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The Turrbal are an Aboriginal Australian people from the region of Brisbane, Queensland. The name primarily refers to the dialect they speak, the tribe itself being alternatively called Mianjin/Meanjin. Mianjin is also the Turrbal word for the central Brisbane area.[1] The traditional homelands of the Turrbal stretch from the North Pine River, south to the Logan River, and inland as far as Moggill, a range which includes the city of Brisbane.[2]


The ethnonym Turrbal is an exonym which is thought to derive from the root turr/dhur (bora ring) and -bal, signifying "those who say turr or dhur for a bora ring", rather than using the other tribe's customary term bool. It was the toponym used in 1841 by native guides from Nundah who led the group of German Lutheran missionaries to the Ningy Ningy at what became Toorbul Point, in the area where they established the Zion Hill Mission.[3]


Turrbal is one of 4 dialects of the Durubalic branch of the Pama-Nyungan languages.[4] Turrbal was spoken from Gold Creek and Moggill, north as far as North Pine, and south to the Logan River.[5] Tom Petrie, son of one of the founding families of the Brisbane area settlements, grew up among the Turrbal, and mastered the language and the contiguous dialects from an early age.


The Turrbal people's traditional lands and hunting grounds extended over some 1,300 square miles (3,400 km2) and lay around the Brisbane River, stretching from the Cleveland shore area of Moreton Bay, and running inland as far as the Great Dividing Range about Gatton; north to near Esk.[6][5] The Turrbal mob itself was located specifically in what is now called the Brisbane CBD, the name for which was Mianjin.[7] Neighbouring Aboriginal nations include the Gubbi Gubbi and Wakka Wakka to the north, the Dalla to the northwest and the Ngugi of Moreton Island. Despite collective title to a stretch of land, the Turrbal like many tribes permitted private ownership of specific sections of land, down to recognizing personal possession of parts of a river or even of trees and shrubs. Petrie describes the situation in the following words:

Though the land belonged to the whole tribe, the head men often spoke of it as theirs. The tribe in general owned the animals and birds on the ground, also roots and nests, but certain men and women owned different fruit or flower-trees and shrubs. For instance, a man could own a bonyi (Araucaria bidwilli) tree, and a woman a minti (Banksia amula), dulandella (Persoonia Sp.), midyim (Myrtus tenuifolia), or dakkabin (Xanthorrhoea aborea) tree. Then a man sometimes owned a portion of the river which was a good fishing spot, and no one else could fish there without his permission.[2]


In Turrbal thought, the origins of the division of the sexes was attributed to two distinct birds. Menfolk all came from the billing (a small house bat). Women in turn had their descent from a wamankan (night-hawk). Given their mythic function, they could not be eaten, but capturing and killing them was permitted.[8][a]


The explorer John Oxley, on first sighting the Turrbal in 1824, called them "about the strongest and best-made muscular men I have seen in any country".[9]

The Turrbal's tracks form the basis of many modern-day roads. Waterworks Road from Ashgrove is built on a Turrbal track that leads to Mount Coot-tha. Turrbal people would go to Mount Coot-tha to collect honey (ku-ta) from the bees there; it is the place of the honey-bee dreaming.[10] Similarly, Old Northern Road from Everton Hills is built on a Turrbal track that led to the site of a triennial Bunya feast in neighboring Wakka Wakka country.

Many suburbs and places in Brisbane have names derived from Turrbal words. Woolloongabba is derived from either woolloon-capemm meaning "whirling water",[11] or from woolloon-gabba meaning "fight talk place".[12] Toowong is derived from tuwong, the onomatopoeic name for the Pacific koel.[13] Bulimba means "place of the magpie-lark".[14] Indooroopilly is derived from either nyindurupilli meaning "gully of leeches", or from yindurupilly meaning "gully of running water".[15] Enoggera is a corruption of the words yauar-ngari meaning "song and dance".[16][17]

Hunting and gathering economy[edit]

The Turrbal exploited a large range of local species of animals and insects as part of their daily cuisine. These may be divided into sea- and riverine food, mainland victuals, and vegetables.

Vegetables and fruit[edit]


They often sought out goanna (magil) eggs, which could be found near ant nests in soft soil. The Turrbal would occasionally hunt marine animals, such as dugongs (yangon), porpoises (talobilla), tailor fish (punba), and mullet (andakal).[31]

Alternative names[edit]

Turubul, Turrubul, Turrubal, Terabul, Torbul, Turibul (Tindale 1974, p. 169)

Ngundari may have been a clan group of Turrbal people.[32]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ Among the natives of Burnett, Mary and Dawson rivers, the common bat, deering, was the friend of all the men, while a small owl or night hawk, boorookapkap, was the friend of the women. T. Petrie reports that the blacks of Brisbane river believe that the bat, there called billing, made all their menfolk, and that the wamankan, or night hawk, made the women. In 1834, Rev L. E. Threlkeld reported that the tribe at Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, had a belief that a certain small bird was the first maker of women, and that the bat was venerated on the same grounds by the men. J. Dawson in 1881, describing the customs and beliefs of the Aborigines of western Victoria, states that the common bat belongs to the men, and the fern owl to the women.' (Mathews 1910, p. 47)
  2. ^ the word lies behind the Queensland toponym, Caboolture, "place of many carpet snakes" (Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 80)
  3. ^ Tortoises were associated with an area of Brisbane, now called New Farm and formerly called binkinba (place of the land tortoise) (Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 82)


  1. ^ Turrbal Aboriginal Nation.
  2. ^ a b Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 117.
  3. ^ Steele 2015, p. 165.
  4. ^ Dixon 2002, p. xxxiv.
  5. ^ a b Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 4–5.
  6. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 169.
  7. ^ Connors 2015, p. 21.
  8. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 62.
  9. ^ Evans 1992, p. 12.
  10. ^ Turrbal Association 1998.
  11. ^ QPN44358.
  12. ^ ourbrisbane.com.
  13. ^ QPN47847.
  14. ^ QPN42567.
  15. ^ QPN16663.
  16. ^ QPN41374.
  17. ^ Watson 1944.
  18. ^ a b Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 93.
  19. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 92.
  20. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 92–93.
  21. ^ Maiden 1889.
  22. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 93–94.
  23. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 94.
  24. ^ a b Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 81.
  25. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 82–83.
  26. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 85.
  27. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 86.
  28. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, p. 88.
  29. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 88–89.
  30. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 90–92.
  31. ^ Petrie & Petrie 1904, pp. 65–90.
  32. ^ Budde, Paul (1 August 2020). "The Turrbal People". Paul Budde History, Philosophy, Culture. Retrieved 11 March 2022.
  33. ^ Turrbal: ceremony.