Origins of the name Bellingen.
“The next river (north of the Nambucca), the native name of which is Bellengen, was found in the year 1841…”
(Australia from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay, Clement Hodgkinson, 1845.)
In 1841 Government Surveyor Clement Hodgkinson visited the Bellinger Valley. When naming newly discovered places, Hodgkinson preferred to use existing native place names rather than foreign ones, so he used the “native” name for the river. As with many Aboriginal place names, its exact meaning is a matter of dispute. It has been variously reported to mean “clear water”, “winding river”, “quoll”, or “cheeky fellow”. The NSW Geographical Names Board prefers “cheeky fellow”, but according to the Gumbaynggirr Dictionary this is a description of the quoll’s behaviour, not his name.
Spelling and Pronunciation.
Originally, Bellingen was spelled “Billingen” in Hodgkinson’s 1841 map, although “Billengen”, “Bellengen” or “Bellingen” were also used. As far as is known, the name has always been pronounced “bell’n-jen”.
Why is the river itself now called the Bellinger? The commonly accepted story is that a draughtsman who was compiling the Colony map from original documents misread Hodgkinson’s final handwritten “n” as an “r”. This meant that the Bellingen River officially became the “Bellinger”, while the town retained the correct name of “Bellingen”. This sort of thing is not uncommon, but we don’t have documentary evidence for its veracity.
The “Native” Name.
The Gumbaynggirr people are rebuilding their language through the efforts of the Muurbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative. Their preferred name for the region is Baligin. Alternative spellings are Baalijin and Baliijin, which is also the Gumbaynggirr name for the Eastern Quoll. The Gumbaynggirr name for the Bellinger River is Bindaray Yurruun.
Regarding the inclusion of the “ng” in the English spelling of “Bellingen” – Hodgkinson’s own Aboriginal companions were Dhanggati men, who spoke a different language, although they could apparently converse with the Gumbaynggirr. We don’t know whether “bellingen” is the Dhanggati version of the name, or simply a misheard version of “baligin”.
Naming the Town.
From Mr H A Evans in the Raleigh Sun, 07/01/1927:-
“The site was set apart as a Reserve for the village of Bellingen in 1864, in which year the land on the east was selected by Mr McNally, and that on the west by Mr Anderson.
“The first five town allotments were surveyed in 1869 and were sold by public auction at West Kempsey Court House on September 14th, 1870. The purchasers were J Frisby, F G Panton, P J Anderson, T W Pulsford and S Bird. Other lots were subsequently measured off and sold, the deeds in every case describing the land as in the village of Bellingen.”
“On most of the coastal rivers, the head of navigation for boats has been called the Boat Harbour; Bellingen not excepted. It so happened that when a post office was opened at Bellingen, it was called Boat Harbour, and remained so until 1889 or 1890, when a few residents met and suggested the post office be called Stratford. This name was the idea of the manager of the local branch of the Australian Joint Stock (AJS) Bank, Mr Smythe.
“The postal authorities refused the name, suggesting that of a defunct office, of which they still had the date stamps. Then on the advice of the Lands Department, who wanted to know what was wrong with the name of the town, “Bellingen” was adopted.”
Edited by Jim Sweeney and S Syder. (Updated 14/03/2014)