(PS I don’t like giving any free publicity to corporate entities, but in this case it’s impossible not to.)

Some years ago (soon after I returned from Korea the first time, I think), I bought a quiz game made by a company called BrainBox. The shop had several in stock, but the one which I bought was of the countries of the world, which seemed most applicable to English language classes.

IMG_4069lowresI have used it several times a year since. On Tuesday I was browsing through a local shop and saw another game from the same company, about Australia. I went back and bought it on Thursday morning and used it that evening in class.



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Today I saw a furphy, or maybe a FURPHY.

In Australian informal English, a furphy is a tall tale. The word comes from the portable water tanks manufactured by J Furphy & Son of Shepparton, Victoria. These were found around the rural areas of Australia from the late 1800s, and especially where the Australian Army was stationed during World War 1. Those gathered around them would swap stories, true, mostly true or not mostly true, in the manner of ‘water cooler discussions’ nowadays.

The company still exists, owned by descendants of the founder, and makes a variety of metal items for industrial and rural use. The water cart is still made, having undergone changes of design, but I had never seen one. This afternoon I bought an iced coffee at a fast food restaurant which shall remain nameless. The main street of Sydney is undergoing major development to install light rail tracks. Immediately outside the fast food restaurant which shall remain nameless was a FURPHY water cart (the name is in very big, black, upper case-letters on the side).

To my Irish readers: yes, the name is Irish – John (the blacksmith/wheelwright) and Joseph (the writer, aka Tom Collins) Furphy’s father was born in County Armagh.

Botany Bay 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 5

[For introduction and part 1 (Non-verbal communication) see here]

[For part 2 (Exchange of possessions and What sex are you?) see here]

[For part 3 (Weapons) see here]

[For part 4 (The first words and Descriptions/opinions/attitudes) see here]


Many of the geographical names referred to by the writers had been bestowed by Cook in 1770. All of the writers refer to Botany Bay with no further explanation. Navy Surgeon George Worgan expects his brother to be as familiar with it as he is with a much older colonial outpost:

‘We sailed from the Cape of Good Hope … the last civilized Country We should touch at, in our Passage to Botany Bay.’

Other features named or referred to by Cook are named or referred to, sometimes also without further explanation, or by formulae such as ‘so named by Capn Cook’ or a full explanation:

‘Sutherland Point, so named from Forby Sutherland, one of Capt. Cook’s Sailors dying at this place & being there buried’ (Navy Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth); ‘an Inlet on the Coast … which, our great Circumnavigator, Captns Cook, discovered, and named, (in honour of one of the then Commissioners of the Navy) Port Jackson’ (Worgan).

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Botany Bay 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 4

[For introduction and part 1 (Non-verbal communication) see here]

[For part 2 (Exchange of possessions and What sex are you?) see here]

[For part 3 (Weapons) see here]

The first words

Three writers agree in recording the first native word: wara (Captain John Hunter) / warra (Judge Advocate David Collins) / whurra (Marine Lieutenant Watkin Tench) (Jakelin Troy, in her various academic publications, adopts the spelling wuruwuru), which Tench states ‘signifies, begone’. (Collins, rather circuitously, says that this word, ‘by the gestures that accompanied [it], could not be interpreted into invitations to land, or expressions of welcome’; Hunter does not specifically interpret it.) The writers adopt different spellings (foreshadowing recurring difficulties regarding orthography) and disagree about the circumstances. Hunter places it as the ships were sailing into the bay: the English were not welcome in the first place. Tench places it at the end of an hour’s apparently friendly conversation, and Collins as the governor’s longboat sailed from Botany Bay to Port Jackson: the British may or may not have been welcome, but had overstayed.

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Botany Bay 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 3

[For introduction and part 1 (Non-verbal communication) see here]

[For part 2 (Exchange of possessions and What sex are you?) see here]


In any interaction between opposed groups, weapons can be utilised by visibly laying them down, brandishing them, demonstrating them (not against people), or using them against people. The first three of these occurred, on both sides, during the first interactions. Navy Surgeon George Worgan reports:

‘the Governor … shewed them his Musket, then laid it on the Ground, advancing singly towards them, they now seeing that He had nothing in his Hands like a Weapon one of y oldest of the Natives gave his Spears to a younger, and approached to meet the Governor.’

Navy Lieutenant Philip Gidley King writes:

‘two of the Natives then approached but kept their Spears poised, being fearfull of the Marines who were at some distance in the rear … one of them threw a lance wide of us, in order to shew the force & power of their arms, the distance it was thrown was as near as I could guess about forty Yards, & when it was taken out of the Ground it required an Exertion to pull it out. As this might be deemed a threat, which was accompanied with much generosity in shewing the power of their Arms, I advanced again towards them, on which they retreated backwards, & seeing that no advantage could be gained by a longer stay I joined the party & we went down the hill to go to the Boat we had scarcely got to the foot of the hill when a lance was thrown amongst us, but without any striking any person, As they appeared on the top of the Hill & seemed disposed to throw more lances I ordered one of the Marines to fire his musquet with powder only, on which they flew with great haste.’

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Botany Bay 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 2

[For introduction and part 1 (non-verbal communication) see here]

Exchange of possessions
The British offered and the natives accepted a variety of  small items:

‘Glass Beads … Ribbands & Glass Trincketts’, ‘a string of [B]eeds … painted paper & some trinkets’ (Navy Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth); ‘some trifling presents’ (Navy Lieutenant William Bradley); ‘Preasents such as beads and Ribbins Looking Glases marines Buttons and such Trifels’ (Marine Private John Easty); ‘beads & other trifles’, ‘what few ornaments we had’ (Navy Lieutenant Philip Gidley King); ‘ornaments’ (Governor Arthur Phillip); ‘a looking glass, some beads, and other toys’ (Marine Lieutenant Watkin Tench); ‘some Beads, Red Cloth & other Bawbles’, ‘Bawbles … Presents … Trinkets’ (Navy Surgeon George Worgan).

This was first achieved by leaving the items and retreating, or throwing them:

‘The Governor advanced by himself & laid down some presents for them then retired, one of the Natives immediately advanced, picked it up & handed it to the others’ (Bradley); ‘the Indians whare very sevall all Though Thay ware Shy and wold not Come not with 6 or 7 yards of them thay Throw Sevarall Preasents’ (Easty); ‘The Governor shewed them some beads & ordered a Man to fasten them to the stern of one of the Canoes, & on our rowing off the shore they fetched the beads’, ‘[one old man] seemed very desirous of having [some beads] & made signs for them to be laid on the ground … he … advanced [and] took the beads up’, ‘I tied the beads &c to a tree, & walked towards my party, when the two Natives took the beads & some baize I had left with them’ (King); ‘one of y oldest of the Natives … [made] signs for the things to be laid on the Ground which, the Governor complying with, He advanced, tooke them up, and went back to his Companions’ (Worgan),

then directly:

‘I presented many of them of wt. Glass Beads …’ (Bowes Smyth); ‘some Natives, Men, Women & Children … eagerly accepted of a Jacket’ (Bradley); ‘by degrees he as well as some of the rest came so near as to receive Looking Glasses &c’, ‘a number came round the boat, to whom we gave what few ornaments we had’, ‘[I] shewed a handkerchief which I offered to one of the Women … I applied the handkerchief where decency seemed to demand it’ (King); ‘They … seemed fond of ornaments, putting the beads and red baize that were given them, on their heads or necks … The presents offered by their new visitors were all readily accepted … [in Port Jackson, the natives] accept[ed] whatsoever was offered … a number of the natives … received what was offered them’ (Phillip); ‘Several more now came up, to whom, we made various presents’ (Tench);  ‘they suffered Us to come up to them, and after making them all presents’, ‘two of them approached to meet the Gentlemen who held out the Presents, the Introduction being amicably settled, they all joined Us, and took the Trinkets we offered them’ (Worgan).

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Botany Bay, 18-26 Jan 1788 – Part 1

In 2012, one of my masters subjects was on Australia’s Indigenous Languages. One chapter in the textbook was on personal and language contact between the British and the local people in the early years of British settlement here. Being generally interested in Australian history, I checked some of the original sources (available online) and found there was a lot else about language in particular and communication in general. In fact there was so much that I had to limit my essay to the first nine days, from when the British ships arrived in Botany Bay to when they relocated in Sydney Harbour. The word limit was 2000 words, but I included a lot of quotations, in the text and in footnotes. There was also a very large number of footnotes. Reproducing the essay here, I have moved most of the quotations in footnotes into the text and deleted all the footnotes. (The longer quotations were originally in the text, and the shorter ones in footnotes.) I have also added a few comments in square brackets.

First impressions: Intercourse between the British and the Gamay-gal and Gwea-gal
around Gamay/Botany Bay 18–26 January 1788

Between 18 and 20 January 1788, the 11 ships of the First Fleet sailed into Gamay/Botany Bay. On 26 January, they sailed from there to Waran/Sydney Cove. In between, the British and the Gamay-gal and Gwea-gal interacted non-verbally, exchanged possessions, demonstrated weapons, learned their first words of the others’ language and began patterns of interactions which were to shape the next few years in particular and the next 22[9] in general. At least 12 published accounts and unpublished journals survive, making it possibly the best-documented first contact between a colonial force and an indigenous people in history. [While researching for my honours dissertation, I found approximately 25. The most important ones are covered in this essay.]

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