Ngaanduwaa guwaay. Somebody said.
Recently the ABC did a number of items on Walgett. In one of them somebody said something like ‘Walgett is an Aboriginal word meaning meeting of the rivers’. It is interesting, at least for me, to look back over what people have written about the name Walgett over the years.
Old sources of information.
In 1875 William Ridley published Kamilaroi and other Australian Languages. On p 26 he lists a number of placenames, including Wolgēr ‘high hills’, most likely Walgiirr in the current spelling system. On a Wayilwan tape the name is pronounced Waalgiirr, but no meaning is given.
In 2004 the Geographical Names Board published copies of documents submitted in the 1800’s with information about Aboriginal placenames. Folder 2, file 13, (above) also gives the meaning as ‘high hills’ and the spelling as Wolger (not Wolgēr). Folder 1, file 66 (at end) has: Walgett ‘cracks in the ground’, using the current spelling of the word. (As far as I know these files are not available online.)
The Geographical Names Board has information on NSW placenames. Near the top of the webpage http://www.gnb.nsw.gov.au/place_naming/placename_search there is a link, to download every record in the GNR database. These records are in two big files. In the second file record 62018 has the following about the name Walgett:
Probably derived from Ngiyambaa ‘walkarr’ for a species of hawk. (Appleton; 1992). Also: river crossing. (McCarthy; 1963).
Aboriginal word Walgarr – means ‘high hill’ P. 140. name of station in 1839 of John Campbell. P. 442) (Information from Dawn in the Valley – W.A. Woods) RAHS Journal Vol. 48 part 6) . (I have not checked the original documents JG.)
In summary, the meanings I’ve found for Walgett are: ‘high hills’, ‘cracks in the ground’, ‘hawk’; ‘river crossing’ and ‘meeting of the rivers’.
Given how flat it is around Walgett ‘high hills’ made no sense to me until Uncle Ted Fields spoke of being in an aeroplane during the 1970 flood and seeing the water cover all the ground for tens of kilometres. But a few places near the river were not covered – one near Gingie, another near the showground. High enough to be out of the water, so very very important.
‘Cracks in the ground’, ‘river crossing’ and ‘meeting of the rivers’ are more likely to reflect farmers’, colonists’ and tourist bureaus’ perspectives. And I suspect it is easy to move from hearing ‘Walgett is where (there are cracks in the ground, ….)’ to saying ‘Walgett means (cracks in the ground, ….)’.
Getting it right.
There is increasing interest in and use of Aboriginal languages. From my perspective it is important that what is said about these languages is accurate. The variety of interpretations of ‘Walgett’ show that accuracy is not easily achieved, and that some things which are commonly said need to be scrutinized – such as ‘Walgett means meeting of the rivers’.
There may be another edition of Ngaanduwaa guwaay – on wambelong.
Sources of information. Giacon 2004 is available at tinyurl.com/jgpublications; Ridley 1875 at yuwaalaraay.com > old sources > Ridley. If you find copies of the other documents mentions (Campbell, Woods, etc) I would be interested in seeing them. John Giacon
Giacon, J. (2004). Walgett: High Hills, Cracks in Ground or Meeting of the Water. Placenames Australia, 8-10.
Ridley, R. W. (1875). Kamilaroi and other Australian Languages. Sydney: Government Printer.