26 January 2016


One can only surmise what the euphonious NSW place name Trunketabella might mean.

We yearn for a translation such as ‘pretty trinkets’, and for an account of the exchanging of beads and looking glasses with the local people by explorers. It is commonly said that Parramatta means ‘the place where eels lie down’, Berowra the  ‘place of many winds’, and Wahroonga ‘our home’.  Where did these endlessly repeated interpretations come from? The reality is that place names can be hard to translate (What are the meanings of Paris, London, Berlin?), and that in Australia some might have arisen from misunderstandings between whitefella and Aboriginal informant. For example, the reputed name of Sydney Cove, Warang, might have been a comment about one side or of the bay or cove, rather than the informant providing the actual name of it — if it had one, even.

Table 1 William Dawes’ records for warang for ‘side’ and ‘Sydney Cove’

Nevertheless it is likely that in many of the definitions provided in booklets suggesting names for houses by McCarthy, Tyrrell, Endacott and others there is an element of authenticity. For example, for Parramatta, bara is recorded as meaning ‘eel’ from around 1875. It is the ‘place where they lie down’ that is suspect.
To make a suggestion as to meaning of a place name means a trail through the records. For Trunketabella, there are several strands to follow.

First, start with the easier final portion. It has nothing to do with the Italian bella meaning ‘beautiful’. Almost certainly it means ‘stream’ in one of its guises: ‘creek’, ‘river’, ‘brook’ and so on.

Trunketabella is in south coast, Yuin, country, a little north of Narooma,

round about the bottom of the right-hand leg of the ‘n’ in ‘Yuin’ in the map below, extracted from the AIATSIS map ‘Aboriginal Australia’.

The surveyor and language enthusiast R.H. Matthews recorded ‘forest oak’ for bila in the Dhurga language, possibly spoken in the area:
Table 2 bila: Forest Oak [Data derived from the Bayala Databases ]

The present writer, Your Amateur Researcher [YAR], has few records for this region. However, among them are two other words collected by Matthews:
Table 3 bila: ‘wide’ and ‘smell’

If bila really means ‘stream’, then these two might conceivably have been obtained when a wide stream was being considered, or a smelly one.
In view of YAR’s paucity of appropriate South Coast data, the following bila references are some of many  obtained from the Wiradhuri language, territorially the largest language group in New South Wales:
Table 4 bila: ‘stream’ — Wiradhuri

That this word bila might have extended from Wiradhuri country eastwards across the Great Dividing Range, to Trunketabella is not so surprising when the following are also considered, from the south-west corner of W.A. on the other side of the continent:
Table 5 bila: ‘stream’ — Nyungar, W.A.

Wiradhuri too provides support for the idea that bila also denoted the tree often found beside streams, the River Oak, comparable to the Dhurga Forest Oak in Table 2 above:
Table 6 bila: ‘oak’ — Wiradhuri

These are the trees that grew beside the creek, the same word seemingly being used for both concepts. Interestingly, Wiradhuri bila also forms part of bilabang (billabong):
Table 7 bila-bang: stream or stream-like feature — Wiradhuri

The component -bang, in the opinion of YAR, is formed of the stem-forming suffix ba– signifying ‘do’, combined with the nominalising or noun-forming ending –ng, together making bila-bang to mean ‘stream doing’.
When bila as ‘River Oak’ is further considered, perhaps it is no coincidence that bila in certain areas is the word used for a spear—made of wood, of course:
Table 8 bila ‘spear’ in Kamilaroi and in the Sydney Language

In summary then, the final portion of Trunketabella appears to denote ‘stream’, or possibly the tree type growing beside it. So what about the Trunketa… portion?
From the south coast there are numerous possibilities of which the following are a few:
Table 9 d@r@ng [where @ denotes any letter] — NSW south coast

Of these, dara is a common word for ‘thigh’ across numerous NSW languages. 
Not quite so widespread are durun/dirin-type words indicating ‘hair’. 
Several Coastal—and Inland languages, too—have words for ‘stream’ beginning dar- or dara-, such as the commonly accepted word for the Hawkesbury River, ‘Deerubbin’, and even the Tarban Creek Bridge immediately northward of the Gladesville Bridge in Sydney. 
Tarban Creek Bridge

Coastal languages from Sydney southwards have dara- words for ‘stand’, but not northwards, nor Inland.
There are as well quite numerous examples in Coastal and Inland languages of birds beginning d-r-, making the last example, ‘the little night owl’, not altogether out of place in the list.
In short the first part of Trunketabella could indicate any of the ideas in Table 9.
Perhaps the Wiradhuri or other Inland records offer other insights. The following tables present some of the many possibilities from that language area.
Table 10 diran-: ‘high’, or ‘red’

From Table 10 it would appear that perhaps diran/dirang might mean ‘high’ or ‘red’. The glosses ‘bank’ and ‘spider’ in the second-last column, derived from the original translation, are almost certainly incorrect.
Table 11 durung: ‘snake’

Perhaps durung or similar means ‘snake’ of something long, thin and wriggly.
Table 12 d@r@ng: something to do with trees

The Table 12 tree words return us to the realm of the River or Forest Oak concept for bila.
Such d@r@ng-word speculation could readily be extended, but the principal possibilities have probably been canvassed. The examples also ignore the suffixes following the stem not because they are considered irrelevant (far from it), but because of the possible unreliability of their precise recording, and because of YAR’s unfamiliarity with the languages of the region. 
Assuming for a moment that bila should mean ‘stream’, then Trunketa– [darangada ?] might have meant something appropriate to a stream, otherwise why juxtapose the words? Of all the ideas presented above, perhaps the tree concept is the most likely: trees line creeks just about everywhere.  Now wait a moment … the very proposing in this paragraph of darangada as the possible re-spelling for Trunketa– brings to mind some words provided by the Sydney-based botanist George Caley in the early 1800s:
Table 13 George Caley’s Dharug tree names collected southwards of Sydney

The first of these tree names, daranGura, looks much like the postulated darangada for Trunketa–. Could it be that the meaning sought is as follows:
darangura bila
Ironbark creek
And just when that seems settled, this crops up:
Extract from Mann, John Frederick. c.1842. Australian Aborigines—A few notes on their language etc. Information obtained from Long Dick an influential native of the Cammeray Tribe a son of Bungaree and Queen Gooseberry. Sydney (Mitchell Library).

In the middle of concluding notes to a word-list provided by Long Dick, is a portion marked ‘on the Coast, together with a mention of the very place being looked at in this essay. Appended is a reference to ‘convenient localities’. Perhaps Bodalla, Eurobodalla, Bergalia [?], ‘Trunkabella’ and Ulladulla were all regarded as convenient localities, this phrase not being an actual translation of anything, and thus the gloss for Trunketabella here tentatively arrived being allowable to stand.

Jeremy Steele
Wednesday 2 December 2015



Anonymous said...

I'd just like to leave a small comment concerning the word 'Trunkabella'.

A word in the Awabakal language, 'turinbang' seems to mean 'Ironbark Creek'. Bear in mind that I'm only an amateur linguist interested in language revival.

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