• Cockatoo is of Malay origin, of the word "kakak tua". (NITV)Source: NITV
Just because it ends in "oo", doesn't mean it's local.
Sophie Verass

27 Apr 2018 - 11:41 AM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2018 - 1:35 PM

If the sentence, After a hard day's Yakka, the man took off his Akubra to get a better look at the Wombat on the other side of the Billabong, makes sense to you —you mightn't have realised, but you know four different Aboriginal language words (heavily Anglicised though).  

Yakka = Yuggera
Canberra = Ngunnawal
Akubra = Biripi*
Wombat = Dhurug
Billabong = Wiradjuri

Aboriginal languages frequent our mainstream English vernacular; "Dingo", "yabby", "Bondi", "kangaroo" and even the iconic call-out, "Cooee!"

However, many similar sounding or non-European style words are commonly mistaken as being from the same 'mob' (especially those associated with First Nations' culture). Here's a few...



Since the success of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, Arnhem Land, located in north-east corner of the NT, is an Aboriginal Territory.

This means that unlike the rest of Australia, this large tropical wilderness is neither owned by The Crown nor public land. This scheme helps protect and preserve the privacy and culture of the local people, the Yolngu, who have lived on and cared for the land for tens of the thousands of years. 

With Aboriginal people making up 93.5 per cent of the population, and its roots deeply grounded in Indigenous activity, many assume the name 'Arnhem' was given by its traditional land owners. 

'Arnhem', is actually a Dutch word and comes from the visit of Captain William Van Colster of the Dutch East India Company in the 1623. Van Colster sailed into the Gulf of Capentaria (a shallow sea named after a Dutch Governor-General) on his vessel, 'Arnhem', which was named after the city in the Netherlands. In 1644, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named the area 'Arnhem Land' after the ship's arrival decades prior. In the 1700s, Dutch maps sited the location as "Terre d Arnhem".

In 1931, the Aboriginal Reserve was declared "Arnhem Land", and as of 1936 the name appeared on modern maps. 



There are around 30-odd species of goanna, with 25 found in Australia.

These large predatory lizards play a strong role in Indigenous culture, commonly depicted in art, songlines, totems, dreaming stories (and Greg Inglis triumphs). They have also been hunted as food and harvested for oil.

The goanna has many different translations across various Aboriginal languages: "wardapi" (Warlpiri), "thulii" (Gamilaraay), "gurudhaany" (Wiradjuri) and "ngamahl" (Bundjalung). However, the mainstream word 'goanna' is said to derive from the Spanish word 'iguana', where European settlers likened the reptile to the South American lizards. 



In Aboriginal dreaming stories, the black cockatoo is said to represent spirit-strengthening, change and herald the coming of rain. The cockatoo has 44 different species, and over half exist in Australia. There are many different names across Aboriginal languages: "biliirr" (Gamilaraay), "wayimaa" (Wiradjuri); "gehr" (Bundjalung), "kakalyalya" (Warlpiri) and "carapii" (Biripi).          

"Cockatoo", however, is thought to come from the Dutch word "kaketoe", which is a Eurocised adaptation from the Malay word, "kakatua". This would have been adopted during the spice trade and the Dutch's time in the Indonesian archipelago in the 17th Century. Variants of the word including, cacato, cockatoon, crockadore, cocatores appear in travel writing around this time, but "Cockatoo" was settled on in 1850.

The common cockatoo species, the galah (found only in Australia) is an Aboriginal word, of the Gamilaraay language.      



The Mirning, Kokata and Wirangu people have lived on the periphery of the vast Nullarbor Plain for thousands of years. While the area is dry and semi-arid, it's replete with hundreds of plant, mammal, bird and reptile species and has long facilitated hunting and cultural practices for First Peoples.  

"Nullarbor" was named in 1867 by Government surveyor Edmund Alexander Delisser. He used the Latin words, 'nullus arbor' meaning "no trees", which reflected the flat, arid, limestone country that spread across South Australia and Western Australia.   



The majestic stork found in waterways has long been a unique icon of the Top End. As such, the township located within Kakadu National Park bears its name.

Built in 1982, the very small town of Jabiru, NT mainly serves as an accommodation hub for the nearby Ranger Uranium Mine and Kakadu Park tourists. Aboriginal people make up near 25 per cent of its residents and have established a thriving arts and culture tourism industry. 

"Jabiru" is said to be of Portuguese origin, as similar species of stork are found in Brazil.    



"Balanda" is term that refers to a non-Aboriginal or European person, commonly used by Aboriginal people, particularly those up north.   

The word "Balanda" was used by the Macassan traders, used to describe the Dutch by being an accented translation of "Hollander". The Macassan frequented the Top End years before Britain settled in the south, where some of their colloquialisms were adopted by Aboriginal people. 



Significant in Aboriginal culture, Emus are not only hunted for food, but celebrated in culture, depicted in traditional dances and artwork. Many clans read constellations by using its image. Warlpiri mob call emus "yankirri", and in both Gamilaraay and neighbouring nation, Wiradjuri they are "thinawan" or "dinawan".   

For a long time Europeans classified the flightless bird with its close relatives, the cassowary (an adaptation from the Malay word, "kesuari"), and was first documented in the English language as the "New Holland Cassowary" in Arthur Phillip's 1789 journals.

There are two theories how "Emu" was adopted —both derive from South America. First, is from the Portuguese word "ema", meaning 'large bird'. Second, is the South American rhea, a large flightless bird that looks remarkably similar to the Australian emu.  



Australia's famous egg-laying mammal has various names; "bigibila" (Gamilaraay), "wandayali" (Wiradjuri), "yinarlingi" (Warlpiri) and "jana jana" (Bundjalung).

However, it gets its English name from a character in Greek mythology. "Echidna" is 'the mother of monsters'. She was a half-woman, half-snake who lived alone in a cave. As the spiney ant-eater had the qualities of both, mammals and reptiles, echidnas were named under rather... unflattering circumstances.



"Didgeridoo" is a broad term for the long wind instruments developed and played by Aboriginal people. These objects hold massive cultural significance, accompanying ceremonial dancing and singing, and being hand crafted and often decorated. Traditional names for the instrument vary; "yiḏaki" (Yolngu), "kurmur" (Ngarluma) and "gunbarrk" (Jawoyn).

While the didgeridoo is authentically Aboriginal, like the word "Dreamtime", its name has been critiqued as a dominating Anglicisation upon Indigenous culture. However, over time some Aboriginal groups have somewhat reclaimed the word, making it synonymous within an Indigenous context.    

"Didgeridoo" first appeared in Australian dictionaries in 1919. Linguists believe it has Irish Gaelic origins, stemming from the word dúdaire (pronounced 'doodjerra' or 'dooderreh'), meaning horn-blower and, controversially, a pipe smoker.



The semi-jovial term "Gammin" or "Gammon", widely used by Aboriginal people, means 'to pretend', 'be inauthentic' or used to describe something as pathetic. 

Very much adopted by Australia's Indigenous people, this term originates from 18th Century cockney slang, similarly meaning to 'pretend' or to swindle someone. Relating to pork (gammon), it's suggested the term also influenced the synonymous phrases "pulling your leg" or "hamming it up".


... And ahhh, this one


... An honourable mention

Not a word, but an animal. In the same way that a dingo is a native Australian dog, many mistake the brumby as a native Australian horse. Largely influenced by Banjo Patterson's writing, many get the romanticised idea that 'wild brumbies' have always been a part of Australia's landscape. They are also celebrated in popular culture, as the mascots of our sporting teams, names of car models and depicted in books, films and television series.   

However, the brumby is just a feral horse with a fancier name (a name with Gaelic origins btw). Like other introduced species such as foxes and rabbits, brumbies ravage the landscape and damage our unique ecosystem with their population growing at increasing rates. 

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*Word of mouth crediby suggests this, however, there is no documented evidence 'Akubra' is a Biripi word.

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