Bring back the Betcherrygah! - was Indigenous Bird Names

Subject: Bring back the Betcherrygah! - was Indigenous Bird Names
From: Robert Gosford <>
Date: Fri, 27 Jul 2007 19:01:23 +0930
Dear all,

Just further to Michael's points re salience (prominent, conspicuous, most noticeable) and indigenous naming systems. Elsewhere there has been a lot of work done on the relationship between what species people know, name and classify and those that are left unnamed - a lot of the work done on this has identified that many cultures, and there is great variance within cultures dependent upon such variables as habitat etc, do have a class of birds that are, to all intents and purposes, unnamed or unrecognised as being of any economic value.

In my work with Warlpiri bird knowledge in central Australia there are certainly well-recognised species of economic importance (that are also classified as 'kuyu'=meat) that are also culturally important - some of these are large and very salient - Emu, Bustard ad each of these has several local names and synonyms dependent on context, location etc.

However there are also a number of smaller species where neither economic or any other value is immediately apparent.

Good examples of these include the Budgerigar (which the Australian Museum site credits John Gould with naming (in a European sense at least) as "Betcherrygah Warbling Grass Parakeet Budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus Melopsittacus undulatus Natives of the Liverpool Plains" - see: Both juvenile (rich in fat & easy to gather) and adult (easy to catch) Betcherrygahs (and I haven't checked the modern Eora orthography) are highly valued food sources here. A similar-sized bird, the Zebra Finch, has no economic value that I can find but has enormous cultural significance.

One last thing - of the many honeyeaters out here, I've only been able to locate names for two species - the Singing Honeyeater & the Yellow-throated Miner ... though their close relative the Chats all have the same name...

What does all of this mean? - we need more work on these fascinating areas.

Have a good weekend and may the sun and wind be at your back and your birds before you.

Bob Gosford,
Yuendumu, NT

Michael Todd wrote:

I haven't been following this debate very closely I have to admit but I wouldn't assume that all bird have an indigenous name.

I remember that when I was working on finches (Star and Crimson) at the Pormpuraaw community on Cape York Peninsula (on the Gulf) I was interested in the names given to the birds. I know finches were all given one name Minh something or other. It seemed to denote their lack of importance to people! On the other hand there were multiple names for things of economic (food or resource related) importance to denote different sexes, ages etc.

Now it could be that all the bird species had different names and many of them have since been forgotten but I think I lean towards their just having a different way of looking at species to the way English-speaking European- origin man does. When you are living off the land it makes sense to have the most descriptive names relating to species that you need to know intimately such as Magpie Goose, ducks etc. LBJ's (little brown jobs) like thornbills and gerygones would be pretty low down the scale of importance to survival I reckon.

Plains-wanderer.... well, I can't imagine it being regarded as significant. If there is a known indigenous name well and good.



?-- Michael Todd
Wildlifing: Images of Nature:
PhD Candidate- Tasmanian Masked Owl
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001
Mobile: o41o 123715

Alan Gillanders wrote:
By, "Perhaps a species that fits in a class of its own, such as the Plains Wanderer might be a suitable candidate for having an indigenous name," do mean one that the rest of us use? Very few birds would not have an indigenous name.


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