Wambelong

Ngaanduwaa guwaay2: somebody said.

There was an article in Jan 2018 about newly found ‘stellar streams’ and their being given Aboriginal names: https://www.aao.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/new-rivers-of-stars-in-the-milky-way. It includes:

Based on the feedback from these two groups, two of the newly-discovered stellar streams were given names derived from Aboriginal words:

  • Wambelong, meaning Crazy Water in the Gamilaraay language, is the name of a stream that runs near the Anglo-Australian Telescope in rural New South Wales.

Dhirrabuu/great that Aboriginal languages are being used, but….

maal/1. Gamilaraay Yuwaalaraay words do not end in ng. In closely related languages (those where the language name is ‘no=having’) , neither Wangaaybuwan or Wayilwan words have final ng, but Wiradjuri words do. There are many sets of closely related words that show this difference. For example chest is birring in Wiradjuri, birri in Wangaaybuwan, biri in Gamilaraay and bii in Yuwaalaraay. See (Austin, 1977) for many more examples.

And bulaarr/2, there is nothing in the name to suggest water: gali in Gamilaraay, gungan in Yuwaalaraay.

David Nash, who sent me the link, also did some further work. He was at pains to point out that this was a preliminary investigation, with many areas still to be examined. He looked for names ending in ‘ng’ west of the 150 degree meridian. He says:

I got curious about how true it is that ng-final placenames don’t occur in GYY territory, so I made this map
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1rzrHGrVLuMyPAgs1ZJkloKV8-n9PLukG&usp=sharing (Note that it ignores anything east of the 150° meridian.)

Attached is a screenshot from GEarth overlaid also with Claire Bowern’s regions for GYY. It is pretty striking, isn’t it, how the ng-final placenames avoid those regions. And the few ng-final placenames in there, if you look into them, look like will prove to be exonyms: eg Burrendong and Coorong copy-named from elsewhere.

The upshot for Wambelong looks like that is a genuine old placename but from Wiradjuri (or one of its variants).

The map shows that name final ong/ang are common in some areas, rare in others. As David points out, it is quite likely some ng final names were given by colonists, in areas where the local language did not have ng final words. Downstream from Brewarrina the ng-final names mainly include ‘Billabong’ so are recently given names, suggesting Paakantji does not have names ending in ng.

ong and ang were probably not distinguished in traditional language – people would not have noticed the difference. And many languages in other parts of Australia have ng final words – such as Wollongong, Mittagong and many more.

This and the previous post are responses to what seems to be questionable information now in print, in an official journal. In this instance: ‘Wambelong is a Gamilaraay word meaning crazy water’. ‘Information’ published, and no doubt given, in good faith.

It is wonderful that Aboriginal languages are being used more and more. It would be even more wonderful is what was said was more accurate.

You can find the article below by following yuwaalaraay.com > old sources > link

Austin, P. (1977). Proto Central New South Wales Phonology. In D. T. Tryon, M. Walsh, & G. N. O’Grady (Eds.), Boundary rider : essays in honour of Geoffrey O’Grady (pp. 21-49). Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

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