Documenting the Sydney Language | State Library of New South Wales

Documenting the Sydney Language

When Governor Phillip arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, he carried instructions to establish open communication with Indigenous people of the Sydney region to ensure peacable relations with them.

British officers and marines set about documenting the language of the Eora people as part of their curiosity with the new environment and the people living around the Harbour.

Marine Officer, Watkin Tench wrote about his initial reaction to the sound of the language:

“We were at first inclined to stigmatise this language as harsh and barbarous in its sounds; their combinations of words, in the manner they utter them, frequently convey such an effect. But if not only their proper names of men and places, but many of their phrases, and a majority of their words, be simply and unconnectedly considered, they will be found to abound with vowels, and to produce sounds sometimes mellifluous and sometimes sonorous.”

Many of the early British accounts of the colony of New South Wales included Aboriginal words and names of places and animals. David Collins, Judge-Advocate of the colony included word lists from the Sydney language in Volume 1, Appendix 12 of his publication, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales

David Blackburn was appointed Master of the First Fleet ship Supply.  Once at Botany Bay, Blackburn was in the advance party with Governor Phillip, searching for a better location for the colony. They explored Sydney Harbour and Phillip moved the settlement there.

Governor Phillip appointed Blackburn acting Commander of Supply in March 1791. Blackburn wrote to his friend, Richard Knight in the same month and included “a kind of vocabulary” for his sister to read.

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Access additional vocabularies of the Sydney language:

Transcription: David Blackburn, letters received by Richard Knight, Indigenous vocabulary from New South Wales, with 'English explanation', 19 March 1791, Manuscript Safe 1/120

[Page 1]

Native of New South Wales  English Explanation
Bong-a    To paddle or row
Branye    Yesterday,
Baou. bow or bo The Termination of the future tense of Verbs 1 [?] person
As) Ngia Bangabaou I will padddle or Row,
Bia       To Bite
Boming    The Red bill (a Bird -
Blowree - or boola Two
Berang    The Belly,
Buya or Hurrabul The Back
Barrangal The Skin,
Bulbul    The Kidney,
Barrin    The Cloathing of Young Women,
Bunnerung Blood,
Beeanga or Beeang 'elly Father,
Bogul     A Mouse,
Beeriang  A Bird,
Bardo     Water
Booroodoo A Louse
Boodooroo O
Bok Bok   An Owl
Bora      A Testicle,
Baamoro   Grass,
Benelong  The Name of A Man Native
Benelongi Belonging to Benelong
Beraboong The Dew,
Boong     Posteriors,
Birong    Belonging to,
Bunga     To Make,
Dtooney   A Scorpion,
Dtoora    To pinch
Dani or Deeyin Dani Mine - My Wife
Deeyin    Woman or Wife,
Diee Warra There - or that way,
Dargallee  To Scratch,
Duralia    A kind of Heron or Bittern,
Dturrung   The Shoulder
Dedeeai, Dedeeai Oh you hurt me
Diee ngalla Diee Here it is, here,
Daringal   His,
Da, mung   A Cap
Birong     Belonging

[Page 2]

Native of New South Wales  English Explanation
Eereera     To throw - or throw thou,
Eeora      Men - or people,
Eaneea      There
Gnar,awang  A Paddle
Ghoolara -  Ghoolara mung, Cross, or Ill natured - Very Ill natured,
Garree      To Cough,
Gittea. Gittee  The Arm pit
Gn'arra    A knot or to tie a knot,
Gn'amul    A stone Sinker to a line,
Godgang    A Pidgeon,
Gniana     To breathe
Gore Gore More - More,
Guaugo     Bye & bye - or Stop,
Gwee ung   Fire
Karadigan  Doctor (they Call all our Surgeons by this name
Kai            What do you say,
Karal         A Snood to a fish hook,
Kubbara    the Head,
Karungan   The Nail of the finger,
Kadiaba     Lame - or he Limps,
Karooma    A Fish. Calld by us the Black Bream
Kaadian    The shell on the Womara or throwing stick
Kaadianma Dida  (I Kaadianed it (that is, I put the (shell on the Womera
Kaama      To Dig,
Murry        Large
Mulnaoul   To Morrow
Mu'lla       A Man or husband,
Mee or Mee Diee  What? or Whats this,
Maana      Take it up,
Mee ama, or Maanora I dont Understand, you,
Mee Kiara   Whats the name,
Mituanga or Miteea Stop a little, stop
Mee. Murry  How Many,
Maan       To take
Maanma woonoo  Go fetch it
Ngang Deea or Nang deea kiara Whats the Name of this person or thing?
Ngairee    To bring,
Naa          To See,
Naa ba'ru  I will see
Nangara bu diemi She is Asleep
Ngullia      A friend or Ally in Battle,
Ngan ngioni kiara What is your name,
Nago       The Nose

[Page 3]

Native of New South Wales English Explanation
Purribu'go  To Morrow
Purrabuggy  I have Lost it,
Pyomee      Sing
Pyeeatiatee Talk
Pana           Rain
Peyi            To Speak
Pierabani     Burnt,
Paratbunga  Open the Door,
Pograbanie) (Broken to pieces, as a ship or boat on Rocks or as 
Pagrabaala) (China, Glass &c -
Tabonga      To Yawn
Tieeringang To Sneeze,
Taa Boorol boorool To Gape,
Taa mooly   To Change names, (Which they are Very fond of doing
Tamara       To Wipe the hands,
Taatibalang Good (as to Eating,
Tarraburra  Day
Tanie          To tie - or tie thou,
Tamura       The Hand -
Werowee     A Child,
Wogul          He (third person sing.)
Wauliweea   To return
Worrong - wooree On this Side (the Water)
Weeanadooroo Bye & Bye,
Weeling     The lip,
Waulo       The Chin,
Womera  (To Run, As An Animal, to fly As a Spear. It (particularly Means the throwing Stick
Waura Rascal (or the like)
Wauranga    When,
Waunia      A Lie or falsehood,
Waunadiemi  You did lie
Waaragak    The Mackerel
Weary        Bad
Yagoona     To day or now
Yen            To go - or Walk
Yenmaamie   May I go,
Yenmaou      I will go,
Yarrsboonie  Mind your Work,
Yarung         A Tree,
Yuraboaalo   Bye & Bye 

Link to Larmer's vocabulary