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The Ngadjuri people are a group of Indigenous Australian people whose traditional lands lie in the mid north of South Australia with a territory extending from Gawler in the south to Orroroo in the north.

Workii tribe of Gilbert River Australoid


Wilhelm Schmidt proposed that, together with the languages of the Kaurna, Narungga and Nukunu, Ngadjuri formed one of the elements of a subgroup he called the Miṟu languages.[1][2] It is now classified as a member of the Thura-Yura language family.[3] Elements of the vocabulary were recorded by Samuel Le Brun, stepson of one of the Canowie Station proprietors R. Boucher James. Le Brun, who spent parts of his youth at Canowie in the late 1850s, took an interest in the Aboriginal vocabulary of the district and in 1886 was among the laymen who made submissions on this topic to a book by Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1820-1889).[4] Le Brun's vocabulary has in recent times been attributed to the Nukunu near Spencer Gulf, but he himself states it originated from 'forty miles east of Port Pirie', which places it near Canowie, with which he was intimately familiar, and is therefore the vocabulary of the Ngadjuri people. Their word for water, cowie or kowi, appears quite frequently as a suffix within Ngadjuri-based nomenclature of the region, such as Yarcowie, Canowie, Caltowie, Warcowie, and Booborowie.


The Ngadjuri homelands covered roughly 11,500 sq. miles, embracing Angaston and Freeling in the south and running northwards to Clare, Crystal Brook, Gladstone up to Carrieton and Orroroo in the Flinders Ranges. To the northeast, they took in the area Waukaringa and Koonamore. The districts of Peterborough, Burra and Robertstown were in Ngadjuri territory. The eastern boundaries coincide with the area of Mannahill.[5]

Social organization[edit]

Before the coming of whites, the Ngadjuri, practitioners of circumcision, were aggressively moving eastwards towards the Murray River, insisting that tribes their adopt the practice.[5] The Ngadjuri were composed of several hordes, some of whose names are known:

  • Burra Burra.
  • Abercrombie.(a name conferred on one Ngadjuri horde
  • Mimbara(the horde on the northernmost reaches of Ngadjuri territory).[5]

History of contact[edit]

The Ngadjuri are virtually invisible in the histories of colonization of, and their dispossession from, the traditional tribal lands.[6] As with other indigenous groups in South Australia, the Ngadjuri led nomadic lives and were decimated by introduced European diseases,[7] such as measles and smallpox, as colonizers took over their water and land resources, leading to their dispersion[8] A unit of police were established at Bungaree Station as early as 1842.[9] The discovery and development of large copper mines at Kapunda and then Burra in 1844 and 1845 respectively spurred a notable influx of settlers into their region.[6] Calculating from records on the supply of foodstuffs to the native population, in 1852 it is estimated that there were some 70 Ngadjuri drawing rations, and the children readily joined in the introduced games by playing marbles, rounders and cricket.[9] But the spread of agriculture appears to have coincided with the disappearance of the central community within the following 2 decades.[10]

The Mimbara horde however held out in the northern bushlands until 1905, as the last 'wild' group of South Australian aborigines. These were relocated south to the outskirts of Quorn, and at Riverton, and on Willochra Creek.[5]


The Ngadjuri used petroglyphs, body art, and other art forms to express their culture and beliefs. and examples of the first can be found at Firewood Creek, just a little to the northeast of Burra (in Ngadjuri, this place is known as Kooringa).[11] Parallel striations (lines) are a very familiar theme, but the usual panoply of Australian indigenous art emblems (e.g. hand prints, kangaroo and emu footprints) were also used.


The Ngadjuri practiced formalised burial practices with bodies sometimes smoked or dried before burial and many buried skeletons were uncovered during the construction of the Spalding railway line. Large groups of up to a hundred men would hold mass possum hunts through the timbered hills. Although ceremonies were usually male-only private events, by the 1860s they had begun to commercialise them with the dominant capitalist culture spectators accepted and donations solicited.[7]

R. M. Berndt and his wife C.H. Berndt recorded two Ngadjuri versions of the Kukabrak Eagle and Crow myths.[12]

Native title[edit]

When Anglo-European Caucasian settlers first arrived in 1836 at Holdfast Bay (now Glenelg), the land was considered in the 1834 South Australia Act passed by the British Parliament and by Governor Hindmarsh as Commander in chief in his Proclamation of 1836, to be a barren wasteland. In contrast to the rest of Australia, terra nullius did not apply to the new province. The Letters Patent establishing the Province of South Australia attached to the Act 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. Under the act the native inhabitants were assumed to have become British subjects. Although the patent guaranteed land rights under force of law for the indigenous inhabitants it was ignored by the South Australian Company authorities and squatters.[13]

Alternative names[edit]

  • Ngadluri, Ngaluri.
  • Aluri, Alury.
  • Eeleeree.
  • Hilleri, Hillary.
  • Yilrea.
  • Wirameju (wira signifies gum tree, meju, men, thus yielding 'gum forest men'), *Wirrameyu, Wirramayo, Wirramaya, Wiramaya.
  • Wirra, Weera.
  • Eura (this is generic for several tribes in which the Ngadjuri were included)
  • Manuri.('big goanna people', an exonym employed for them by the Nganguruku)
  • Manuri. (A Nukunu exonym putatively meaning 'inland people').
  • Manu, Monnoo, Manuley.
  • Youngye (a language name)
  • Boanawari ('bat people', used of eastern tribes who did not engage in circumcision rights, and feared the N gadjuri's proselytization for the practice)
  • Doora.
  • Burra Burra. (a name for one of the Ngadjuri hordes
  • Abercrombie (likewise a Ngadjuri horde name
  • Mimbara (the name for the northernmost horde of the Ngadjuri).[5]

See also[edit]