Name – MULUBINBA
Origin – The Aboriginal inhabitants of Newcastle. Known to the Rev. Threlkeld as “The Newcastle Tribe” and identified as “Mulubinbakal” (male) or “Mulubinbakalleen” (woman). Now known as The Awabakal People.
How Long was it in use? – ca. 7000 years?
Our evidence for this word comes from the works of the Rev. Lancelot Edward Threlkeld, a missionary to the Aborigines, who arrived in Newcastle on the 8th May 1825. Threlkeld began recording the elements of the local Aboriginal language with a number of the natives, especially M’Gill (or Biraban). The first systematic study of an Aboriginal language undertaken here. Threlkeld took up his first residence on the 9th May 1825 at a place one and a half miles from Newcastle at the Government Farm. This is the site of the former Palais Royale (and now fast food restaurant) in Newcastle West. From there, preparations were made to build a new mission house at Belmont, at a site called by the natives “Biddobar”, on the eastern side of Lake Macquarie. Threlkeld and family moved there on 21st September 1826. The site of Threlkeld’s mission house at Belmont was identified by Emeritus Professor John Fryer in 2008 as being on the present day southern side of Victoria Street, just inside the Primary School grounds, approximately 50 metres to the west of the junction of Victoria Street with the Pacific Highway. See his report here
According to Keith H. Clouten (Reid’s Mistake p.28) the Governor had granted Threlkeld 1280 acres at the end of 1829. The land upon which his subsequent mission house, ‘Ebenezer’ was built on the western side of the Lake was originally called by the Aborigines ‘Derahbambah’, ‘Punte’ or ‘Puntei’. Threlkeld was still addressing his letters from ‘Lake Macquarie’ at least up to the 8th May 1831 (see Manuscript here) even though Clouten says that he was no longer on the site of the old Mission by the end of March 1831 as the Director of Public Works on the 29th March 1831 had given instructions that the mission building had to be sold to avoid it being used by ‘improper characters’ (Clouten p.29). After his falling out with the London Missionary Society (L.M.S.) Threlkeld’s first mention that he had moved to his new property “Ebenezer” on the western side of the Lake appears on the 29th December 1831 (Gunson p.115) where he states that ” We left the original station of the London Missionarie Society on the East Side of the Lake and removed to my Land on the west Side of the Lake.” Therefore we could assume that he moved to Ebenezer sometime between May and December 1831, and remained there until at least December 1841 before moving to Sydney.
Mulubinba is the Aboriginal name of the site of Newcastle. Threlkeld refers to it as early as 1827. In Threlkeld’s first work Specimens of A Dialect of the Aboriginal of New South Wales… (1827) he refers to Newcastle in examples as ‘Mulubinbah’ on pages 7, 12, 13, 14.
From Threlkeld’s An Australian Grammar (1834) p. 15-16:
Mu-lu-bin-ba, The site of Newcastle.
Neut. 1 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-ko-ba, Belonging to Mulubinba, any thing, as stone, &c.
Mas. 2 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-kal, Male person belonging to Mulubinba.
Fem. 3 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-kal-Ie-en Female person belonging to Mulubinba.
1 Mu-lu-bin-ba-ka-ko, For Mulubinba, to remain there.
2 Mu-lu-bin-ba-ko-Iang, To Mulubinba, to proceed to.
Ba-run Mu-lu-bin-ba-kal, Them of Mulubinba, Masculine.
Ba-rum Mu-lu-bin-ba-kal-le-en, Them of Mulubinba, Feminine.
Ba-run yán-tín Mu-Iu-bin-ba-kal, Them all of Mulubinba, (the people).
The Accusative Pronouns being substituted for Ba-run, them, will form the singular or dual, according to the number of the pronoun.
Ya-pál-Iun Mu-lu-bin-ba-kal, Alas, people of Mulubinba!
1 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-tin, From, on account of Mulubinba.
2 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-ka-bi-rung, From, away from Mulubinba.
3 Mu-Iu-bin-ba-ko-a, By, by the way of, through Mulubinba, beside.
4 Mu-lu-bin-ba-ka-ba, At, on, in Mulubinba.
From Threlkeld’s An Australian Grammar (1834) p.108:
On the Dative
Mulubinba ka ko. – To the site of Newcastle
Mulubinba means place of the mulubin. So what is a mulubin?
From Threlkeld’s A key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language…(1850) p.47:
“Mulubin is the name of a flower that abounds at the place called Newcastle, hence its name, Mulubin-ba.”
From John Fraser’s An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal... (1892) [This work consists of a compendium of Threlkeld’s works rearranged, edited by John Fraser] p.51:
“Mulubinba, the name of the site of Newcastle, from an indigenous ‘fern’ named mulubin.”
So we see it described as a “flower” and an indigenous fern. We think the Aborigines ate the roots for food.
The surveyor Barrallier mentions seeing a native looking for the roots of a fern. This native was the young Biraban:
Date: June 1801
“We…were surprised at seeing a young native who was looking for the roots of Fern.”
Brayshaw (1989) documents the use of fern as a food and identified as probably Blechnum see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blechnum
“Barrallier (1802:81-82) observed at Newcastle that the Aborigines ate “the roots of Fern [which he surprised a youth in the act of collecting] and a sort of root or yam”. The rhizome of this fern, probably Blechnum sp. (Vinnicombe 1980: VI 4), was also eaten at Lake Macquarie (Threlkeld in Gunson 1974:55) and in the Dungog area (Ebsworth 1826:71), where it was called “Bungwall”. It was roasted in the ashes and pounded to a paste between two stones.”
Their nourishment is Fish – the roots of Fern and a sort of root or yam, which when only touched by the Tongue occasions a Burning pain on the palate of the mouth difficult to describe but experience made me detest even the sight of it. I believe the only mode of making it palatable to them is roasting them.
– “Extracts from Ensign Barrallier’s Letter to Mr. Greville”,1801, Banks Papers, Braboume Collection, Vol. IV (Australia 1801-1820), M.L., A78-3, 81-83.
From Gunson (1974) p.6:
“Barrallier observed that they traded with the Hawkesbury and Broken Bay tribes, and that their pass was near Mount York. A young Aboriginal, looking for fern roots, and apprehended by his party, showed the greatest fear. He came to Barrallier ‘and rubbing my left shoulder softly with his right hand he repeated several times the word Cambai Cambai – I know not whether he sollicited my protection, or indicated his alarm’. Though he attached himself to the party he took occasion to slip away unnoticed on entering scrub country.A boy from the Awabakal tribe was taken quite early to Sydney. This was the celebrated Biraban (the name itself meant eaglehawk), who was brought up at the military barracks and acted as personal servant to one of the officers. He learnt to speak English fluently and was known by the English name of Johnny M’Gill. Though he returned to the tribe and was duly initiated he was firmly attached to his European friends and was found invaluable in dealing with troublesome Aboriginals and Europeans alike. Macquarie recognised him as chief or king of the Awabakal tribe and he remained their leader for over twenty years. About 1819 his likeness was taken by the popular convict artist, R. Browne, who had ample opportunity to study the Aboriginals of the Awabakal and Worimi tribes when serving his sentence at Newcastle. Browne’s caricature study of ‘Magill’ shows the robust chief in a somewhat unflattering corroboree posture.”
“…they were then striped of every thing, but he found the Natives more friendly as he approached the settlement, generally supplying him with a little fish and fern root by which means he was enabled to crawl to this place.”
– Extract of a Letter from Lieut. Menzies, Commandant of the Settlement at Newcastle, to His Excellency, dated June 15 1804 (Accessed on TROVE)
Name – COAL RIVER
Origin – In a letter from European “discoverer” of Newcastle Lieutenant J. Shortland Jnr. Quoted in a letter to his father dated 10th September 1798 relating his discovery of a “fine coal river” who he has named in honour of Governor Hunter.
How Long was it in use – 1797 to 1830 (Historical Records of NSW and Historical Records of Australia)
1797, September 10. H.R.N.S.W., Vol. III, pp. 481-482
Lieutenant John Shortland of the H.M.S. Reliance officially ‘discovered’ the River. [Transcription]
In addition please click here for The State Library of New South Wales: Papers of Sir Joseph Banks site who have scanned the following letter and map relating to Shortland’s discovery: Extract of a Letter from Lieut. John Shortland of H.M.S. Reliance, to his Father…, 10 September 1798 (Series 23.38)
J. Shortland, Jun., To J. Shortland, Sen.
HMS Reliance, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson,
10th September, 1798.
My Dear Father, About a twelvemonth since I went on an expedition in the Governor’s whaleboat as far as Port Stephens, which lies 100 miles to the northward of this place. In my passage down I discovered a very fine coal river, which I named after Governor Hunter. The enclosed I send you, being an eye-sketch which I took the little time I was there. Vessels from 60 to 250 tons may load there with great ease, and completely landlocked. I dare say, in a little time, this river will be a great acquisition to this settlement. The short time I remained at this river we had rain, which prevented my doing so much as I otherwise should.
Name – HUNTER’S RIVER / HUNTERS RIVER / HUNTER RIVER
Origin – Lieutenant John Shortland Jnr. named by him in honor of Governor Captain John Hunter RN (Governor of NSW from 1795-1800)
How Long in Use – Hunter’s River 1797 – c1848 / Hunters River 1801-1842 / Hunter River 1797-Present
Evidence – See letter above from Lieutenant John Shortland Jnr. (1798) and copy of original eye-sketch 1797.
An Eye Sketch of Hunter’s River 1797 (Courtesy of the Hydrographic Office, UK)
Lieutenant John Shortland. An eye sketch of Hunter’s River. 1797. Signed L.S. [initials presumed to be those of Lieutenant John Shortland]. Copy is held in the University Archives at Shelf Location A6472 (iii) Original is held in the Hydrographic Department. Ministry of Defence, Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdon: C642/1.
Name – COAL HARBOUR
Origin – Ensign Francis Barrallier, recorded on his original surveys taken during June – July 1801 and probably November 1801.
How Long in Use – 1801-1806 (Historical Records of NSW and Historical Records of Australia)
1801, June-July 1801.
Ensign Francis Louis Barrallier. ‘Coal Harbour and Rivers, On the Coast of New South Wales, surveyed by Ensign Barrallier, In His Majesty’s Armed Surveying Vessel, “Lady Nelson”, Lieut. James Grant, Commander, in June and July, 1801. By Order of Governor King’. CO 700/ New South Wales 16/
Name – KINGS TOWN / KING’S TOWN
Origin – First used in Commandant Lieutenant Menzies first letter to Governor King, addressed “King’s Town, Newcastle, 19th April, 1804” (HRNSW, Vol. 5 p.367)
How Long in Use – 1804 – 1806, 1809 – 1810, Attempted revival by Henry Dangar (Surveyor) in 1823 ? and 1828 (Historical Records of NSW and Historical Records of Australia).
See Correspondence and documents in the Historical Records of New South Wales and Historical Records of Australia. The name was used along with the official name of Newcastle or New Castle, until being dropped. The surveyor Henry Dangar tried to revive the name in the 1820s, using it on his plans of the township (1828) and in his immigrants guide to the region, known as the Dangar Index, in both the frontispiece and map, but was unsuccessful in convincing people to adopt the name in preference to Newcastle.
Name – NEWCASTLE / NEW CASTLE
Origin – First used by Governor King to Commandant Lieutenant Menzies 15th March 1804 (HRNSW, Vol. 5 p.362)
How Long in Use – Newcastle 1804 – Present / New Castle 1804 to at least 1847 (Historical Records of NSW and Historical Records of Australia).
Evidence – Newcastle is named.
Government and General Order 24th March, 1804
(HRNSW, Vol. 5 p.364.)
“MR. James Mileham, assistant surgeon, will hold himself in readiness to embark on board the Lady Nelson, to take the duty of the settlement at the Coal Harbour and Hunter’s River till further Lieut. Charles Menzies is sworn in as a magistrate for the above settlement and county, which is hereafter to be distinguished by the name of Newcastle, in the county of Northumberland, the division between which and the county of Cumberland is to be the parallel line of 33′ 20′ south latitude.”
Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist and Chair, CRWP
30th August 2013
6 thoughts on “The many names of Newcastle – Mulubinba”
Are you able to update on the issue concerning Worimi LALC [Worimi people] lodging a land claim over Newcastle as well as the associated issue of Worimi peoples’ concern over the existence of Awabakal as a tribe verses a language group.
Aboriginal Community Support Officer,
02 4938 4947 [w].
>>> Coal River Working Party 30/08/2013 10:34 AM >>>
uoncc posted: ” Name – MULUBINBA Origin – The Aboriginal inhabitants of Newcastle. Known to the Rev. Threlkeld as “The Newcastle Tribe” and identified as “Mulubinbakal” (male) or “Mulubinbakalleen” (woman). Now known as The Awabakal People. How Long was it in u”
Here’s some speculations from my small amount knowledge:
It would make sense if it were the Bungwall fern. It was a staple in Kabi Kabi country (Sunshine Coast SE QLD), in lowlands near the coast. There’s also mention of people working with dolphins to herd mullet in the mullet run in a few places around SE QLD, just as there is down here in Awabakal and Worimi, so it seems some food and practices was/is common to people all up the east coast. I don’t know how different the many languages in Australia are, but according to linguists, Awabakal is in the same family of languages (Yuin–Kuric) as Yagumbeh (around Gold Coast), which is almost neighbours with Kabi Kabi. There was certainly plenty of regular travel between SE QLD and N NSW. I thought I’d try and have a look at breaking down some syllables and looking at the linguists dictionaries for both Awabakal and Kabi Kabi (which is a bit larger). There are some things that might be relevant:
– In Kabi Kabi, ‘food’ is ‘bindha’ and ‘dha’ is earth. Sounds a bit like the end of Mulu-binba and matches with an earthy food.
– In Kabi Kabi, ‘eat’ is ‘dhau’ or ‘dau-man’, and in Awabakal ‘tau-wa’.
– In Awabakal, flowers is ‘Murabun’ (linguistically ‘l’ is easily confused with ‘r’ and ‘t’ with ‘d’, and ‘k’ with ‘g’ especially for a foreign listener)
– In Kabi Kabi, ‘Mullu’ is ‘dark’, and ‘mulu’ is ‘fishing net’.
Comparing a bunch of words in each language suggests that there are some words similar, and some totally different. So none of those comparisons can be relied on – purely speculative. None the less, it’s often by looking around at this sort of thing, combined with other bits of knowledge and history and looking at the lay of the land that after a while, everything falls into place and makes sense in relation to everything else, like pieces of a puzzle coming together.
One thing I think Westerners often make a mistake about when trying to figure out the meaning of place names, and many other things generally, is thinking everything is mutually exclusive because we are so focused on ‘clear and distinct ideas’ and categories etc in science, and forget half the purpose of language, like in poetry and jokes, is to mean many things at once. Disambiguation is important in information technology, but ambiguity can also be used as an information technology. This is especially important in oral culture because the more things mean other things the easier it is to remember. So when looking at a place name, if someone says ‘flower’ and another says ‘fern’ and another says ‘dark things’ or whatever, it doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong. As likely as not, it could be all.
I’m sure there is a video of someone explaining this in a video about the meaning of ‘Mooloolaba’, I just can’t find it at the moment, sorry.
BTW, many years ago I made a digital version of the English-Awabakal dictionary that also reversed it so you could look up an Awabakal word to get the English translation. I could dig around some backups if that is wanted, because the only version of the old online dictionary I could still find was in the Wayback Machine.
Hi Bill, Thanks very much for this information. We would be very interested in your digital version of the English-Awabakal dictionary. There is also one included with the Awaba site located on our Dreaming pages under the year 2003. Best wishes, Gionni