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Learn English: Borrowed Indigenous Australian words

Kangaroo sign
A kangaroo road sign in South Australia.

Flickr CC: Nicolò Bonazzi

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A significant number of commonly used Australian English words have been borrowed from Aboriginal languages and dialects. Learn some Australian English words and discover their origins in a diverse culture with over 60,000 years of history in Australia.

When British colonists arrived in Australia in 1788, there were more than 200 distinct language groups and over 600 dialects. Some of these dialects and language groups continue to be used in Australia today.

Kangaroo
The kangaroo is one of Australia's most well known marsupials.

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Kangaroo

This is probably one of the most well-known borrowed Indigenous Australian words. British explorer, James Cook, and the botanist, Joseph Banks, borrowed the word 'kangaroo' from the Guugu Yimidhirr people near Cooktown, in Far North Queensland in 1770.

Waratah
A waratah is a distinct Australian flower.

ABC Open: Origma 

Waratah

A 'waratah' is a native Australian flower. The name comes from 'warada', a Dharug word that was used in the Sydney area.

Hard yakka
Yakka is usually used with the phrase hard yakka.

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Yakka

'Yakka' means physically draining work. It comes from 'yaga', meaning 'work' in the Yagara language of the Brisbane area.

Barramundi
Barramundi in an aquarium.

Barramundi

'Barramundi' are a type of fish - usually found in tropical waters. Around the globe, they're also known as Asian sea bass or giant perch. 'Barramundi' comes from the Gangulu language group in Central Queensland, and means 'large scale river fish'.

Coolabah tree
Coolabah tree (Eucalyptus coolabah) in the Simpson Desert.

Flickr CC: John Benwell

Coolabah

'Coolabah' is a name for types of eucalyptus trees. It comes from the Yuwaalayaay (and neighbouring) language group from Northern New South Wales. It's mentioned in a famous Australian poem Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson:

'Billabong,' as seen in the poem, refers to a stagnant pond formed separately from the main stream of a river. It's a combination of 'bila' and 'bang' which is borrowed from the Wiradjuri group from South-West New South Wales.

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