The origin of the name 'Galah'

To: <>
Subject: The origin of the name 'Galah'
From: "Dr Richard Nowotny" <>
Date: Sat, 15 Dec 2007 21:06:45 +1100
I was recently asked how the Galah got its unusual name. I suspected an
Aboriginal origin but didn't recall ever having read anything about it - so
I tried Google (of course). The wonderful Australian National Dictionary
site (part of the Australian National University, ANU) provided the
following very helpful information which I thought might be of interest to
at least some Birding-aus readers.



Port Melbourne, Victoria




The word galah is a borrowing into Australian English from the Aboriginal
Yuwaalaraay language of northern New South Wales. In early records it is
variously spelt as galar, gillar, gulah, etc. It is first recorded in 1862
in J. McKinlay's Journal of Exploration in the Interior of Australia: `A
vast number of gulahs, curellas, macaws... here'. The bird referred to is
the grey-backed, pink-breasted cockatoo Eolophus roseicapillus, occurring in
all parts of Australia except the extreme north-east and south-west. It is
also known as the red-breasted cockatoo and rose-breasted cockatoo. 

Some early settlers use the galah as food. In 1902 the Truth newspaper
reports: 'The sunburnt residents of at that God-forsaken outpost of
civilisation were subsisting on stewed galah and curried crow'. Some writers
report that galah pie was a popular outback dish. 

The galah, which usually appears in a large flock, has a raucous call, and
it was perhaps this trait which produced the term galah session for a period
allocated for private conversation, especially between women on isolated
stations, over an outback radio network. F. Flynn in Northern Gateway (1963)
writes: 'The women's radio hour, held regularly night and morning and
referred to everywhere as the 'Galah Session'. It is a special time set
aside for lonely station women to chat on whatever subject they like'. More
generally, a galah session is 'a long chat' - A. Garve, Boomerang (1969):
'For hours the three men chatted... It was Dawes who said at last, "I reckon
this galah session's gone on long enough".' 

Very commonly in Australian English galah is used to refer to a fool or
idiot. A.R. Marshall and R. Drysdale in Journey among Men (1962), suggest
that this sense of galah may have a non-Australian origin: 'A clue to the
possible origin of the slang usage of 'galah'. In Malaya gila (pronounced
gee-lah) means mad; hence orang gila, a madman'. But this explanation has
not been accepted, and the Australian meaning must be a transfer from the
bird, no doubt incorporating a judgment about the relative intelligence of
the bird. The following citations give an indication of how the term is

1951 E. Lambert, Twenty Thousand Thieves: 'Yair, and I got better ideas than
some of the galahs that give us our orders'. 

1960 R.S. Porteous, Cattleman: 'The bloke on the other end of the line is
only some useless galah tryin' to sell a new brand of dip'. 

1971 J. O'Grady, Aussie Etiket: 'You would be the greatest bloody galah this
side of the rabbit-proof fence'. 

>From this sense arise a number of colloquial idioms. To be mad as a gum-tree
full of galahs is to be completely crazy. To make a proper galah of oneself
is to make a complete fool of oneself. A pack of galahs is a group of
contemptibly idiotic people. 




To unsubscribe from this mailing list, 
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • The origin of the name 'Galah', Dr Richard Nowotny <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU