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A billabong along Scrubby Creek at Berrinba Wetlands in Berrinba, Logan City, 2014

A billabong (/ˈbɪləbɒŋ/ BIL-ə-bong) is an Australian term for an oxbow lake, an isolated pond left behind after a river changes course.[1] Billabongs are usually formed when the path of a creek or river changes, leaving the former branch with a dead end; as a result of the arid Australian climate in which these "dead rivers" are found, billabongs fill with water seasonally; they are dry for a greater part of the year.[2]


The etymology of the word billabong is disputed; the word is most likely derived from the Wiradjuri term bilabaŋ, which means "a watercourse that runs only after rain". It is derived from bila, meaning "river",[3] It may have been combined with bong or bung, meaning "dead".[4][5] One source, however, claims that the term is of Scottish Gaelic origin.[6]

Billabongs were significant because they held water longer than parts of rivers; it was important for people to identify and name these areas.[7][8][9]

References in Australian culture[edit]

In literature[edit]

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled,
Who'll come a'waltzing Matilda with me

Banjo Paterson, Waltzing Matilda

In art[edit]

Both Aboriginal Australians and European artists use billabongs as subject matter in painting. For example, Aboriginal painter Tjyllyungoo (Lance Chad) has a watercolour entitled Trees at a billabong.[13]

American avant-garde filmmaker Will Hindle produced a short film titled Billabong in 1969.

In commerce[edit]

Billabong is the name of an Australian brand of sportswear for surf, skateboard, and snowboard.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rivers Continuing in Time". Burarra Gathering. Wurdeja, Ji-malawa and Yilan Aboriginal Communities. 21 June 2006. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.
  2. ^ USGS [Annotated Definitions of Selected Geomorphic Terms and Related Terms of Hydrology, Sedimentology, Soil Science, and Ecology], USGS Open File Report 2008-1217.
  3. ^ "billabong." The Macquarie Dictionary. South Yarra: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd., 2005. Credo Reference. Web. 19 January 2012.
  4. ^ A. P. Elkin (June 1967). "Review of Australian English: An Historical Study of the Vocabulary, 1788-1898 by W. S. Ramson". Oceania. Oceania Publications, University of Sydney. 37 (4): 318–319. JSTOR 40329620.
  5. ^ "billabong"., LLC. 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  6. ^ Skilton, St J. The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand, p. 300. Quote: A respondent to his survey said: "'Bill' = 'bile' = 'lip or mouth' and 'abong' is from 'abhainn' = 'river' with a parasitic 'G' added. A billabong probably has a mouth shape of sorts being at a bend in a river." University of Fribourg, Switzerland, June 2004. Last accessed 23 February 2018.
  7. ^ Clarke, R. "Australianisms in 'Waltzing Matilda'", Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 10 December 2003. Last accessed 23 February 2018.
  8. ^ Ludowyk, F. "Of Billy, Bong, Bung, & 'Billybong'", Australian National University, no date. Last accessed 23 February 2018.
  9. ^ "billabong", Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Accessed 23 February 2018.
  10. ^ Bruce, Mary Grant. A Little Bushmaid.
  11. ^ Bruce, Mary Grant. Billabong Adventurers.
  12. ^ Pierce, Peter (2009). The Cambridge history of Australian literature. Cambridge, England; New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-88165-4.
  13. ^ "Trees at a billabong". Trees at a Billabong. National Museum Australia. 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.

External links[edit]

Media related to Billabongs of Australia at Wikimedia Commons