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

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 often found, billabongs fill with water seasonally but can be 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

In literature

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

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

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

See also


  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. doi:10.1002/j.1834-4461.1967.tb00924.x. JSTOR 40329620.
  5. ^ "billabong". Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, LLC. 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  6. ^ Skilton, St J. The Survey of Scottish Gaelic in Australia and New Zealand Archived 2012-04-23 at the Wayback Machine, 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". National Museum Australia. 2013. Retrieved 10 April 2013.

Media related to Billabongs of Australia at Wikimedia Commons