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.

Kanku mawakantyi

Here is the continuation of the story from the previous cartoon. It uses words and grammar discussed in the last blog, plus a couple of expressions introduced earlier (click to open a larger version in a new window):


Can you work out what the boy wants from his mother now? You might find it useful to go back and review the previous cartoon and blog post.

Here are a few additional words you might need:

  • minhandru ‘why?’ — this consists of minha ‘what’ and the ending -ndru ‘from’
  • minha kurnu ‘something’ — this is made up of minha ‘what’ and kurnu ‘one’
  • ngathata ‘younger brother or sister’
  • pirki-rna ‘to play’
  • pirna ‘big, a lot’
  • puka ‘vegetable food’ — this covers any food that is not nganthi ‘meat’ so includes bread, damper, vegetables, fruit, cereals, beans, and rice

We will give the dialogue, translation, and discussion for this cartoon in the next blog post.

Note: To translate the title of this post you might want to review this previous post.


The title of this blog is kamanalimara which means ‘family’. It is made up of kamanali which means ‘relative’ and the ending -mara which is added to words that refer to family members to form a term that refers to a group of people. There is more discusson of its use below.

The Dieri language has a large number of terms for referring to members of the family and distinguishes between different relations that are grouped together under one term in English. For example, the term ‘aunt’ can be used to refer to the sister of your mother or father — in Dieri different terms are used for these two people. Similarly, while English only has ‘grandfather’ Dieri distinguishes between the father of your father and the father of your mother.

Let’s look at the basic terms. Firstly, for your own generation within the family we make a difference between older brothers and sisters and younger ones, but for younger children there is no distinction between younger brother and younger sister. Here are the terms:

kaku ‘older sister’

nhiyi or nhinhi ‘older brother’

ngathata ‘younger brother’ and ‘younger sister’

For parent’s generation the same term is used for mother and mother’s sister (maternal aunt) and for father and father’s brother (paternal uncle) while there are different terms for aunt who is father’s sister and uncle who is mother’s brother:

ngandri ‘mother, mother’s sister’

ngapiri ‘father, father’s brother’

kaka ‘mother’s brother, uncle’

papa ‘father’s sister, aunt’

For the grandparent’s generation there are four different terms:

kanhini ‘mother’s mother, (maternal) grandmother’

kami ‘father’s mother, (paternal) grandmother’

yanku ‘mother’s father, (maternal) grandfather’

ngardarda ‘father’s father, (paternal) grandfather’

When we want to speak about our children, there are different terms depending on whether it is a child of a man or the child of a woman (with no difference between whether the child is a boy or girl). So we have:

ngathani ‘child of woman’

ngathamurra ‘child of man’

So, if I am female I call my son or daughter ngakarni ngathani and if I am a male I call my son or daughter ngakarni ngathamurra. If I want to I can then clarify the gender of the child as:

kanku ‘boy’

mankarra ‘girl’

One way to learn this system is to draw up a chart of all your relatives and work out how you would refer to them in Dieri.

The ending -mara that we saw before can be added to any kinship term X to create a word meaning ‘a group of relatives, one of whom is X to the others’. So:

kakumara means ‘a group of relatives, one of whom is older sister to the others’ — we could use this to talk about a group made up of a sister and her younger brothers and sisters

ngapirimara means ‘a group of relatives, one of whom is father to the others’ — we could use this to talk about a group made up of a father and his children

What do you think kanhinimara would mean?

What about papamara?