Part 1: The Lake Moniboeng Naming Story – Beginning a 100 year long game of Chinese whispers

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:

This article from 1876 refers to the property name “Mombeong”

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 earliest map of early pastoral runs in SW Victoria I have come across – by Lingham (thought to date from 1842, but probably from the mid 1840s based on settlement timing of the Lang brothers c. 1845) – showing the location of Lang’s run (not known by any other name at this stage)

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.

An map of Pastoral Runs in 1848 – the first mention of of “Lake Moniboeng”

This original spelling for both runs was confirmed in 1849, when the Lang brothers registered the transfer of the runs with the Government:

The Lang Brothers move on in 1849 – NSW Government Gazette transfer – Lake Moniboeng. Also note the spelling of Kentbrush (rather than Kentbruck) and Maleside (rather than Moleside) Creek.

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.

1849 – Transfer from Lang Bros to John McLean, Sydney Morning Herald

1849 – Squattors Directory

1851 – Transfer from John McLean to Leake and McLachlan, The Argus

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.

1852 – Occupants of Crown Land, Published by the Government

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



Mark Bachmann