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Baaka, however it’s spelt, has a very long history

Wednesday, 22nd January, 2020

An Aboriginal family on the Darling River by Avoca Station near Wentworth in 1904. An Aboriginal family on the Darling River by Avoca Station near Wentworth in 1904.

By Dr Sarah Martin

The Aboriginal name for the Darling River, “Baaka”, was first recorded by white people almost 150 years ago.

The Geographical Names Board has been asked to give the Darling River a dual name, that is both the European name Darling and the traditional Barkandji name Baaka. 

This is not a name change, but an acknowledgment of both traditions, combining the two as Darling/Baaka or vice versa. The Board is currently doing wide consultation about the proposed dual name.

The name Baaka (spelt many ways as there is no set spelling for this non-English-word) has been the Barkandji name for the river since the distant past.

The Barkandji language group area is large and is composed of different dialects on both sides of the river with minor differences in vocabulary and grammar, but they all used the same name for the river. 

However, neighbouring language groups such as Ngiyampaa, Ngemba, and Murrawarri have a slightly different word for river - Barwon (Baawon).

A quick check of archives shows that Baaka (with different spellings) has been recorded as the Barkandji name of the Darling River since at least 1872, and it has been recorded as the name right along the river from Bourke to Wentworth. Some examples are:

In Curr’s 1885-1886 book “The Australian Race”, Teulon wrote a very detailed description of the Kurnu Barkandji dialect collected at Bourke, where he lists “River - Parkka” in the vocabulary.

Dr Pechey in 1872 published details about Kurnu Barkandji dialect collected from near Louth, he wrote in his vocabulary “The River - Parkah”.

Anthropologist R. H. Mathews recorded the name for the Darling River as “Baka” when he revisited Toorale Station in 1903 to collect additional Kurnu Barkandji language.

Simpson Newland, owner of Marra Station between Wilcannia and Tilpa, in a published article in 1887 wrote “on the Upper Darling the (Aboriginal people), though divided into tribes, spoke the same language, and were friendly. They call the river the Parka, and themselves the Parkengees.”

Charles Richards published in 1903 detailed information collected from the Maraura/Thangkali Barkandji dialects-speaking Nganya family from the scrub country south of Broken Hill, including: “Bpaa gka  - A river, (the “Darling”) and “Bpaa gkon-jee” - river dwellers (the “Darling” tribes)”.

Anthropologist A.W. Howitt interviewed elderly Maraura Barkandji people at the junction of the Murray/Darling in 1907 who told him “all who live on both sides of the Darling River from its junction up were Barkanji, that is “belonging with the River (Barka)”.

Peter Bonney, a speaker of the Maraura Barkandji dialect from around Wentworth, gave South Australian Museum anthropologist N. B. Tindale the following information in 1938-9, “The people of the Ba:ka or Darling River are the Ba:kindji”.

In the 1960s linguist Luise Hercus collected Barkandji language from Dareton and Wilcannia (the tapes are available in the AIATSIS, Canberra). In her 1982 book she writes Baagandji (she later spelt it Paakantyi) means “belonging to the Darling River, Baaga”. 

In the 1980s elder and linguist Aunty Elsie Jones wrote a story for teaching language in the Wilcannia school where she uses the word Paaka for river, and in the 1990s elder Mrs King wrote more stories for the school, in which she lists the word Baaka for river. 

It is very clear that the word Baaka has been used at least since 1872 right up until recently, and right along the Darling River.


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