Dust storm Kurilpa Bridge: Image number 27034-0001-0001.

Local Brisbane historian Dr Ray Kerkhove has brought to my attention the uncertainty around the meaning of the word ‘kuril’. The popular or commonly accepted meaning is that of the white-tailed water rat; hence Kurilpa = place of the white-tailed water rat. Kurilpa Point and the Kurilpa bridge also bears the name as well as State Library’s very own kuril dhagun.

Melomys cervinipes, Gould 1852.

However, it appears that Kuril actually refers to the fawn-footed mosaic-tailed rat, or fawn-footed melomys (Melomys cervinipes).  Ray has provided several references that support this meaning; notably Braithwaite in an article for the Australian Nature Conservation Agency. As suggested in the title “Australian names for Australian rodents”, Braithwaite has collated Aboriginal names for use and adoption for naming of rodents – he suggested that by ‘listing the rodent’s Aboriginal names, they might engender more public support’. From the Brisbane region, Braithwaite identifies Korril or Corill as being a local word for the fawn-footed melomys.

William Clark, The Aborigines – Their Customs and Manners, The Queenslander 16 September 1916 p 8.

An early newspaper article from 1916, authored by William Clark,provides an account of how many traditional names have been anglicised, referring to ‘Kureelpa’ from the Aboriginal name of a field mouse. Petrie also indicates ‘Kureelpa’ as meaning ‘place of rats, scrub at West End’. Further references for mouse or bush rat can be found in Colliver’s work and Hardcastle’s language material from the Boonah district. The additional information of their habitat, away from the Brisbane River, confirms their identity as some sort of bush rat or scrub mouse species rather than a water rat which tends to stay close to the river’s edge.

Australian Mammals No. IV, The Water Rat. Australian Town and Country Journal, 12 February 1898, p22.

It could also be a case of an Aboriginal word being used for several species – for example, in the Brisbane region, deebing or dibing refers to mosquitoes, sand flies, midges or in fact any biting insect. In the case of kureel, this could apply to describing bush rats, marsupial mice and similar species.

So in summary, the historical evidence points to the kureel or kuril meaning the fawn-footed melomys. Thanks to Ray for providing the historical notes and other materials to identify the meaning and help address a long-standing misunderstanding in a local placename.


Desmond Crump

Indigenous Languages Coordinator.


References and Further Reading

Australian Mammals No. IV, The Water Rat. Australian Town and Country Journal, 12 February 1898 p 22.

Braithwaite R. W.; et al. (1995). Australian names for Australian rodents. Australian Nature Conservation Agency.

Clark, William. “The Aborigines – Their Customs and Manners”, The Queenslander 16 September 1916 p 8.

Dust storm over Kurilpa Bridge, Brisbane. Image number 27034-0001-0001

Hardcastle, T. (1946) “A Vocabulary of the Yuggarabul Language” in Queensland Geographical Journal. Vol 51, 1945-46.

Kerkhove, R. (2015) Aboriginal camp sites of greater Brisbane : an historical guide. J 994.31 KER

Kerkhove, R. (1985) West End to Woolloongabba : the early and aboriginal history of a district. VF 994.31 ker 

M 646 Stan Colliver Papers 1847-1992.

Petrie, C. (1992) Tom Petrie’s reminiscences of early QueenslandJ 994.32 PET

Petrie, C. “Aboriginal Fairy Tales”, The Queenslander 27 September 1902 p 682.

The John Gould Collection from his personal library : 1213 hand-coloured lithographs from: The birds of Australia (1840-1848), Supplement (1869), The birds of New Guinea and the adjacent Papuan islands (1875-1888), A monograph of the Macropodidae … (1841-1842), The mammals of Australia (1845-1863). RBHMON GOU

Watson, F. J. (n.d.) “Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland”. Supplement to the Journal of the Royal Geographic Society of Australasia (Queensland), No. 34, Vol. XLVIII.  REFJ 499.15 wat