"Laughing Jackass" Etymology of "Canberra" (Australia's capital)

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Tue Feb 25 00:44:09 UTC 2003

>    Here's the article:
>      "London, March 17. -- Australians are considerably agitated,
> according to the Daily Chronicle's correspondent in Melbourne, by the
> report that 'Canberra,' the name recently selected for the new ideal
> capital city of the commonwealth, really means 'laughing jackass.'
> Archibal[d?] Meston, a noted Queensland authority on aboriginal
> names, makes the amusing assertion, after having studied the
> derivation of the word.  Those who regard the author's verdict as
> correct are blaming the government for not taking the preliminary
> precaution of having ascertained the meaning of 'Canberra' before
> coming to a decision.
>     "The laughing jackass of Australia is not a jackass, but a large
> bird, which is highly appreciated by farmers because it kills snakes.
> The name 'laughing jackass' is given to the bird because of its
> raucous cry, which it emits usually at sunup and sundown.  The cry so
> resembles the laughter of a human being in uncontrolled glee that it
> is almost impossible for those who hear it constantly to retain their
> gravity."

It looks like the noted Queensland authority confused "Canberra" with
"kookaburra" or, to use an older term, "goburra." The latter two are the
names for the bird, Dacelo novae-guineae, also known as the "laughing

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