses all these words"
burn  :
Anon (c) [c:23:11.2] [BB]

From the Anon records it was possible to put in the meanings for another two of Dawes’s entries, left untranslated:

yanga-dya-wi =
"They did"
copulate did they-all:
Dawes (a) [a:34:1] [BB]
"Kóinyérăna yanga Bigúna"
Ganyirana yanga Bayiguna =
"Bigun ....... s Kóinyera"
Bayigun copulates with Ganyíra  :
Dawes (b) [b:32:3] [BB]

There are nearly forty untranslated entries in Dawes’s notebooks. Some of these are from modesty, such as:

"Wå´wi bowanára wå ngóra"
wawi bawanara wangara =
pubic hair woman /  stare / boy  :
Dawes (b) [b:33:21] [BB]

the translation of which was assisted by Dawes himself with the entry:

wuwi =
"The hair of the dyin"
hair  pubic female:
Dawes (b) [b:24:10] [BB]

It took a while to realise that “wå ngóra” was a single word and not two, meaning:

wungara =
"Male child"
boy  :
Anon (c) [c:23:4] [BB]

... ‘boy’.


balwara =
"To stare, or open the eyes"
stare  :
King in Hunter [:407.2:22] [BB]
"[Mi mi ga. Mīm bowanára mi ga]"
bawa-nara =
"[What are you looking for, what]"
stare PURP :
Dawes (b) [b:17:11.4] [BB]

... made possible the deducing that “bowanára” probably meant ‘stare’. So a boy was presumably looking where decorum indicated that he should not, even — or especially — in those days when clothing was not regarded as required.

One of the NO TRANSLATION lines was given by Dawes in two versions:

"Kanamarál kariadyémi"
ganamaral garayadyimi =
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.1] [BB]
"Kanamarálmi kariyi´"
ganamaralmi gariyayi =
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.3] [BB]

And this is what the present short essay is all about.

It is likely that in many of the instances Dawes genuinely did not know what certain words meant that he clearly heard, and recorded. But there is the possibility that prudery was the reason for the absence of meaning given, and with that thought in mind this immediately above mystery pair can be contemplated.

Perhaps Table 2 line 3  gives a clue as to the meaning of the first mystery word:

"[Kanamarál kariadyémi]"
gana-ma-ra-l =
xxx  :
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.11] [BB]
"[Kanamarálmi kariyi´]"
gana-ma-ra-l-mi =
xxx  thou:
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.31] [BB]

The normal meaning for gana is ‘burn’ or ‘cook’. There are many possible examples but the following will suffice as evidence:

gana-di-nga =
"To burn"
burn  :
King MS [:401:18] [BB]
gana-ma =
"Cook, as food"
cook  :
Mathews DG 1901 [:160.2:13] [DG]

For whatever reason gana appears to have been linked in some way to copulation. Making an intuitive leap here, we might assume that ‘copulation’ is its meaning in the mystery examples being considered. In which case the following word reproduced in the next table would plausibly be related to this idea. If so, this unfortunately takes us into the realm of unseemly speculation, for which apologies are offered. Be that as it may, let us press on.

The alternatives of the word are:

"[Kanamarál kariadyémi]"
gara-ya-dyi-mi =
xxx did thou:
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.12] [BB]
"[Kanamarálmi kariyi´]"
gari-ya-yi =
xxx did :
Dawes (b) [b:18:11.32] [BB]

We know these are verbs in the past tense, and in the first example that the -mi at the end is the second person singular pronoun ‘thou’ (or ‘you’ in modern English). Which leaves us to speculate over gara / gari.

There are some words in the Sydney (and other) Aboriginal language(s) that have a multiplicity of meanings, and these include bara / gara / wara, which can also be bura / gura / wura or bari / gari / wari. This is not to say that the speakers in those times necessarily were imprecise, for the variations could have carried subtleties of meaning that are not yet understood. Perhaps instead the recorders of the words varied the writings for the reason that two people will often give different renderings for words they hear that are unknown to them.

In the case of gara, here are some interpretational possibilities. There were many other examples that could also have been included in Table 12.


gara-ngal =
"Hard. Difficult to break."
hard  :
Dawes (b) [b:12:1] [BB]
gara-ni =
hard  :
Anon (c) [c:9:14] [BB]

gara-ngan =
"Finger Nail"
nail  :
Southwell [:147.3:28] [BB]
gara-nan =
"the nail"
nail  :
Fulton AONSW [:7:12] [BB]

gara =
stone  :
Lang: NSW Vocab [:7:204.2] [DG]
gura-gu =
"A meteor, or shooting star"
meteor  :
King in Hunter [:409.1:14] [BB]

gura =
hail  :
Bowman: Camden [:22:137] [DG]
gura =
hail  :
Collins 1 [:513:6.1] [BB]
guri-ba =
hail  :
Collins 1 [:513:6.2] [BB]

"Gōre gōre"
guri guri =
"More more"
more  :
Dawes (b) [b:8:8] [BB]
gura =
Anon (c) [c:17:9] [BB]
gura =
Southwell [148.1:19] [BB]

Your researcher has found it helpful, when faced with a perplexing variety of this sort, to try to hit on an underlying fundamental idea. And in the above list there are two competing such ideas. They are ‘hard’ and ‘grow’. Thus fingernails, stones (including meteors) and hail are all ‘hard’ things; while more and fingernail (again) suggest ‘grow’.

Two further examples may be considered, one from the Wiradhuri ‘inland’ language, introducing yet another interpretation: ‘grow’.


"[Brúwi kar˙adyuwi ngábüng]"
gara-dyu-wi =
"[(All) three have large breasts—that is. They are all three women grown]"
more did they-all:
Dawes (b) [b:35:3.21] [BB]
garungal =
"grown up"
grown up  :
SofM 18960912 [12.2 JJB-Narrandera] [:12.21:53] [Wira]

The full translation of the first example in Table 13 is:

"Brúwi kar˙adyuwi ngábüng"
buruwi garadyuwi ngabang =
"(All) three have large breasts—that is. They are all three women grown"
three grow did they-all breast  :
Dawes (b) [b:35:3] [BB]

And in this translation it is suggested that gara more probably means ‘grow’ than ‘more’ — although ‘growing’, and becoming ‘more’ or ‘bigger’, are really the same idea. The Wiradhuri example, the second of the two in Table 13, featuring garungal (grown up), confirms this notion.

The above has set out some basic data for one possible solution to the mystery posed by Dawes. However, your researcher aligns himself with William Dawes in being reluctant to state the obvious or unseemly. Nevertheless, if the first word in each example in Mystery Table 8 is to do with copulation, then the second word, possibly meaning grow, increase, hard may have a meaning rhyming with ‘detection’.


Sunday 15 December 2013

06 December 2013

Distant uncle

The Anon Notebook gives ‘Cow-wan’ as the name or place of Ross Farm, the farm of Major Robert Ross of the Marines, the Lieutenant Governor on the First Fleet.

"Cow-wan" gawan = "Ross Farm"   : Anon (c) [c:38:16] [BB]

The location of Ross’s Farm was indicated on an anonymous chart of Port Jackson, drawn in February 1788, held by the Natural History Museum, London, and published in Art of the First Fleet (Smith and Wheeler, 1988: p. 73), now East Balmain. It is shown in the above sketch map, along with some other indigenous names for the familiar Sydney landmarks of Sydney Cove, Blues Point, Goat Island, Millers Point, and Darling Harbour, and a couple of others.

Does gawan have a meaning?

One meaning attributed to the word gawan  is ‘uncle’. This term for mother’s or father’s brother was not one used by Australian indigenous people in the early days, being too imprecise to be useful. Indigenous people living in small groups needed to know exactly where they stood for parenting reasons; and so meticulous arrangements — and taboos —covered this aspect of life everywhere. 

However, the word gawan was recorded as meaning ‘uncle’, somewhat to the north of Sydney, as early as c.1827-35 by the Rev. Lancelot Threlkeld:

gawan =
uncle  :
Tkld GDG Aust Voc  [:125.1:4] [Gdg?]
gawan =
uncle  :
Tkld KRE c.1835 [:137:17] [Kre]

The details of uncles and aunts, as well as the many other words describing kinship positions, were for the most part not discovered for the Sydney language. It may, however, be assumed that at the time of the First Fleet gawan did not mean ‘uncle’ for the reason just stated. So what might it have meant?

While nothing leaps out from the Sydney language records, on the other hand, and again to the northwards of Sydney, some words were noticed by the surveyor R.H. Mathews to do with ‘this side’ or ‘other side’ or ‘there’ or ‘yonder’:

gawin =
"this side (this is best)"
side  near:
Mathews 8006/3/7- No 7 [7:80:15.3] [Dark]
gawi-nda =
yonder  :
Mathews DARK 1903 [:274:23.4] [Dark]
gawi-nda =
yonder  :
Mathews 8006/3/7- No 7 [7:80:10] [Dark]
"Gauinda nyê"
gawi-nda-nyi =
"on the other side"
yonder xxx :
Mathews 8006/3/7- No 7 [7:80:14] [Dark]

With this collection as a start, it was then possible to find some confirmation from the Sydney lists, provided by John Rowley. They are given below, but are in fact the one and the same record in two different publications of 1875 and 1878 respectively :

gawu-ndi =
yonder  :
KAOL Rowley GeoR [:107:34] [DG]
gawu-ndi =
yonder  :
AL&T Rowley GeoR [:261:40] [DG]

It was then realised that the the ‘yonder’ or ‘distant’ concept might have been present in three further records from the Sydney region that related to something truly distant — the stars.  Here are those tantalising additional examples, for ‘star’:

gawu =
star  :
Lang: NSW Vocab [:3:72] [DG]
"Cow [?]"
gawu =
star  :
Bowman: Camden [:15:3] [DG]
"Cow Curry"
gawu gari =
"The stars"
star  :
Leigh [:3:4] [DG]

However,  with so few examples to consider, it is not really possible to affirm with confidence that there is a genuine relationship between the meanings of side / yonder / away in the one group of words and ‘stars’ in the other.

Despite uncertainty about any link between remote stars and objects simply 'over there', it does seem likely that Ross’s Farm, Gawan, on the other side of what is now Darling Harbour, was at a place simply described as ‘yonder’.

Jeremy Steele

Friday 6 December 2013