‘What’s a Warrambool?’ asks
one Rob in Westprint Friday Five 2011.6.24 (Replies from others are now in Westprint Friday Five 2011.7.1.) The usual English dictionaries are no help, not even the AND. Warrambool is a good example of a word borrowed from an Australian language into local English, but which, although well-known in its region, has not spread through Australian English (or beyond!).
The Westprint editor actually has the answer for her correspondent:
Wikipedia wasn’t much help either except it shows a map featuring the Namoi river with a number of different warrambools’ that appear to be akin to breakouts from, or small creeks running into the Namoi.
The best published answer is the entry in the Gamilaraay, Yuwaalaraay & Yuwaalayaay dictionary (2002:139)
warrambul (YR, YY, GR)1 noun
1 watercourse (overflow channel) (YR, YY, GR). The name is used to refer to overflow channels which have water only during flood times. The name is used on road signs, e.g. Big Warrambool.
2 Milky Way (YR, YY).
The word was published as early as 1875 in William Ridley’s Kámilarói, and other Australian languages
p.26: watercourse : wārumbūl
p.141: worrumbūl : grove with a watercourse running through it, Milky Way
There’s a bit more to it. The topographic features to which the word refers are not spread across all the Gamilaraay/ Yuwaalaraay/ Yuwaalayaay (GY) region, but are confined to the western part, primarily the Yuwaalaraay area. This can be seen in the range of the 34 placenames involving ‘Warrambool’ in the Geographical Names Register (GNR) of NSW plus the one over the Queensland border2:
View Warrambool in a larger map
Compare the range of the named places with the map of GY country in the dictionary (2002:2), or the location of Yuwaalaraay in its Austlang entry. Of course, a lot of Gamilaraay country comprises slopes and ranges and lacks overflow channels.
Note that there is an outlier to the south, Warrambool Watercourse to the south of Warren, outside the GY area and more in Ngiyampaa territory. It would be interesting to know how this name was recorded. One wordlist of the neighbouring language Wiradjuri (but only one of the many) has warrambool ‘Swamp’ (Richardson Science of Man 1899,11 21). In the Wiradjuri area, the landform is called a cowal — but that’s another story …
1. In the course of their June 2002 paper on the ‘Geomorphology of the Namoi alluvial plain’3, the authors use a number of Warrambool placenames, including three additional to the Geographical Names Register (GNR): Dead Bullock Warrambool, Mirrie Warrambool, Camp Warrambool. Twice the authors use the plural, such as
those [palaeochannels] in the Millie and upper Cubbaroo Warrambools
Just as with the use with the indefinite article in the title question above, the combination of the capital letter and the plural shows that the term Warrambool has a status intermediate between proper name and common noun.
2. The earliest newspaper record I’ve found is 18 years before Ridley’s publication: Dead Bullock Warrambool is listed in the Liverpool Plains District ‘ACCEPTED TENDERS FOR RUNS.’ The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser 13 Jun 1857, page 4 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18643883