Umpteen theories of how Humpty Doo got its name

Map:
Darwin 0800
She describes it as being 40 miles from Darwin and 20 miles from the railway line.”She’s quite explicit about that.”

Photo:
Elsie Masson’s 1915 book refers to a trip by motor car to Umdidu. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Less explicit is why Masson opted for an alternative spelling of the station which seems to be without precedent.”Again this is pure speculation, but she may have thought that it did have an Indigenous origin, and maybe she was just trying to refer back to that by changing the spelling slightly,” Mr Hubber said.The NT Place Names Register states this spelling was later translated into “umdudu”, an “English language corruption of the aboriginal (sic) term which meant ‘A popular resting place'”.However, Mr Hubber said he had been unable to find similar words in Djerimanga and Larrakia word lists, two local Indigenous groups from which landmarks are most likely to have taken their names.”I couldn’t find any basis for that claim,” he said.Umpteen theoriesAnyone familiar with the history of pre-internet communications will be aware that humpty doo recalls another word.According to at least one edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, an umpty is a “fanciful representation of the dash in Morse code”.During World War I, efforts to conceal information about army units in communications precipitated another much more common term: umpteen.It is important, Mr Hubber said, to remember that Darwin was a telegraph town in the early 20th century and many people would have been familiar with this lingo.”I have also come across a reference to a building called Humpty Doo, and it was located in the [Darwin] esplanade which is where all the cable station buildings were located,” he said. (Supplied: Trove)
According to the NT Place Names Register, the station was originally known as Umpity Doo.Does that mean there is a relationship between the place and the phrase? Photo:
A Daily Telegraph article from 1910 makes use of humpty doo. Was the cattle station itself upside down or shattered beyond repair?”I’d only be guessing,” Mr Hubber said.”So this is speculation that perhaps the station name might’ve derived from some sort of Indigenous word that I don’t know about.”But because the colloquial phrase was also common at the same time and might’ve sounded like the Indigenous phrase, it became the popular usage.”In other words, it is possible that the colloquialism and a pre-existing Indigenous term merged.Umdidu then umduduThe theory that humpty doo is a variation of an Indigenous word is given some credence by words such as didgeridoo and the New South Wales town Dunedoo, which have similar phonetics.But as with many chapters in the story of Humpty Doo, any direct link has been further obfuscated by history.In 1915, Elsie Masson, the governess of then administrator John Gilruth’s children, published a book detailing her travels through different corners of the Territory.In An Untamed Territory, the Northern Territory of Australia, one chapter in particular draws attention. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
“It seemed to be some sort of club or a mess hall that might’ve been used by the cable station employees, so there’s another little inkling there as well.”Is there any demonstrable link between the hall and the station?”I would say possibly the telegraph guys used the word umpty, they’ve gone to the mess hall, they’ve termed it Humpty Doo, and somehow that might’ve been picked up by the station.”Or the other way around.”But history has many gaps, and it’s hard to be more than inconclusive. “She describes a journey to a place that she calls Umdidu which is very similar in name to Humpty Doo,” Mr Hubber said.”And it’s exactly where [the station] is located. (Wikimedia Commons: Stuart Edwards)
Any connection to Humpty Dumpty?A quick search of digital archives shows “humpty doo” was common parlance from as early as the 1890s, but people were not referring to the town or station.In fact, up until about the early-mid 20th century, to be humpty doo was to be all stuffed up or upside down.It is easy enough to draw a link from this colloquialism to the sorry fate of the nursery rhyme character.”I’m guessing that it might actually go back to that old nursery rhyme, Humpty Dumpty, and how Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and got broken and couldn’t get put back together,” Mr Hubber said.”I’m thinking there might be some connection there.”But the term was not transferred onto a place until about 1910, with the establishment of Humpty Doo station eight kilometres east of where the township came to stand. Photo:
Humpty Doo is a town of 4,300 people south-east of Darwin. Humpty Doo. It’s a place that’s been mythologised by songwriters and canonised in lists of strange Australian town names.The Doo, as it’s known to some locals, is a town of 4,300 people 40 kilometres out of Darwin, but the origin of its name continues to mystify even the most widely read local historians.The quick answer is that the town takes its name from a cattle station to its east that was established early last century. Photo:
A 1943 map of Humpty Doo shows the cattle station lies 8km east of where the township now stands. (Google Maps)
As the general store and pub were established from the late 1960s and the town grew into what it is today, the name stuck.The more difficult answer comes down to how that cattle station got its name.According to Brian Hubber from the Northern Territory Library, the name has variously been linked to colloquialisms, Morse code terminology and Indigenous languages.”I know that it’s always created a lot of questions, and maybe not controversy, but lots of competing theories and possible origins,” he said. Photo:
The Big Boxing Crocodile is a well-known Humpty Doo landmark.
Related Story:
Northern Territory to change racist place names
ABC Radio Darwin

By Jesse Thompson

Posted

February 08, 2018 08:00:21

Photo:
Brian Hubber says the origin of Humpty Doo’s name has always raised questions. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)