Tuesday, May 1, 2012


I find John Gale the most interesting pioneer of Canberra. I have a post on Mr Gale with an article published on his 100th birthday where he is referred to as the Father of Canberra. Not surprising that his knowledge of the area would have been pretty amazing. 

This letter to the editor of the Queanbeyan Age - Tuesday 12 November 1912 (Trove link) gives us some  origins of a lot of local names and some quite distinct alterations over the years.  I found the original very difficult to decipher so I have made them small and they will enlarge if clicked. Below is the Library's interpreted text...

Queanbeyan Age - Tuesday 12 November 1912 
National Library of Australia


(To the Editor.)
SIR,--In your issue of the 15th inst., a correspondent, essaying to give the information asked for by the Hon. Austin Chapman as to the English equivalent of the word " Yass," gives us an oft-repeated old gag which is silly upon the face of it. Similar gags have been repeated with respect to other places; but they are all equally silly. 
"Yass " is an English corruption of an aboriginal place name; many other place-names have been similarly corrupted. To give a couple of instances in the southern districts other than Yass: We have 'Collector, " a corruption of Kaligda ; "Gunning" a corruption of G0on-ong; and I may mention a third-- The Brewer," as early settlers were wont to call it, meaning Burrowa, or more correctly spelt. Booroowa. The corruption of Yass is more excusable. It is well known that in none of the aboriginal dialects, of the Australian continent is the letter "s" sounded--vide Captain Cook's journals recounting the landing at Botany Bay. The aboriginal nomenclature of " Yass " is Yaah. 
In my early days in the southern districts of New South Wales I learnt much from the blacks, who were, between 50 and 60 years age, very numerous ; and it was from them I ascertained, amongst other useful information, the names I have quoted. Of course, the spelling is phonetic, and conveys, as nearly as our alphabet can, the correct sounds. 
A higher authority by far than myself--the late Mr. S. M. Mowle, Usher of the Black Rod in our State Parliament, and who, in his earlier life, spent many years in the Quneanbeyan district--gives the spelling of many of our local place-names as he heard them pronounced. I had the honour of some years' personal acquaintanceship and correspondence with Mr. Mowle; and we frequently discussed aboriginal nomenclature. Quoting one of his letters, he said, "I hope Canberra will be called by its native name " Caamberra. "Queanbeyan is" Cuumbean," Tidbinbilla (which, by the by, was in the early days of this district corrupted into Tinmanbilly) "Tchinbilee," Yarralumla is " Arralumna," and so on. I differed, and still differ, with my esteemed correspondent as touching Yarralumla, being strongly of opinion that the orthography is correct, and the name beautifully significant. The English equivalent of Yarra is swift or running. Thus " yarra,"  running; " yarra yarra," running swiftly; and "yarra lumla," running softly. 
So, Uriarra - improperly so spelt - is " urayarra," running to the feast. The hospitable homestead is Urayarra proper, or rather a big flat stone near the stables there. When the blacks were numerous they came from all parts of the surrounding districts to feast on the larvae of the bogong moth in the proper season, and on that big flat stone the larvae were roasted and around its red-hot surface the blacks squatted and feasted as long as their dainty tit-bits lasted. 
As regards the Federal Capital name, I allow that "Yass-Canberra "--its political name--is out of all question; but I fail to see why we should go farther afield than pure and simple Canberra (the accent is on the first syllable). It is but a mild corruption or variation of the aboriginal Caamberra. It is euphonious and idiosyncratic.
Your truly,JOHN GALE.  "The Retreat," Queanbeyan,7th Nov., 1912.
The following is attached to the original article... It asks the question of Canberra's  name from the original 19th century Church register... It is also interesting to note this is a year before Lady Denman officially gives Canberra it's name...
7th Nov., 1912.Sir,--In your issue of the 6th there is a letter giving the origin of the name Canberra. Will you allow me to give the evidence furnished by the Baptisms Register of the parish as to the spelling of the name ?
Will you allow me to give the evidence furnished by the Baptisms Register of the parish as to the spelling of the name ? The Register begins with the year 1845, and the name is invariably spelt "Canbury." In October, 1855 " Canberry " appears for the first time, and " Canberra " for the first time in March, 1857. The two spellings continue till September 1861, when " Canberry" is used for the last time. After that date it is always "Canberra."
Yours, etc,A. H. CHAMPION,Canberra Rectory,6th Nov., 1912.

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