Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Mysterious Name of 'Warrimoo'

The Mysterious Name of ‘Warrimoo’

We already know that Arthur Rickard had the political clout to have ‘Karabar’ renamed ‘Warrimoo’, but we do not quite know how this was possible. Renaming a place is a major bureaucratic operation, although during World War I quite a large number of German-sounding place names had been altered to become more ‘British’ and thus patriotic (eg ‘Germanton’ to ‘Holbrook’).

Thus, in the Warrimoo Historians’ quest to establish the origins of the name ‘Warrimoo’, the year 1918 looms as significant, for reasons that shall become clear later. One thing is for sure, after consultation with local people, ‘Warrimoo’ is not a Darug or Gundangarra word. After perusal of the available literature[1], it may well be an Aboriginal word, but from another district.

To be fair, it is even unclear (at this point) whether Arthur Rickard actually proffered ‘Place of the Eagle’ or ‘Eagle’s Nest’ as the definition of the word ‘Warrimoo’. In his initial promotion extolling Warrimoo as ‘the box seat’, the phrase ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ is simply bracketed underneath.[2] The intention may feasibly have been that Warrimoo was the name of a place where eagles frequent—which was indeed the case for some time, owing to the amount of dead stock and road-kill along the sides of the Highway and the prevalence of carrion eaters at various points along the way. In other words, the place name and the existence of eagles there may have been coincidental.

Regardless, a simple Google search reveals another possible source of the name: a ship called the ‘SS Warrimoo’. This vessel appeared as one of the first iron-hulled steamships to arrive in Australasian waters when in 1892 it sailed from Newcastle on Tyne--where it was built--to Sydney in a miraculous 37 days. It was a beautiful state-of-the-art 5,000 tonne passenger/cargo vessel that surely caused a stir when it cruised into Sydney, then Melbourne, and finally Auckland harbours.[3] Arthur Rickard, with his interests in immigration and regional trade, would certainly have taken careful note.

Painting of the 'S.S. Warrimoo', one of the earliest iron-hulled steamships to grace the trans-Tasman run between the eastern seaboard of Australia and New Zealand. It's chequered career as a passenger-cargo vessel saw it carry Mark Twain from the U.S. on a speaking tour.

It is true that the first association of 'Warrimoo' and 'Eagle' occurred in reference to the name of this ship, when the South Australian Register mentioned that the vessel's name was a Victorian Aboriginal word for 'eagle'.[4] An observant reader has informed Warrimoo Historians that the word has been found in a small dictionary of the Ladjiladji people, whose country can be found in the Mildura region of borderland NSW and Victoria. This is the best proof of the actual origins of the word to date...
The ‘SS Warrimoo’ was owned by James Huddart, Parker and Co., an Australian--or at least an Australasian-- company that also carried the ‘Warrimoo’s’ sister ship, the ‘SS Miowera’, though the interesting thing was both these vessels’ ‘home base’ was to be Auckland, where they would carry on the Trans-Tasman run.[5] After a few years ownership, however, possession passed to the ‘Union Steamship Company of New Zealand[6], and its duties stretched to cargo/passenger voyages to Canada and the United States. Mark Twain sailed to Australia for a speaking tour on the ‘SS Warrimoo’ in 1895.[7]

The ‘SS Warrimoo’ remained in New Zealand hands until 1916. Indeed, it was the troopship that took the first Maori ‘Pioneer’ military contingents to Gallipoli in 1915.[8] Logically, given the long-serving New Zealand connection, Warrimoo Historians considered that ‘Warrimoo’ might have been a Maori word, since most or all of the other ships in the Union Steamship line had Maori-inspired names. Unfortunately a search of all available Maori dictionaries and place-names could not verify such an assumption…

The only connection to New Zealand that could be found was a reference to the home of Joseph Kinsey, high-profile owner of the Kinsey Shipping Line which had assisted Scott and Shackleton in their voyages to Antarctica. Kinsey lived in a magnificent residence in Papanui which he had named ‘Warrimoo’. Given the fact that Papanui was a noted Maori site in New Zealand, it is feasible that Kinsey named his house after a person or place from the area—this may well have been the original source of the name ‘SS Warrimoo’, since Kinsey was a well-known shipping magnate who had moved to New Zealand in 1880 (twelve years prior to the launch of the Steam Ship) and had named his mansion ‘Warrimoo’.[9]

Nevertheless, Kinsey may also had picked up the word from its Australian source: the Ladjiladji people, and this may even have been conveyed to him by an Australian, since at that time (the 1890's) Australia and New Zealand maintained very close ties indeed and were considering 'Federating' together as one nation.

Joseph Kinsey photographed with his special guest, George Bernard Shaw, probably outside Kinsey's home at Papanui, named 'Warrimoo'. Kinsey was a celebrated NZ shipping magnate who sponsored Scott and Shackleton's expeditions to Antarctica.

But the story does not end there. In 1916, as a troopship, the ‘SS Warrimoo’ was transferred to a Singaporean shipping company, which continued to use the vessel to transport troops and war materiel throughout the war-zone, and especially in the Mediterranean Sea and off the coast of Africa. On the 18th May 1918, six months before the end of hostilities, the ‘Warrimoo’ was sunk off Tunis when it collided with the French Destroyer Catapulte “…after depth charges exploded” (!)[10]

This whole incident—the sinking of the ‘Warrimoo’-- is shrouded in mystery. According to TROVE, all references to the ‘SS Warrimoo’ ceased when war was declared, so that even the sinking occurred without the Australian public being informed of the fact. ‘Official records’ give us no indication of the losses involved, or even the name of the Captain, and the report on exactly how and why the ‘collision’ occurred leaves more gaps than filler. Only one thing is certain: the ‘SS Warrimoo’ went down in May 1918, although we also know that the first advertisement for the 'Warrimoo Estate' occurred in March of the same year, two months before the ship went down. What is less clear is the amount Rickard knew about it and what connection it has to the christening of his estate.

In its later years the 'S.S. Warrimoo' operated as an ANZAC troopship and war cargo carrier in the Mediterranean Sea, where it met its end in May 1918. In an amazing coincidence, the 'Warrimoo Estate' had been announced two months earlier, in March of the very same year.

Arthur Rickard almost certainly would have known about the ship’s existence and its role during the war, but did he christen his latest land release after the ship, or pluck it from the Mountain air?

We may never know why Kinsey called his Papanui residence ‘Warrimoo’, and thus we may never know the source of the word which betokens our township. It would have been romantically satisfying for our home to have been the Aboriginal ‘Place of Eagles’, but considering Arthur Rickard’s own sympathies and the timing of events leading up to the release of his estate, it is far more likely that Warrimoo received its name from a tragic loss in World War I, as a muted and unintended tribute to those who would not return from that great conflagration.

[1] Macquarie Aboriginal Dictionary et al
[2] If any reader can supply some written example of Rickard’s clearly suggesting ‘Place of the Eagle’ as the meaning of the word ‘Warrimoo’, please let us know, because then we could accurately source the origins of such a belief to him—this is most likely the case, anyhow, but it is important to be accurate.
[3] (TROVE Hobart Mercury 10/11/1892)
[4] (TROVE South Australian Register 10/2/1892)
[5] op.cit (TROVE Hobart Mercury 10/11/1892)
[8] Op.cit:

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