, , , , , , ,

Last April (2021), friend and colleague Megan Carter and myself drove the length of the Upper Murray Valley, trying to get some internal sense of the northern-most extent of Dhudhuroa country. Megan had been researching breast-plates (also known as ‘gorgets’ or ‘king plates’) associated with the area, and we’d come across an old newspaper report illustrating the breast plate of ‘Charley, Prince of Benden Dara-Dera’, which was reputedly given to him by the first European squatter on Welaregang run, (Sir) John Hay. [1] We’d also become curious about the ‘Dora Dora Massacre’ reputedly committed by squatter John Jobbins (probably in late 1836 or early 1837). [2] Over two days, we visited places along the Upper Murray from Towong and Tintaldra to Welaregang and Walwa; and there was a big day following the dirt road from Jingellic to Dora Dora and Wymah on the New South Wales side of the River, trying to get a sense of place.

The view from the top of Towong Hill Road, looking towards the Main Range with the Murray River in the foreground.

On one of the days we had a great lunch at the Corryong Bakery; and we took in the view from Towong Hill — which was a near religious experience. Local historian John Murphy had told us that an old timer from an old Corryong family had told him that Welaregang was the ‘mustering ground’ for different ‘tribes’ before they went up to the Snowy Mountains to collect bogong moths. Later, Megan and I stood at Farran’s Lookout (on the opposite side of the River from Welaregang) and imagined people sending up puffs of smoke from the Dargals, signalling that the time to collect the moths had arrived. Then we had a terrific curry at Tintaldra pub.

Another day we had lunch at the Jingellic pub, and drove ‘the back way’ on the dirt road from Jingellic, passing through Maracket, Talmalmo and Dora Dora — all old pastoral stations bounded by the rocky outcrops of (what is now) Woomargama National Park on the northern side; missing the Wymah ferry (!); and having to drive all the way to Bowna and out to Albury. It was ethnographer R. H. Mathews’ Dhudhuroa language informant Neddy Wheeler who had told Mathews that Dhudhuroa language was spoken from ‘Welaregang to Albury’ — naming locations like these on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. [3] Today, Dhudhuroa is conventionally thought of as Victorian language group, and yet prior to the Murray River becoming a state border, it was simply another river valley — and as Megan and I learned, for a distance either side from Jingellic to Wymah, it is a geographically tight, self-contained valley. Over the course of our travels, it became easy for us to imagine that Dhudhuroa was spoken along either side of this narrow valley, where the Murray River could be forded at numerous points.

On this basis we came to thinking that the breast plate given at Welaregang station to ‘Charley, Prince of Benden Dara-Dera’, contained an anglicised version of the language name Dhudhuroa in the form of Dara-Dera. [4] We’ve yet to work out what ‘Benden‘ is all about, but I have to admit that that name Bendendera/Bendenderra is surely also worthy of investigation — this was a pastoral station located somewhere near modern-day Brungle, which in turn became the location of an Aboriginal Mission Station in the late 1880s. At present I know next to nothing about Bendenderra, and yet, historically, there’s evidence that ‘Dodorera’ [Dhudhuroa] people mixed with Wiradjuri people less than 20km away from Brungle in Wiradjuri lands at Gundagai in 1844; [5a] and that people from ‘Burrowa’ [Pine Mountain near Walwa], and Gundagai, were still having corroboree with people in Tumut [ie: Wolgalu people] as late as 1866 — for trade, but probably also before heading up into the mountains for moth hunting. [5b]

Reading up on Dora Dora, I learned that the name was recorded by the first Europeans (in the party of squatter Luke Reddall) who, upon trying to establish the local place name for a site at which they were forming a station, were reportedly told by the First Nations people there, ‘Durra, durra’ [6]. This station became known at first as ‘Daara Daara’, eventually rendered as ‘Dora Dora.’ It seems probable that in attempting to establish the name of the location, these Europeans were instead given an explanation as to whom the country belonged: Dhudhuroa.

Other interesting toponyms are found nearby, also as an artefact of early European squatters attempting to garner local place names from the Dhudhuroa people: downstream from Dora Dora, they recorded the name Wagrah (later altered to Wymah) [7], while the location on the opposite side of the Murray River was recorded as Bunjil. These are not toponyms. Instead, it seems the Dhudhuroa were informing the invading Europeans not only of whose country it was (ie: Dhudhuroa), but also of their two-part moiety division of Bunjil (Eaglehawk) and Waa (Crow) — they were indicating Bunjil, and his opposing number, Waa; perhaps even pointing out local groups on opposite sides of the River who each had these moieties. That these names exist even today could be read as a statement of ‘ownership’ of country based on grounds of language and lore.

What seem to be early European attempts at recording the language name Dhudhuroa, ie: dara-dera, durra-durra, daara-daara, dora-dora, and do-dorera got me thinking about the contemporary rendering of this name, Dhudhuroa.

When linguists Barry Blake and Julie Reid came to their analysis of Dhudhuroa language in 2002, they worked predominantly from the notes of ethnographer R. H. Mathews whose language informant was Dhudhuroa man Neddy Wheeler. Mathews, whom I’m assured was quite a good at recording First Nations languages, rendered the name as Dhudhuroa, which he spelled more phonetically as Dhoo-dhoo-ro-wa, to which Blake and Reid were able to offer this explanation:

‘Dhudhuroa appears to consist of the first syllable of the word for ‘no’ reduplicated. The word for ‘no’ is dhubalga. It is common in southeastern Australia to base language names on the word for ‘no’. The name almost certainly contains a reduced form of wurru, which means ‘mouth’ or ‘language’ in a number of Victorian languages. The final syllable is probably -wa, which is found on quite a few other words. Thus we probably have Dhu-dhu-(wu)rru-wa.’ [8]

Thanks to Barry Blake, Julie Reid and other linguists (Dixon, Hercus, Morey, Koch), it’s become a well-established point that are two main First Nations naming conventions in relation to language names for central Victoria and the Murray River area (which is not to say that every language name necessarily fits convention; only that the conventions exist). For the Murray River, the convention is the use of the word ‘No’ in that language replicated: names such as Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba, Barapa Barapa and so on. The other naming convention, seen prominently within central Kulin language areas, is to combine the language’s word for ‘No’ with the word for ‘mouth’. Thus, as Barry Blake [9] has pointed out, the name Taungurung in its fullest form is Thagu-wurrung, combining the word Thagu (also written as Dhaagu [10]) for ‘No’ with wurrung for ‘mouth’.

I was entirely satisfied with Blake and Reid’s explanation of the name, until this morning when I came across another regional word for mouth, recorded as deirah or diara, rendered by Blake and Reid as d(h)erra. It occurred to me that the word d(h)erra, rather than wurru might be a constituent part of the language name Dhudhuroa. Consequently, I think it equally possible that the name Dhudhuroa could comprise part of the word for ‘no’, Dhu—, and the word for ‘mouth’, or ‘tongue’ d(h)erra, ie: Dhu-d(h)erra. Dhu-d(h)erra also puts us within ‘ear-shot’ of dara-dera, and brings us closer to ethnographer Alfred Howitt’s rendering of the name The-d-dora. [11] (A soft ‘D’, and a soft ‘Th’ with the tongue on the back of your bottom teeth, are similar sounds.) However, I’m not a linguist. I’m an amateur with this stuff.

Hearing the word d(h)erra in Dhudhuroa also got me thinking about our understanding of local languages in North East Victoria — particularly Dhudhuroa and ‘Pallanganmiddang’ (Waywurru) — two small, isolated pockets of language surrounded by the vastly larger language areas of Yorta Yorta to the west, Wiradjuri to the north, Snowy Mountains Language [eg: Ngarigu] to the North and East, and Taungurung (and more generally Kulin languages) to the south. Were they gradually being crushed by outside influences?

Currently the word d(h)erra is not even attributed to the Dhudhuroa language, but instead to the neighbouring ‘Pallanganmiddang’ (now generally referred to as Waywurru) language. In a study of Pallanganmiddang [12], Blake and Reid sourced the word they render as d(h)erra from two separate vocabularies, named ‘Barwidgee’ and ‘Pallanganmiddang.’ Both vocabularies were compiled by the same man — squatter Thomas Mitchell — most likely while he was serving as Honorary Correspondent to the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines at the Tangambalanga Aboriginal Reserve. As the Reserve was used by both people from the Upper Murray, and the Ovens and lower Kiewa River Valleys, Mitchell’s vocabularies actually combined words from two different languages: Dhudhuroa, and Pallanganmiddang (Waywurru). In dividing the vocabularies out into two separate language groups, Blake and Reid were assisted by three other vocabularies — R. H. Mathews’ vocabulary given to him by self-identified Dhudhuroa man Neddy Wheeler [13]; George Augustus Robinson’s 1844 vocabulary given to him by self-identified Pallangan-middang (Waywurru) man ‘Joe’ Mul.ler.nin.ner [14]; and a third vocabulary supplied to Wangaratta resident William St. Fort Murdoch by someone who had collected this vocabulary in Wangaratta in the mid-1870s [15]. Despite these additional vocabularies, separating the words into two distinctive language groupings must have presented a few challenges, and I now wonder whether d(h)erra is a Dhudhuroa word for mouth too, or tongue (indeed it is a widespread word fro tongue), and the word Robinson recorded as the Pallanganmiddang (Waywurru) word for ‘neck’ — wo-ro — was in fact the Waywurru word for ‘mouth’ (one imagines the finger pointing to body parts may have been misinterpreted at some point), which would make it the same word as in the adjoining Ngurai-illum (vastly more Kulinic) language — wooroo. Not to mention the same word contained in the language name Way-wurru. There is also a word recorded for mouth in Blake and Reid’s Dhudhuroa language vocabulary — lendawa(h) — (so they have a relevant reason for allocating d(h)erra to Pallanganmiddang) but I wonder whether this may be a word for ‘lips’. [16] I also wonder whether I should speculate like this, given that I am not a linguist.

I am not suggesting that what I’m writing is concrete; I am discussing possibilities. If you would like to join the discussion, or have some thoughts, don’t be shy! Alternatively, visit the Upper Murray. The landscapes are epic and the beer is cold.

This is original written content that is copyright protected to ©Jacqui Durrant, 2021. You are welcome to share links to this blog, but please do not use the content elsewhere without permission. Thank you!


1. ‘The “Prince’s” Badge of Honor,’ Border Morning Mail, Saturday 9 September 1939, p.13.

2. See: Charles Albert Smithwick (J. Henwood & M. Swann, Eds.), Early History of the Upper Murray, John Henwood, Camberwell, 2003, p.18. Also: Arthur Andrews, First settlement of the Upper Murray, 1835-1845: with a short account of over two hundred runs, 1835 to 1880, D. S. Ford, Sydney, 1920.

3. R. H. Mathews, MS8006 Series 5 File 3 Box 6, National Library of Australia.

4. ‘The “Prince’s” Badge of Honor,’ op cit.

5a. Ian Clark (ed.) The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Protectorate, 1839-1852, Melbourne, 2014, p.315. 5b. Sydney Mail, Saturday 27 January, 1866, p.4.

6. Margaret Carnegie, Friday Mount: first settlement at Holbrook and the south-western slopes of New South Wales, Hawthorn Press, Melbourne, 1973. p.151; Arthur Andrews, op cit., p.52.

7. Arthur Andrews, op cit., p.144.

8. Barry Blake and Julie Reid, ‘The Dhudhuroa language of northeastern Victoria: a description based on historical sources,’ Aboriginal History, 2002, VOL 26, pp: 177-210.

9. cited in: Ian Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An Historical Atlas of Western and Central Victoria, 1800–1900, Monash Publications in Geography Number 37, Monash University, Melbourne, 1990, p. 370.

10. Lee Healy (compiler), Taungurung Liwik-nganjin-al Ngula-dhan Yaawinbu Yananinon (Taungurung Dictionary), Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Melbourne, 2011.

11. Alfred Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, Macmillan, London, 1904.

12. Barry Blake and Julie Reid, ‘Pallanganmiddang: a language of the Upper Murray,’ Aboriginal History, 1999, Vol. 23, pp.15-30.

13. R. H. Mathews, ‘The Dhudhuroa Language of Victoria,’ reprinted from the American Anthropologist, Vol. 11, No. 2, April-June, 1909, pp:278-284.

14. Ian Clark (ed.) The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Protectorate, 1839-1852, Melbourne, 2014, p.321.

15. Murdoch, W L, Science of Man and Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia,Vol 3, No11, December 1900, pp.188-189. [Murdoch’s middle initial was mis-transcribed by the Journal editors; it should be S for ‘St. Fort’.]

16. Barry Blake and Julie Reid, ‘The Dhudhuroa language of northeastern Victoria: a description based on historical sources,’ op cit.