The name Toowong is thought to derive from the call of a bird, possibly the Koel, which nests in the area. According to Tom Petrie’s memories, the aborigines referred to the native bird known as the black goatsucker (Eudynamis scolopacea) as tu-wong, an onomatopoeic word closely copying the sound of the bird’s call. Because the bird nested in the several tall eucalypts along the river bank on the bend of the Brisbane River below the Indooroopilly Bridge, the aborigines referred to this locality as Tu-wong. The name ‘goatsucker bird’ refers to an ancient name for nightjars, and these were misnamed on the basis of an old superstition that they fed by sucking milk from the teats of goats.
The most likely species of nightjar in the Toowong area is the Whitethroated Nightjar Eurostopodus mystacalis. These used to be seen frequently on the hill in Toowong Park between the sports ground there and the basketball complex at Auchenflower. They were also seen along Toowong Creek; in the former Palmer’s Paddock (now the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology); and in the trees on the hills leading up to Mount Coot-tha, or, as it was formerly known, One Tree Hill.
Bird researcher Ian Venables explains:
Other early records say that Toowong was named after the koel. This is the recently renamed Eastern Koel Eudynamys orientalis, a member of the cuckoo family. They are migratory and arrive in the Toowong area each year in early September and all have departed for Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, other parts of SE Asia, the Solomon Islands, etc by early April.
This confusion would explain why newcomer to Toowong John O’Neil Brenan (who arrived in 1872) came to understand the origin of the word as the koel’s call (Eudynamis Flinderai, also known as the Flinder’s Cuckoo or the Koel Cuckoo). To this day, confusion still reigns as to the precise origin and meaning of the word for the suburb.
Aborigines knew both birds and had names for each. The nightjar may have been called one of the following names: Koongra, Minhlurlqlu, Yeearatta hear, Yeratta kuurk, or perhaps a name used only by the local people in this area. The koel may have been called: Aduric, Duwaw, Guwak, Minh-pult, Warkuli, Zow or perhaps a name used by the local people in this area. Some Aboriginal names for birds are onomatopoetic, but none of the above names closely resemble the call of either bird. Many names accepted as Aboriginal names in all manner of things were poorly translated by white settlers who often pronounced them quite differently from the way they were told them by the Aborigines.
The local creek had been called Toowong Creek, and is shown on survey maps as early as 1849. The word was later adopted as a locality name when local land owner Richard Langlar Drew advertised land for sale as ‘The Village of Toowong’. Between May 1862 and December 1863, Drew had purchased several blocks of land along Toowong Creek, stretching from Curlew Street (which in that time was entered off Moggill Road) to Darley Street in West Toowong, and subdivided these blocks for sale. Thus, the word ‘Toowong’ was used as a marketing tool. Today the Koel still nests along the creek (including today’s Oakman Park where Drew had established his home farm) and can be heard calling along its length during the summer.
The name ‘Toowong’ became more widely used when the Brisbane to Indooroopilly line opened on 14 June 1876 as an isolated line, with passengers being ferried across the river. The name ‘Toowong’ was given to the area’s newly-opened local railway station. By the time the railway line was built, the hamlet was showing signs of growing into a sizable village. Subsequently, the district’s inhabitants identified with the name of ‘Toowong’, and its inhabitants adopted the name ‘Toowong’ as a locality name after the railway station’s name.
Helen Gregory, (ed.), Arcadian Simplicity J. B. Fewings Memoirs of Toowong, State Library Board of Queensland, Boolarong Publications, Qld, 1990.
Constance Campbell Petrie, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, Angus and Robertson, London, 1983, p. 319.
Sun, 1 July 1917.
Ian Venables, The Naming of Toowong, unpublished research paper, 2010, TDHS files.
Leigh Chamberlain and Percy Hanlon, Toowong Crossing the Rail at Burns Road, Toowong and District Historical Society, 2010.