Today we have a second post by guest blogger David Nash who is an expert on central Australian languages like Warlpiri, and who has also written about Aboriginal languages more generally, including the language of Sydney.

The Dieri word mandrulha has been taken up a couple of times by English speakers. The story starts with Samuel Gason (c1842–1897), the police trooper at Lake Hope in Dieri country in the late 1860s. In 1874 he published a booklet on ‘The Dieyerie tribe of Australian Aborigines’ with a vocabulary which has the entry Mundroola ’only two’. We can recognise this word as being composed of mandru ‘two’ and the suffix -lha which signals new information (Austin 2013, 64,192).

Gason’s work was reprinted a few times, notably by Curr (1886, 75–107) in his large and widely available compilation of Australian vocabularies. In turn this was drawn on by the publisher Sydney John Endacott in Melbourne in 1923. Endacott noticed that:

Australian people are now displaying a commendable inclination to favor the use of musical native aboriginal names for their homes, and the idea could perhaps be extended to other things or places that require a name

so he published a booklet ‘to supply the demand for a substantial and reliable list of pleasant-sounding words’ (Endacott 1923, 5). The booklet stayed in print in ten editions over the following 50 years, and included Mundroo ’two’ and Mundroola ’only two’ from Curr (1886, 83) (no source is given, though Endacott did acknowledge Curr 1886 and four other sources in the Preface to the first edition).

One of the earlier editions of Endacott’s booklet must have been used by Garfield Barwick (1903–1997) (later Sir Garfield Barwick, and Australia’s Chief Justice) when he wanted an appropriate name for a company he set up. The meaning of the company name became a topic for discussion in a court case in 1980 and was reported on as follows:

Barwick has said he started Mundroola Pty Ltd in 1946 for the benefit of his two children. He stated that it was a ‘family’ company. … The Barwick (or Mundroola) affair ran for barely more than three weeks in April and May 1980. (Can of Worms II Barwick and Mundroola)

At the core of the 1980 dispute was whether Mundroola Pty Ltd was really for the benefit of ‘only two’; the obituary in The Independent newspaper said that:

[Barwick’s] judgments were known for favouring the interests of individuals or companies over those of the state, and particularly for endorsing tax minimising schemes, including perhaps that of his own family company, Mundroola Pty Ltd

The company was deregistered in 1992, but the Dieri word has been used in other company names, including Mundroola Farms Pty Ltd (registered since 2004), and Mundroola Wind Pty Ltd (since 2011).

In the spirit of Endacott’s vision, the last (10th) edition of Endacott (1973) was used for yet another kind of name. The biologists San Martín, Aguado, Murray, and Gardiner 2007 assigned the impressive scientific (Linnæan) name Murrindisyllis kooromundroola Syllidae (Annelida: Polychaeta) to a kind of marine bristle worm that had been collected in 1990 off Providential Head, Wattamolla, to the south of Sydney (further details are here). The species name kooromundroola was the authors’ novel combination of mundroola with kooro ‘eyes’ (which also comes from Endacott 1973), ‘referring to the unique pair of eyes’. The element kooro comes from Muliarra (Mulyara), a language in Western Australia (Curr 1886, 378). Actually, kuru ‘eye’ is also widespread in the Western Desert Language and some of its neighbours. The Dieri word would be milki.

I wonder what Dieri people feel about these uses of a fragment of their language. They might feel it is an unfortunate appropriation which they have had no involvement in, or they might be proud that their unique word has taken on other lives, or possibly are indifferent. Or take a range of other views. Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

I am grateful to Penny Berents for directing me to the scientific name, and to Google for letting me find its ramifications.

Austin, Peter K. 2013. A grammar of Diyari, South Australia, available online here.
Curr, EM 1886. The Australian Race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia, and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent, vol. 1, John Ferres, Government Printer, Melbourne. See here.
Endacott, SJ 1923. Australian Aboriginal native names and their meanings, Sydney J. Endacott, Melbourne, 1st edn., see here.
Endacott, SJ 1973. Australian Aboriginal words and place names and their meanings, Acacia Press, Melbourne, 10th edition.
San Martín, G, MT Aguado, A Murray, and SL Gardiner 2007. ‘A new genus and species of Syllidae (Annelida: Polychaeta) from Australia with unusual morphological characters and uncertain systematic position’ Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, vol. 120, no. 1, pp. 39–48, see here.