10 things you didn't know about Warrnambool

ONE of the most popular articles we've had in recent times was our "listicle" on 30 things only Warrnamboolians will understand.

But there is much more to our fair city than nibble pies, the Gap, and lapping. Have you ever wondered about the things you don't know about Warrnambool?

Here's a list of 10 things you might not know. Some people will know a couple of them, a select few may even know the majority, but we'll bet that no one knows all of them.

1. Warrnambool should be named Wheringkernitch

Most people (and the internet) will tell you "Warrnambool" is an Aboriginal word meaning "land between two rivers" or "ample water" or "two swamps", but that's probably wrong. According to Jan Critchett's A Distant Field Of Murder - a fascinating study of early black-and-white interactions in the Western District - "Warrnambool ... was the Aboriginal name for Mount Warrnambool (located near present-day Panmure). At the time (Chief Protector of Aborigines George Augustus) Robinson (who has the first white person to record the name 'Warrnambool') visited the district, there was also an individual named War.nam.bul whose 'country' was near Mount Warrnambool. It seems likely that an early settler met a member of the Warrnambool (people) near the mouth of the Hopkins or Merri and asked the name of the place. The Aborigine, knowing little English, may have thought he was being asked where he came from, where he belonged or even his name. For whatever reason, the reply was 'War.nam.bul' and this became the name of the new settlement." So what did the original inhabitants really call the area now known as Warrnambool? According to Critchett's book, the land where the city lies was called "Wheringkernitch" in the local dialect.

2. Warrnambool was "discovered" by the French

Nicholas Baudin didn't stop in Warrnambool but he did chart the coastline and document some of its landmarks.

Nicholas Baudin didn't stop in Warrnambool but he did chart the coastline and document some of its landmarks.

The first white people to sight Lady Bay and the Warrnambool area were French admiral/scientist/navigator Nicholas Baudin and his crew, who charted the south-west Victorian coastline in 1802 aboard Le Geographe. The ship didn't hang around long and Baudin and his crew didn't come ashore but they did name a couple of things they spotted from the sea. "A conical peak" that the crew spotted - most likely Tower Hill - was dubbed "Piton de Reconnaissance", which translates to "Reconnaissance Peak" (in an amusing side note, the Warrnambool history book By These We Flourish calls it "Pitou de Reconnaissance" - "pitou" means "puppy" or "cute dog"). In the distance they also spotted Mount Rouse and called it "Mont Tabor", which led them to call Pickering Point "Cap du Mont Tabor" ("Mount Tabor Cape").

3. The first known white settlers of Warrnambool only stayed here for five years

In 1838, the Bolden brothers arrived in the Warrnambool area with their shorthorn cattle and used the entire region - from Pirron Yallock to Macarthur - as their own grazing run. Prior to that, the only white people along the Warrnambool coast were sealers and whalers passing through the area, usually based out of Port Fairy or Portland. While they lived at Grassmere, the Warrnambool street name origin's book Streets Ahead called the Boldens - Lemuel, Armyne and John - "the first Europeans to occupy the land that is now the site of Warrnambool". However, By These We Flourish calls the brothers "only incidental to the story of early land settlement in the Warrnambool districts", noting that by 1843, the Boldens had moved on leaving their runs and cattle for others to take over.

4. The earliest known Australian sound recording was made by a couple of Warrnamboolians

Pictured left is entrepreneur Thomas Rome (source: The Arts Centre, Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne) who recorded performer John James Villiers (pictured right, source: Rosemary Szente).

Pictured left is entrepreneur Thomas Rome (source: The Arts Centre, Performing Arts Collection, Melbourne) who recorded performer John James Villiers (pictured right, source: Rosemary Szente).

Some time before January 15, 1897, Warrnambool entrepreneur Thomas Rome recorded local amateur performer John James Villiers singing a song called The Hen Convention on one of Thomas Edison's phonograph's, which Rome had imported from the US. The recording was most likely made in Warrnambool prior to that date because that's when The Standard published a report of The Hen Convention being played at the Warrnambool Exhibition. "The phonograph is the most remarkable of all Edison's great inventions," The Standard reported. The song was part of a number of selections Rome and his assistant, a Mr Pippard, would play to enthusiastic listeners on what they billed as "the Most Wonderful Machine that the Ingenuity of Man has Ever Produced". The recording, which has been preserved by the National Film & Sound Archive due to its significance, was one of many made by Rome - another existing recording features an audio "re-enactment" of a train derailment between Warrnambool and Allansford that occurred on March 11, 1897. Rome, who ran a shoe shop for 55 years in Liebig Street, is set to have a street named after him in Dennington.

5. Warrnambool has its own theme song

Program (left) courtesy of Warrnambool & District Historical Society.

Program (left) courtesy of Warrnambool & District Historical Society.

Composer Reg Stoneham had a thing for Warrnambool. Despite living in St Kilda, he penned a couple of songs about our fair city, one of which was called Back To Warrnambool (click to listen). The tune found its way into the hands of baritone Robert Nicholson, who recorded a version some time in November or early December in 1929, releasing the song the following year. The song was often featured in the Back To Warrnambool celebrations, which happened in the city over summer, and the sheet music would appear in the festival program. A veteran of the Boer War, Stoneham fell on black days around the time of Back To Warrnambool's release by Nicholson. He was ill and struggling to make ends meet as a musician due to the advent of radio, forcing him to take labouring jobs to supplement his war pension while caring for his invalid wife and daughter. By 1936 he was bankrupt and he died in the Alfred Hospital in 1942. Stoneham had also penned a tune called The Warrnambool Waltz Song, but it's unknown why he had such an affinity for the place.

6. Liebig Street was spelt wrong for over a century

Liebig Street in 1910, or Liebeg as it was officially spelt until 1965. Source: Warrnambool & District Historical Society.

Liebig Street in 1910, or Liebeg as it was officially spelt until 1965. Source: Warrnambool & District Historical Society.

Warrnambool's main street was named by surveyor William Pickering, who was obviously a fan of Baron Justus Freiherr von Liebig. Liebig was a leading German chemist who is credited with the invention of nitrogen-based fertilizers, having figured out the importance of nitrogen for plants. According to Wikipedia, Liebig was "one of the first chemists to organize a laboratory in its present form" and "established the world's first major school of chemistry". He's also indirectly credited with the invention of Marmite and the beef stock cube. But Pickering's tribute to the great scientist didn't quite go to plan - according to a book on Warrnambool street names called Streets Ahead "the name was misspelled 'Liebeg'... especially in the late 1850s and '60s". The book adds it wasn't until 1965 that council officially corrected the spelling.

7. Warrnambool's mayor was once chosen by pulling his name out of a hat

In 1886, the vote for a new mayor was deadlocked at five all. There were 12 councillors at the time, and Crs Stephens and King were both nominated (but weren't voting). To split the draw, outgoing mayor William Simpson declared that the Local Government Act stated that a hat was required. According to the book Telling Warrnambool's Story, the town clerk wrote the two names on slips of paper, the local reporters from The Standard and the now-defunct tri-weekly The Independent were appointed scrutineers, and the town engineer made the draw. Cr Stephens won. There is no mention of whose hat was used.

8. Warrnambool can claim a Nobel prize-winner

Warrnambool has had some esteemed residents over the years, but few can top Sir John Carew Eccles. Professor Eccles did most of his secondary schooling at Warrnambool High School (now Warrnambool College) before going on to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1963, which in turn earnt him the title of Australian of the Year. The Nobel Prize was for his work into synapses and the nervous system. Warrnambool High School named a science wing after him. Professor Eccles became a controversial figure later in life for combining his faith with his science by attempting to prove the existence of the soul.

9. Some of Warrnambool's streets are named after cows (and bulls)

Most of our street names, according to Streets Ahead, get their monikers from prominent people, local families, pre-existing homestead names, and plants. There are also 18 streets named after ships and nine after horses. And then there are the five streets named after cattle. Wando Street, Boston Drive, Cleveland Street and Goodwin Avenue - all off Wangoom Road - take their titles from the names of some of the cows and bulls that grazed that land before it was subdivided. And then there's Sovereign Court (off Ardlie Street), which was named after Black Sovereign - an award-winning Angus bull. But those street name origins probably aren't the strangest in Warrnambool. We have two streets named after watch brands (Omega Crescent and Cyma Street - the estate was owned by a watchmaker), one after a motorbike (Goldie Court), another after a type of Chevrolet (Impala Avenue), and one that attempts to mash the words "May Racing Carnival" into one very ocker-sounding amalgam (Maycarn Court).

10. A Christian rock band from Switzerland borrowed our name

In 2006, a band emerged on the other side of the world and their name was Warrnambool. The Christian rockers were based in Switzerland and led by front man Micha Gruenwald, who chose to name his band after our fair city following an apparently memorable visit here as a youngster. The band released an album in 2006 called Brand New Song and played a few festivals around Europe before disappearing in 2009. Gruenwald re-emerged with a new line-up in 2011 but that doesn't appear to have lasted long.

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