The Ngarrindjeri (literal meaning The people who belong to this land) are a nation of eighteen "tribes" (lakinyeri) consisting of numerous family clans who speak similar dialects of the Ngarrindjeri language and are the traditional Aboriginal people of the lower Murray River, western Fleurieu Peninsula, and the Coorong of southern, central Australia. "Much of the early literature on this south-eastern region refers to the Aborigines collectively as the Ngarrindjeri 'confederacy' or 'nation', but in the Berndt's view this is misleading. Although there was freedom of movement over the region, and many bonds linked the culturally similar 'tribes' or dialect-named units that comprise the Ngarrindjeri, there was no political unity to warrant the 'nation' or 'confederacy' labels."
Ngarrindjeri is in fact the name of the language group; Europeans subsequently used it as a collective name for the lakinyeri following colonisation. Variations in spelling are common due to their use as clan names and include Narinyerrie, Narrin’yerree, Narrinjeri and Narrinyeri. In Ngarrindjeri grammar the –nyeri -ndjeri suffix means belonging to a specific place or area. The name Kukabrak also refers to the tribes of the Lower Lakes, however the name Ngarrindjeri was popularised in the 19th century by missionary George Taplin.
The Ngarrindjeri's traditional areas extend from Mannum, South Australia downstream through Murray Bridge and Victor Harbor and along the coast through Goolwa to Cape Jervis, including Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert.
Whalers and sealers had been visiting the South Australian coast since 1802 and by 1819 there was a permanent camp on Karta, Kangaroo Island. Many of these men were escaped convicts, sealers, whalers who had brought Tasmanian Aboriginal women with them but they also raided the mainland for women, particularly Ramindjeri. Originally the most heavily populated area in Australia, a smallpox epidemic had travelled down the River Murray before colonisation, possibly killing a majority of the Ngarrindjeri. Funeral rites and cultural practices were disrupted, clans merged and land use became altered. Songs from the time tell of the smallpox that came out of the Southern Cross in the east with a loud noise like a bright flash. In 1830 the first exploratory expedition reached the Ngarrindjeri lands and Charles Sturt noted that the people were already familiar with firearms.
Numbering only 6000 at the time of white settlement in 1836 due to the epidemic, they are the only tribal group in Australia whose land lay within 100 km (62 mi) of a capital city to have survived as a distinct people with a population still living on the former mission at Raukkan (formerly Point McLeay). Pomberuk (Ngarrindjeri for crossing place), on the banks of the River Murray in Murray Bridge was the most significant Ngarrindjeri site. All 18 lakinyeri (tribes) would meet there for corroborees. Around 22 km (14 mi) further down the river was Tagalang (Tailem Bend), a traditional trading camp where lakinyeri would gather to trade ochre, weapons and clothing. In the 1900s, Tailem Bend was assigned as a government ration depot supplying the Ngarrindjeri.
The Ngarrindjeri were the first South Australian Aborigines to work with Europeans in large-scale economic operations, working as farmers, whalers and labourers.
Following settlement of South Australia and encroachment of Europeans into Ngarrindjeri lands Pomberuk remained, until the 1940s, the last traditional campsite with the remaining Aboriginal occupants forced to leave in 1943 by the new land owners, the Hume Pipe Company, and resettled by the local council and South Australian government. After hearing that the Aboriginal settlement was to be cleared, Ronald and Catherine Berndt, who were researching Aboriginal culture in the area, approached the last Chief Protector of Aborigines William Penhall and obtained a verbal promise that the clearance would not proceed as long as the senior Ngarrindjeri elder, 78-year-old Albert Karloan (Karloan Ponggi), was living. Shortly after the Berndts left to return to Sydney, Karloan was given an eviction order effective immediately. Adamant that only death would separate him from his land, Karloan travelled to Adelaide to seek help but returned to his former home in Pomberuk on February 2, 1943. Willing himself to die, he passed away the following morning.
Now known as the Murray Bridge Railway Precinct and Hume Reserve, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority seeks the renaming of Hume Reserve to Karloan Ponggi Reserve (after Albert Karloan) in honour of the old people who fought to retain the old ways. They have presented a development and management plan to preserve and develop the site as a memorial and an educational aid to reconciliation.
The Ngarrindjeri achieved a great deal of publicity in the 1990s due to their opposition to the construction of a bridge from Goolwa to Hindmarsh Island, which resulted in a Royal Commission and a High Court case in 1996. The Royal Commission found that claims of "secret women's business" on the island had been fabricated. However, in a case brought by the developers seeking damages for their losses, Federal Court judge, Mr John von Doussa took issue with the findings of the Royal Commission and in rejecting the claims stated:
The evidence received by the Court on this topic is significantly different to that which was before the Royal Commission. Upon the evidence before this Court I am not satisfied that the restricted women's knowledge was fabricated or that it was not part of genuine Aboriginal tradition.
As a result of the Australia wide 1995 - 2009 drought, water levels in Lakes Albert and Alexandrina dropped to the extent that traditional burial grounds, which had been under water, were now exposed.
The Ngarrindjeri have their own language group and, apart from groups living along the river, share no common words with neighbouring peoples. Their patrilineal culture and ritual practices were also distinct from that of the surrounding people which has been attributed by Aboriginal historian Graham Jenkin to their enmity with the Kaurna to the west, who practised circumcision and monopolised red ochre, the Merkani (Ngarrindjeri for "enemy") to the east, who stole Ngarrindjeri women and were reputed to be cannibals and to the north the Ngadjuri who were believed to send mulapi ("clever men" i.e.:sorcerers) and, although not sharing a border, the Nukunu who were thought to be sorcerers, incestuous and prone to commit rape. By way of contrast and due to a shared dreaming, the relationship between the Ngarrindjeri and the Walkandi-woni (the people of the warm north-east wind), their collective name for the various groups living along the River as far as Wentworth in New South Wales, was of significant mutual importance and the groups regularly met at Wellington, Tailem Bend, Murray Bridge, Mannum or Swan Reach to exchange songs and conduct ceremonies. Quarrels with the Walkandi-woni were not unknown and in 1849 the Rev George Taplin recorded a fight between 500 Ngarrindjeri and up to 800 Ngaiawang who shared a border with them at Mannum. Each of the 18 lakinyeri had their own specific funeral customs, some smoke dried bodies before being placed in trees, on platforms, in rock shelters or buried depending on local custom. Some placed bodies in trees and collect the fallen bones for burial. Some removed the skull, which was then used for a drinking vessel. Some clans peeled the skin from their dead to expose the pink flesh. The body was then called grinkari, a term that they used to refer to the Europeans in the first years of settlement.
Differing from most Australian Aboriginal communities, the fertility of their land allowed the Ngarrindjeri and Merkani to live a semi sedentary life, moving between permanent summer and winter camps. In fact, one of the major problems encountered by Europeans was the determination of the Ngarrindjeri to rebuild their camps on land claimed for grazing. Unlike the rest of Australia, the South Australia Act 1834 (Foundation Act) which enabled the province of South Australia to be established, acknowledged Aboriginal ownership and stated that no actions could be undertaken that would affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives of the said province to the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such natives.  Effectively this guaranteed the land rights of Aboriginals under force of law but was interpreted by the colonists as simply meaning Aborigines could not be dispossessed of sites they permanently occupied. In May 1839, the protector of Aborigines William Wyatt announced publicly, it appeared that the natives occupy no lands in the especial manner described in the instructions. Bowing to the interests of prominent colonists and the Resident Commissioner who wanted to survey and sell the land without hindrance, Wyatt in his reports on Aboriginal culture and practices, never recorded that sites were permanently occupied.
The Ngarrindjeri were widely known as "outstanding craftsmen" specialising in basketry, matting and nets with records indicating that nets of more than 100 metres (330 ft) long were used to catch Emus. It was claimed by colonists that the nets they made for fishing were superior to those used by Europeans. The nets, made by chewing the roots of Bulrush (Typha shuttleworthii) until only the fibre remained which was spun into threads by the women to be then woven into nets by the men, were "considered to be a sort of fortune to its owner." While the Aboriginals of the east coast of Australia also made nets, they were used for carry bags and there are no records of their use in hunting.
The Ngarrindjeri were well known to Europeans for their cooking skills and the efficiency of their camp ovens, the remains of which can still be found throughout the River Murray area. Some species of fish, birds and other animals considered easily caught were reserved by law for the elderly and infirm, an indication of the abundance of food in Ngarrindjeri lands. In the early years of the colony, Ngarrindjeri would volunteer to catch fish for the “white fellow men”.
A wide range of foods were subject to narambi (taboo) prohibitions. In regards to ngaitji (clan totems), eating them was not narambi but depended on the clans own attitude. Some clans banned eating them, some could eat them only if they had been caught by members of another clan and some had no restrictions. Once dead the animal was no longer considered ngaitji which is Ngarrindjeri for "friend". A ngaitji was not actually sacred in the western sense but considered a "spiritual advisor" to the clan. Other foods were narambi but had no supernatural sanctions and these relied on attitudes to the species. Male dogs were friends of the Ngarrindjeri so were not eaten while female dogs were not eaten because they were "unclean". Snakes were not eaten because of the "feel of their skin". Some bird species considered to act cruelly to other animals were narambi and Magpies were because they warned other birds to flee if any were killed. Some bird species were narambi because they were the spirits of people who had died. Birds became narambi during nesting season and the Malleefowl was narambi because its eggs were considered more valuable for food although there were no penalties for violation. Foods with supernatural sanctions were limited to Bats, White Owls and certain foods that were narambi only to women or to pregnant women. A separate category of narambi was young boys going through intitiation. They were themselves considered narambi and any food they caught or prepared was narambi to all women who were even forbidden to see or smell it. Violation, whether accidental or deliberate, resulted in physical punishments including spearings that applied not only to the woman but to her relatives. Taplin in 1862 noted that narambi prohibitions were regularly being broken by children due to European influence and in the 1930s Berndt recorded that most narambi had been forgotten and if known, ignored.
Many sites of Dreaming significance are located along the River Murray. Near the confluence of the Murray River with Lake Alexandrina is Murungun (Mason's Hill), home to a bunyip called Muldjewangk. An ancestral hero named Ngurunderi chased an enormous Murray Cod named Ponde from a river in central New South Wales, creating the River Murray from its attempts to escape Kauwira (Mannum) is where Ngurunderi forced Ponde to turn sharply south. The straight section of river to Peindjalong (near Tailem Bend) resulted from Ponde fleeing in fear after being speared in the tail. The twin peaks, large permanent sandhills of Mount Misery on the eastern shore of Lake Alexandrina are known as Lalangenggul or Lalanganggel (Two watercraft) and represent where Ngurunderi brought his rafts ashore to make camp. Ngurunderi cut up Ponde, throwing the pieces into the water, where each piece became a species of fish.
While an established Dreaming existed, the various clans each had their own variations. For example, some said Ngurunderi created the fish on the coast, other clans believe he created them where the river enters Lake Alexandrina and some said that it was where the fresh water meets the salt. They also shared some Dreaming stories with tribes in New South Wales and Victoria. In the late 1980s, the Dreaming stories were collected and one related to a creation story involving Thukabi, a turtle. There was no mention of Thukabi in the anthropological record and this example was later used as evidence for the survival of Ngarrindjeri stories that were unknown to anthropologists in support of the secret women's business.
Tribes of the Ngarrindjeri
There were eighteen Ngarrindjeri "tribes" known as Lakinyeri, each occupying a distinct area of land (ruwe). The lakinyerar in turn comprised 77 clan (family) groups in the 1930s, each with its own distinct dialect. Every member of a lakinyeri is related by blood and it is forbidden to marry any member of the same lakinyeri. A couple also may not marry a member of another lakinyeri if they have a great-grandparent (or closer relation) in common.
Missionary ethnographer the Rev. George Taplin, who established Point McLeay mission in 1859, using a "high quality" linguistics study conducted by the Lutheran missionary H.A.E. Meyer in 1879 recorded that the Ngarrindjeri nation comprised 18 Lakinyeri, each with it own Ngaitji (Totem). Note: In Ngarrindjeri grammar -dj- is pronounced "somewhere between a d and a y" but is usually pronounced y by Europeans. However, mispronunciation is considered offensive by the Ngarrindjeri.
- Kaikalabindjeri - (possibly Yaraldi also spelt Jaraldekald), south and eastern shores of Lake Albert. - Ngaitji Bull ant
- Kanmerarorn - Coorong between the Pakindjeri and Ngrangatari Lakinyerar - Ngaitji Mullet
- Karatinderi - Eastern side of Lake Alexandrina around Point Malcolm - Ngaitji Wild dog, light colour
- Kondarlindjeri - (possibly Prillthinyeri also spelt Prullthunyeri), southern shores of Lake Alexandrina west of the Murray Mouth - Ngaitji Whale
- Korowalie - (also spelt Warrawaldie or Waruwaldi) north of Lake Alexandrina - Ngaitji Whipsnake
- Lungundi - East side of Murray Mouth. - Ngaitji Tern
- Luthindjeri - River Murray, Swanport area between Murray Bridge and Tailem Bend - Ngaitji Black snake, Teal, Grey belly black snake
- Mungulindjeri - (also spelt Marunggulindjeri or Manggurupa). Eastern side of Lake Albert - Ngaitji Chocolate Sheldrake
- Ngrangatari - (possibly Potaruwutj), Naracoorte west to within sixteen kilometres of the ocean along the third inland dune range of the Coorong. - Ngaitji Kangaroo rat
- Piltindjeri - Eastern side of Lake Alexandrina - Ngaitji Leeches, Catfish
- Punguratpular - Western side of Lake Alexandrina around Milang - Ngaitji Musk duck
- Pakindjeri - Coorong east of Lake Albert - Ngaitji Butterfish
- Ramindjeri - (also spelt Ramijeri, Ramidjeri, Raminyeri or Ranijeri), Encounter Bay and Cape Jervis. - Ngaitji Wattle gum
- Rangulindjeri - (possibly Thooree), western shore of Lake Albert. - Ngaitji Wild dog, dark colour
- Tanganarin - (also spelt Tangani or Tangane), Goolwa to the Coorong. - Ngaitji Pelican
- Turarorn - Mundoo Island in Lake Alexandrina - Ngaitji Coot
- Welindjeri - (possibly Warki or Portawalun also spelt Portaulan), northern shore of Lake Alexandrina. - Ngaitji Black duck, Red belly black snake
- Wunyakulde - (possibly Ngaralta), along the Murray where Murray Bridge is now situated. - Ngaitji Black duck
Norman Tindale's research in the 1920s and Ronald and Catherine Berndt's ethnographic study, which was conducted in the 1930s, established only 10 lakinyerar. Neither Tindale or the Berndt's had any formal linguistic training and although they remain a major source of material for the Ngarrindjeri people today their accuracy in this area should not be assumed. Tindale worked with Clarence Long (a Tangani man) while the Berndts worked with Albert Karloan (a Yaraldi man).
- Malganduwa - No references before Berndt. No clans identified.
- Marunggulindjeri - No references before Berndt. Two clans.
- Naberuwolin - No references before Berndt. No clans identified, may be related to Potawolin.
- Potawolin - Also spelt Porthaulun and Porta'ulan. David Unaipon said this was the language name and that the lakinyeri was called Waruwaldi. No clans identified but recorded by Radcliffe-Brown (1918: 253)
- Ramindjeri - Also spelt Raminyeri, Raminjeri, Raminderar or Raminjerar (ar = plural), also known as Ramong and Tarbana-walun. 27 clans.
- Tangani - Also spelt Tangane, Tanganarin, Tangalun and Tenggi. 19 clans confirmed and eight recorded but not located. The Kanmerarorn and Pakindjeri lakinyeri named by Taplin are recorded as Tangani clans.
- Wakend - Also spelt Warki, Warkend, also known as Korowalle, Korowalde and Koraulun. One clan.
- Walerumaldi - Also spelt Waruwaldi (see Potawolin) Two clans.
- Wonyakaldi - Also spelt Wunyakulde and Wanakalde. One clan.
- Yaraldi - Also spelt Yaralde, Jaralde and Yarilde. 14 clans. In the 1930s, the ruwe (land) of six of these clans extended along the coast from Cape Jervis to a few kilometers south of Adelaide, land traditionally believed to be Kaurna. The Rev. George Taplin recorded in 1879 that the Ramindjeri occupied the southern section of the coast from Encounter Bay, some 100 km south of Adelaide, to Cape Jervis but made no mention of any more northerly Ngarrindjeri occupation. Berndt posits that Ngarrindjeri clans may have expanded along trade routes as the Kaurna were dispossessed by colonists.
Some lakinyeri may have disappeared and others may have merged as a result of population decline following colonisation. Additionally, Clan groups within the lakinyerar would use the local dialect or their own clan name for lakinyeri names also leading to confusion. For example, Jaralde, Jaraldi, Jarildekald and Jarildikald were separate clan names as were Ramindjari, Ramindjerar, Ramindjeri, Ramingara, Raminjeri, Raminyeri. Several of these are also used as names for the lakinyerar. Clans could also change their lakinyeri, Berndt found that two Tangani clans who lived close to a Yaraldi clan had picked up their dialect and were thus now considered to be Yaraldi.
Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority
The Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority (NRA) is the peak representative body of the Ngarrindjeri people. It is made up of representatives from 12 grassroots Ngarrindjeri organisations, plus four additional elected community members. Its purpose is to:
- Protect and advance the welfare of the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Protect areas of special significance to the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Improve the economic opportunities of the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Facilitate social welfare programs benefitting aboriginal people,
- Pursue Native Title over the traditional lands and waters of the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Enter into agreements of contracts with third parties on behalf of the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Manage land of cultural significance to the Ngarrindjeri people, and to hold any interest in such land as trustee or otherwise on their behalf,
- Act as the trustee under any trust established for the benefit of the Ngarrindjeri people,
- Protect the intellectual property rights of the Ngarrindjeri people.
- Poltpalingada Booboorowie (Tommy Walker), a popular Adelaide personality in the 1890s.
- Ruby Hunter, musician.
- Natascha McNamara, academic and activist.
- David Unaipon, inventor and author. His picture is featured on the Australian $50 banknote.
- James Unaipon, first Aboriginal deacon.
- Ronald Murray Berndt, Catherine Helen Berndt, John E. Stanton 1993, "A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia", Forward xxvii
- Status of Indigenous Languages in South Australia Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. May 2002
- Berndt & Berndt 1993 "A World That Was: The Yaraldi of the Murray River and the Lakes, South Australia", Ch1 The land and the people p21
- "Ngunderi". South Australian Museum. Retrieved 5 November 2010.[dead link]
- Margaret Simons The Meeting of the Waters Pg 18 - 19
- Jenkin, p. 50.
- Ngarrindjeri Murrundi Management Plan, No. 1 Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority
- Berndt, Berndt and Stanton (1993). A world that was: the Yaraldi of the Murray River and the lakes, South Australia. Pg 7: University of British Columbia Press. ISBN 0-7748-0478-5.
- von Doussa, John (2001). Reasons for Decision. Thomas Lincoln Chapman and Ors v Luminis Pty Ltd, 088 127 085 and ors, Federal Court of Australian, No. SG 33 OF 1997.
- ABC News, "Drought exposes Aboriginal burial grounds", 31 May 2008, http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/05/31/2261245.htm Accessed 22 October 2010.
- The Kaurna called the Ngarrindjeri the Paruru. The word was Kaurna for both un-circumcised and animal.
- Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri, Adelaide, Rigby, 1979.
- Berndt, Berndt and Stanton (1993). Pg 20 - 22
- The Native Tribes of South Australia M’CARRON, BIRD AND Co 1879
- Fforde, Hubert and Turnbull (2004). The Dead and Their Possessions. Pg 78-79: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-34449-2.
- Margaret Simons The Meeting of the Waters Pg 19
- Ngadjuri Walpa Juri Lands and Heritage Association (Undated). Gnadjuri. SASOSE Council Inc. ISBN 0-646-42821-7. Check date values in:
- Jenkin, Graham (1979). Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri. Pg 14-15: Rigby. ISBN 0-7270-1112-X.
- Krefft 1862: Pg 361
- Berndt, Berndt and Stanton (1993). Pg 22 - 26
- Margaret Simons The Meeting of the Waters: The Hindmarsh Island Affair Hodder Headline 2003 Pg 26 ISBN 0-7336-1348-9
- Margaret Simons The Meeting of the Waters Pg 44 - 45
- Smith & Wobst, p. 245
- Unaipon, p. 19
- McHughes et al., p. 1
- South Australian Museum, "Potaruwutj", http://samuseum.australia.sa.com/tindaletribes/potaruwutj.htm Accessed 23 November 2010.
- Unaipon, p. 145
- Berndt, Berndt and Stanton (1993). Pg 312
- Berndt, Berndt and Stanton (1993). Pg 32
- Bell, D. (1998) Ngarrindjeri wurruwarrin: a world that is, was, and will be, Spinifex Press, Adelaide. ISBN 978-1-875559-71-8.
- Jenkin, G. (1979), Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri, Rigby. ISBN 0-7270-1112-X.
- McHughes, E., Williams, P. Koolmatrie, V. & Gale, M. (2009) "Lakun Ngarrindjeri thunggarri: Weaving the Ngarrindjeri language back to health", AIATSIS Conferences Papers, October 2009.
- Smith, C. & Wobst, H. (2005) Indigenous archaeologies: decolonizing theory and practice, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30965-4.
- Unaipon, D. (2001) Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne. ISBN 0-522-85246-2.
- Ngarrindjeri people
- Ngarrindjeri history
- Wilson v Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Hindmarsh Island Case) (1996) 138 ALR 220 AustLII