18 Sep Part 1: The Lake Moniboeng Naming Story – Beginning a 100 year long game of Chinese whispers
When it comes to the names of places, never assume anything: that is what some recent digging has taught me!
While Long Swamp is a pretty straightforward and descriptive name that leaves no room for confusion, the same cannot be said for one of the spectacular lakes within this wetland system…
You might have noticed that I have been calling Lake Mombeong by this name, rather than Lake Monibeong – which it is now also commonly referred to. Locals may have noticed that there is still an old signpost off the Portland-Nelson Rd that says Mombeong, plus I had come across some very old references a while back that had me think this was the correct name for this beautiful remote lake in Discovery Bay Coastal Park. One of these old newspaper articles from 1876 is reproduced below for your information:
But a fellow natural history buff, Gavin Cerini, sent me an email recently informing me that the late natural historian Noel Learmonth had done some digging many years ago and had decided that Lake Monibeong was the historically accurate name. I managed to do some further digging to try to get to the bottom of this, and in the process seem to have uncovered a century long game of “Chinese whispers”!
So, back to the start…
The first to stake a claim for a depasturing licence in this area, of what was then part of the Port Phillip District of NSW, were the Lang brothers (Dr Thomas, William and Gideon) around 1845:
The first map I have come across that was drawn to show Victorian pastoral runs in 1848, had adopted the run name “Lake Moniboeng” for the Lang brothers’ run – noting that this is spelled with the “o” before the “e”, which implies a different pronunciation to the modern version: Moni-bo-eng rather than Moni-be-ong. Interestingly, the neighbouring run is called “Kentbrush” – rather than Kentbruck.
This original spelling for both runs was confirmed in 1849, when the Lang brothers registered the transfer of the runs with the Government:
A few other references from around the same time also confirm this original spelling – presumably based on a phonetic interpretation of the original (spoken) Aboriginal name for the Lake.
So far so good… but then something interesting started happening!
In 1852, with what I can only assume is an error in transcription, the game of “Chinese whispers” began – with the first mis-spelling I have come across: Mombrong.
From there, as often happens in a game of Chinese Whispers, things started to get really messy, with new versions of the name appearing for the first time as follows over a 100 year period:
- 1848 – Moniboeng – original spelling (multiple early references above, plus additional references on maps up to 1867)
- 1852 – Mombrong (Published list of the Occupants of Crown Land, above)
- 1854 – Mombeong – spelling on signpost and on official Place Name Register (Published in the The Melbourne Commercial and Squatters Directory for 1854, and as appeared later in The Australasian notice of property sale in 1876)
- 1858 – Monbong (Name on sketch of the lake by Eugene von Guérard, during the tenure of Leake and McLachlan, the third registered lessees of the run after 1848)
- 1860 – Moonibeong (Squattors Directory)
- 1867 – Monbeong (Normanby Runs Map)
- 1860s – Monyboeng (Normanby Runs Map)
- 1905 – Bolong and/or Bung Bung (Portland Guardian – reproduced report of government officer H. Mackay, who visited Malseed’s property)
- 1932 – Morniboeng (Map drawn of early pastoral holdings)
- 1935 – Naemb Beong (Portland Guardian- Hedditch – local opinion)
- 1936 – Bong Bong (Government cadastral map)
- 1945 – Monbeang (Portland Guardian – Carthew – local opinion)
- 1945 – Monibeong – current spelling used by Parks Victoria (Portland Guardian – Learmonth – local opinion)
- 1949 – Momboeng (in Stone-Age Craftsmen, Mitchell 1949)
Some of these spellings can be found repeated several times over subsequent years in various publications, while others were simple once-off errors.
Are you confused? You are not alone, and it certainly makes sense of why no-one has known exactly what we should call this Lake for a long time.
In terms of why this happened, I think it is probably as simple as a combination of transcription errors and real Chinese whispers, where people on the land over the decades following settlement would probably not have paid much attention to phonetic correctness when repeating Aboriginal words. After all, this is how and why so many Aboriginal place names have been written down so many different ways over the years – being a spoken language only originally, it was probably inevitable that this would happen.
For a good example (one of many) of a place you’ll know that has also had this problem, lets try Naracoorte: variously known or referred to over the years as Gnanga-kurt, Nanna-coorta, Narcoot, Nancoota, Narricourt, Narcoota and Narracoorte!
Finally, back to Lake Moniboeng, and the locals actually debated the naming subject in the 1930s and 40s in the local newspapers, so I will feature this in a future blog, as well as a perspective on why, after my research, I think we should maybe consider going back to calling it by its original name Lake Moniboeng.
If you have enjoyed this little bit of local history, stay tuned for more to come…