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aussiebloke Lyr Add: The original Waltzing Matilda (26) Origin of the word 'jumbuck' 06 Mar 07

G'day all...

My understanding of the etymolgy of 'jumbuck' was that the aboriginals from east coast of Australia, having no prior knowledge of sheep until the whiteman came, had no word for sheep, and used their word for 'small white fluffy cloud' as their name for the new animal. That is how I have explained it if asked; dunno where I learned that story - I'll think on that.

The results from googling 'jumbuck' reveal a couple of reference to something similar; not the precise wording which I learned long ago: 'small white fluffy cloud', but two references to the phrase 'white mist preceding a shower'.

I had the cloud connection, but the wrong type of cloud; the references suggest that the word was southeastern in origin, possibly from the Kamilaroi people.

jumbuck is not listed in the on-line Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay Dictionary. Their word for cloud is listed as yuru.

I will alert the Department of Linguistics, University of Melbourne of this thread and invite their comments.

jumbuck (plural jumbucks)


1966 Sidney J. Baker, The Australian Language, second edition, notes two possible origins for the word. Firstly A. Meston of Brisbane in 1896 cites Aboriginal words jimba, jombock, dombock and dumbog all meaning white mist preceding a shower, which a flock of sheep resembles. Secondly Charles Harpur in a hand written footnote in his papers cites Aboriginal word junbuc (or jimbuc, his handwriting is unclear) which is a kind of kangaroo or wallaby, and states that the aborigines of the Hunter region call the sheep that for the hairiness of one and the wooliness of the other.

(Australian English) A sheep.
"Along came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong, ..."
Waltzing Matilda, Banjo Paterson

Australian National University Dictionary Centre


Jumbuck is an Australian word for a 'sheep'. It is best known from Banjo Paterson's use of it in Waltzing Matilda.

The two earliest appearances of the term show Aborigines using it in pidgin English:

1824 Methodist Missionary Society Records: To two Brothers of mine, these monsters exposed several pieces of human flesh, exclaiming as they smacked their lips and stroked their breasts, 'boodjerry patta! murry boodjerry - fat as jimbuck!!' i.e. good food, very good, fat as mutton.

1842 Port Phillip Patriot 19 July: The villains laughed at and mocked us, roaring out 'plenty sheepy', 'plenty jumbuck', (another name of theirs for sheep).

The origin of the word is not known. It may possibly be from an Aboriginal language, or it may be an Aboriginal alteration of an English phrase such as jump up. Some suggested etymologies are very fanciful indeed. In 1896 a writer in the Bulletin suggested:

The word 'jumbuck' for sheep appears originally as jimba, jombock, dambock, and dumbog. In each case it meant the white mist preceding a shower, to which a flock of sheep bore a strong resemblance. It seemed the only thing the aboriginal imagination could compare it to.

Whatever the case, jumbuck was a prominent word in the pidgin used by early settlers and Aborigines to communicate with one another, and was thence borrowed into many Australian Aboriginal languages as the name for the introduced animal, the sheep.

It also found its way into Australian English as a word for `sheep':

1847 Melbourne Argus 22 October: Shearing is the great card of the season, and no settler being the owner of jumbucks can give a straight answer upon any other, than this all absorbing topic.

1981 P. Barton, Bastards I have Known: My favourite was a little grey mare that ... knew more about handling sheep than most sheep dogs. She sensed the first day I was on her that I was a novice with the jumbucks.

jum·buck (jum'buk')

n. Australian.
A sheep.

Australian pidgin, perhaps from Kamilaroi (Aboriginal language of southeast Australia)

The word jumbuck is apparently approved for use in scrabble and other word games, according to

Cheers all


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