The name Willunga is usually said to come from the Aboriginal name wiljaungga – ‘a place of green trees’. This was mentioned in 1908 by Cockburn and then again in 1915 by Alfred Day when researching the names of railway stations in SA. It was certainly the view of the authors of the prize-winning book Willunga: Place of Green Trees, published in 1952.

However, anthropologist Norman Tindale recorded wilangga as meaning ‘place of dust’, where wila means ‘dust’ and ngga means ‘a place’. This name is shown on Tindale’s map of Aboriginal Place names in the Hundred of Willunga.

Another possibility, according to Geoffrey Manning, is that in the vicinity of present-day Willunga the Aboriginals referred to a place known as warekilangga meaning ‘strong wind place’. This was derived from ware meaning ‘wind’, kila meaning ‘strong’ and ngga meaning ‘a place’. The strong gully winds which occasionally sweep down the Willunga Hills lend credibility to this meaning!

Other sources link the name Willunga to the mythical creature Wano and claim it derives from willingga meaning ‘place of the chest’. In Kaurna mythology the Mount Lofty Ranges were the body of a gigantic prostrate man called Wano, with the ears at Uraidla (jureidla) the hands at Marino (marana) and the brain at Gumeracha (ngarrumuka). Willunga to the south would logically be the place of the chest.

Then again, Manning mentions an article about an excursion through District C in 1844, which mentions the Aboriginal name of a gully near modern-day Willunga as wilyahowkungga. Manning suggests that the European tongue could, conceivably, have corrupted it to ‘Willunga’ .

Interstate it can also be interpreted as ‘black duck’ in the language of the Lower Bulloo River people.

So is Willunga a ‘place of green trees’, a ‘place of dust’, a ‘strong wind place’, or ‘place of the chest’? Or is it just a corruption of the name of a nearby gully?

The following extract provides a more culturally accurate explanation:

The name might mean ‘place of dust’; but the root wila could also be an unknown but similar noun, or (like many place names) it might have no dictionary meaning. Wyatt’s version (probably obtained from Mullawirraburka)is reduplicative and might mean ‘place of much dust’. This meaning is possible though uncertain, and we do not know what the ‘dust’ would signify culturally or otherwise at this leafy location.

There is no linguistic or historical credibility in the claim that the name means ‘place of green trees’, ‘scrubby place’, or the like; nor in Tindale’s attempt to relate it to wilya ‘foliage’; nor in NA Webb’s speculation that it is derived from willi ‘chest’.

References:
Geoffrey Manning, Place Names of South Australia: from Aaron Creek to Zion Hill, 2006., and personal comunication.
Alfred Norwood Day, Names of South Australian railway stations with their meanings and derivations, Adelaide, 1915.
Rodney C Cockburn, Place Names of South Australia.

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