Finding the meaning of an Aboriginal word

A guide which steps you through the process of finding the English meaning of an Aboriginal word.

Steps to follow

1. Try to establish who used the word - that is, the name of the Aboriginal language group to whom the word belongs.

2. Find out where the language group is or was located. See the map of Aboriginal languages of Victoria, AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia, First Languages Australia Gambay and Map showing the distribution of the Aboriginal tribes of Australia.

3. If the word you are searching for is a place name, check to see if there are any other places in Australia with the same name. The word may be derived from a different place with the same name. You can do this by entering a place name into Geoscience Australia place name search.

4. Do a keyword search on State Library Victoria's catalogue using 'Aboriginal Australians languages Victoria'.

5. Search the further resources tab in this guide.

6. Check general reference sources such as Macquarie Aboriginal words.

7. Consider:

                 a) Is it the correct spelling of the word?

                 b) Where is the word recorded? i.e. council building, street name?

                 c) Would there be archives explaining the reason the word was used? (for example, council minutes).

Some Djadja Wurrung words

bair-re-bee = tomorrow

bang-ar-now-ey = sunrise

barburic = country

waingwill = moon

The Djadja Wurrung language is from central Victoria.

Source: Djadja Wurrung language of central Victoria : including place names


Please note that the Victorian Aboriginal Corporations for Languages advises: 'If you would like to use Indigenous words to name a public place, facility or program it is protocol to use words from the Indigenous language of the land where the place to be named stands, or where the program is run. It is then appropriate to seek permission from the Traditional Owners of that language area to use their words in the name.'

Books from the catalogue