Damelian / Mates

Keith Vincent Smith

As part of a long tradition of reciprocity and kinship, Indigenous individuals in the Sydney area exchanged names, forging a relationship very much like the present Australian notion of a ‘best mate’.

Sharing the same name established a bond of friendship and mutual aid between the namesakes, even those from different clans.

In the language spoken by the Eora, as understood by those who compiled the word lists and language notebooks, wea-je-minga and weeang meant ‘relating to giving anything’, a word very close to wyanga or mother.

Damuna meant exchange and damoly or tamooly was the act of exchanging a name with a friend. The person with whom you exchanged your name (and in some Aboriginal societies therefore became your trading partner) was your damelian (feminine damelabillia) or namesake. On the other hand, the pejorative term damunalung, someone who refused to give, was put into English by marine lieutenant William Dawes as ‘a churl’, which meant a surly or unfriendly person.

An entry in the Anonymous ‘Vocabulary of N.S. Wales in the Neighbourhood of Sydney’ (MS 41645 (c), School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 1791:23.9), kept by Governor Arthur Phillip and his aides, gives Da-me-la-bil-lie as ‘a name sake, or a person with whom the name has been exchanged’. (I call this wordlist The Governor’s Vocabulary.) ‘An interchange of names with anyone is also a symbol of friendship,’ wrote Captain Watkin Tench.

This practice was widespread. In some places in northern Australia, at the Daly River and at Port Keats for example, persons who had the same name could not talk to each other until they had ceremonially exchanged goods.

There are several examples of Eora name exchanges. Nanbarry, nephew of the Gadigal leader Colebee, exchanged names with Ballooderry, a Burramattagal (from Parramatta). ‘His name is Nanbarry, Bolderry Brockenbau. he is always called Nanbarry’, wrote Newton Fowell, who died that year, in his last letter to his father on 31 July 1790. When Ballooderry died in December 1791, Nanbarry gave up his own name for a period and took the name Bo-rahng (possibly meaning ‘shadow’).

Colebee exchanged names with Warungin, Wangubílye Kolbi from the Gweagal (Fire Clan) based on the south side of Kamay (Botany Bay), brother of Bennelong’s third wife Kurúbarabúla (Two Firesticks). Referring to Colebee, David Collins (1798) remarked  ‘… the natives themselves, when distinguishing between this man and another of the same name at Botany Bay, always styled him Cad-i Cole-be; Cad-i being the name of his district …’

In turn, the English officers called Warungin ‘Botany Bay Colebee’ to distinguish him from the Gadigal leader. ‘Warangan’ in the Dharawal language meant ‘Boomerang’, as recorded in several instances by linguist RH Mathews.

Daringa, sister of Moorooberra or Moorooboora from the Muru ora dial (gal or clan) at today’s Long Bay and Maroubra, exchanged names with Bennelong’s second wife Barangaroo. When Barangaroo Daringa died in 1791, Daringa Barangaroo, Colebee’s wife, lost both her names and was called Bo-rahng-a-leon – so did a little girl living in the Sydney settlement who Barangaroo used to call by her own name. Daringa died the following year.

Woollarawarre Bennelong, as I wrote in my book Bennelong: The coming in of the Eora (Kangaroo Press 2001, page 42), no longer in print, attempted to find a place for Governor Phillip and his officers in the traditional kinship of his people.

‘He calls the Governor Beanga (Father) and names himself Doorow (Son) and calls the Judge [David Collins] and Commissary Babunna (Brother).’ Of his own five names he prefers Woollarawarre and ‘as a mark of affection and respect to the governor, he conferred on him the name of Wolarawaree … adopting to himself the name of governor’, wrote Tench.

While in Sydney during 1791 Mary Ann Parker, wife of John Parker, Captain of the warship HMS Gorgon, wrote that she had ‘never felt the least fear’ in the company of Aboriginal people. 

‘ … I have been seated in the woods with twelve or fourteen of them, men women and children.’ 

If she had objected to their appearance, Mary Ann wrote, ‘it would have given them some reason to suppose that I was not what they term their damely, or friend’.

[This article was rejected by the ‘Editorial Team’ of openbook journal at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW]

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022