Both the Murray River Ngaiawang and the Adelaide region's Kaurna used their variant pronunciation for the Nukuni, namely, nokunno and nokuna, to signify, an assassin, a mythical figure who was given to roaming about at night in search of people to kill.
Nukunu language, together with Ngadjuri, with which it has an 90% overlap, is broadly classified by Luise Hercus, following the taxonomy of Wilhelm Schmidt, as belonging to the Miru cluster of the Thura-Yura languages.
According to Norman Tindale's calculations, the Nukunu possessed approximately 2,200 square miles (5,700 km2) of tribal land. This lay on the eastern side of Spencer Gulf, from a point just north of the mouth of the Broughton River and the vicinity of Crystal Brook to Port Augusta. Their eastern extension ran to Melrose, Mount Remarkable, Gladstone, and Quorn, and they were also present at Baroota.
The Nukunu were the southeastern-most tribe which adopted not only circumcision but also subincision(mimpi) as part of their rite of initiating young males into full tribal status. The Nukunu took pride in being "ritual purists".
A. P. Elkin established that the Nukunu represented the most southeasternly tribe maintaining a matrilineal moiety system, involving two marriage moieties, the Mathari and the Kararru. The system was essentially akin to that existing among the Barngarla, Adnyamathanha and Wailpi.
The Nukunu land was full of sacred sites, and formed the starting point for the longest songline registered in Australia, the Urumbula songline extending from a large tree, representing also the Milky Way, said to stand near the present day Port Augusta Hospital( Point Augusta) northwards right to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The story cycle dealt with the wanderings of the western quoll. The Arerrnte central desert people retain details of the mythical events which are located far south, in Nukunu tribal lands.
History of contact
Colonization first began in 1849, and a late estimate is that the tribe consisted of between 50 ands 100 "souls". Before this, it is thought that the Nukunu had been ravaged by the spread of smallpox (mingi) from the Murray River, some two decades earlier. The subsequent transformation of the land for pastoral and wheat-growing purposes devastated the Nukunu. Peter Ferguson and William Younghusband took up a "run" of some 560 square miles (1,500 km2) from Thalpiri, now known as Port Pyrie to Crystal Brook which was stocked with 25,000 sheep and 3400 cattle. In late June 1852 Ferguson, a gaunt Scottish Highlander recorded in colonial memory as "as good-hearted a man as ever lived", rounded up seven "niggers" after pursuing them to retrieve 54 sheep that had been taken from his flocks and they were remanded at Clare County Court for trial in Adelaide, but were released after two months when no plaintiffs appeared to assist the prosecution. In 1854, after cattle had been pilfered, Ferguson, together with his stockmen, is reported as having killed a group of local aborigines at Crystal Brook, Writing in 1880, J. C. Valentine stated that only 8 Nukunu had survived these radical upheavals, five men and three women, the rest, in his view, having expired from phthisis.
This enclosure of their tribal lands for pastoralism led to the dispossession, and decimation, of the Nukunu from the end of the 1840s onwards, and small remnants took refuge in scattered camps around Orroroo, Melrose, Wilmington, Stirling North, and Baroota. Some Nukunu managed to keep alive their direct attachment to their traditional lands by remaining at Port Germein, the Baroota reserve set aside for them, and at Port Augusta. With their fragmentation and dispersion, they could no longer adhere to their rigorous rules, and subsequently intermarried with people with Narungga, Barngarla and Wirangu descent, while maintaining a keen sense of their Nukunu identity.
- Nukuna (Barngarla exonym)
- Nookoona, Nukunna, Noocoona, Nokunna
- Pukunna. (misprint).
- Tura. (tura = man)
- Eura. (generic ethnonym for several tribes)
- Warra (name of language)
- Barutadura (men of Baroota).
- nhantu. (Western grey kangaroo)[b]
- nyilka. (dog); katli. (dog, wild or tame); wilka. (dog, dingo)[c]
- yartli. (father)[d]
- ngami/ngangkayi. (mother, breast, Milky Way)[e]
- kutnyu (whiteman/ghost)[f]
- Hercus comments: "Black calls the language 'Wongaidya', but this is simply his rendering of wangkatya the present tense form of the verb 'to speak'."
- Valentine gave kudla.
- Valentine gave gardley for tame dog, and quana for wild dog.
- Valentine wrote ludlaw. Luise Hercus commenting on this text wrote: 'There is a brief vocabulary from Mount Remarkable, which is in the heart of Nukunu country, but Curr states (2:136) that he got the material from a Mr J. C. Valentine who had himself got it at second hand from "a gentleman well acquainted with the tribe", and he complains of the manuscript being indistinct. There is no question that it is a vocabulary of the same language as recorded by O'Grady and by Hercus and by its early date it helps to validate Nukunu. The person who wrote down the vocabulary had trouble hearing certain sounds and used an inconsistent anglicised transcription, which is difficult to interpret: e.g. he wrote "uree" for yuṛi ("ear"), "ounga" for yunga ("elder brother") and "ludlaw" for yartli ("father" (i.e. "man")).' Hercus also gives maama, var. mamara for father.
- Valentine gives mungier.
- In Valentine this is given as bingera.
- Tindale 1974, p. 216.
- Hercus 1992, p. 11.
- Hercus 1992, pp. 1–2.
- Hercus 1992, p. 23.
- Jauncey 2004, p. 12.
- Elkin 1938a, pp. 421,427–439.
- Hercus 1992, p. 13.
- Valentine 1886, p. 136.
- Eklund 2012, p. 101.
- Ferguson 2012.
- Cockburn 1974, pp. 142–143.
- Krichauff 2017, p. 41.
- Hercus 1992, p. 9.
- Hack & Taplin 1879, p. 64.
- Hercus 1992, p. 25.
- Valentine 1886, p. 138.
- Hercus 1992, pp. 20,26,31,40.
- Hercus 1992, p. 9,21.
- Hercus 1992, p. 24.
- Hercus 1992, p. 21.
- Black, J. M. (1917). "Vocabularies of three South Australian languages—Wirrung, Narrinyeri and Wongaidya". Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. Adelaide. 41: 1–8.
- Cockburn, Rodney (1974). Aldersey, A. Dorothy, ed. Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia (PDF). Volume 1. Blackwood: Lynton Publications.
- Condon, H. T. (July 1955a). "Aboriginal bird names -South Australia Part 1" (PDF). South Australian Ornithologist. Adelaide. 21 (6/7): 74–88.
- Condon, H. T. (October 1955b). "Aboriginal bird names - South Australia Part 2" (PDF). South Australian Ornithologist. Adelaide. 21 (8): 91–98.
- Eklund, Erik (2012). Mining Towns: Making a Living, Making a Life. University of New South Wales Press. ISBN 978-1-742-24111-1.
- Elkin, A. P. (September 1931). "Social organisation of South Australian tribes". Oceania. 2 (1): 44–73. JSTOR 40327353.
- Elkin, A. P. (June 1938a). "Kinship in South Australia". Oceania. 8 (2): 419–452. JSTOR 40327684.
- Elkin, A. P. (September 1938b). "Kinship in South Australia (Continued)". Oceania. 9 (1): 41–78. JSTOR 40327699.
- Elkin, A. P. (December 1939). "Kinship in South Australia (Continued)". Oceania. 10 (2): 196–234. JSTOR 40327736.
- Elkin, A. P. (June 1940). "Kinship in South Australia (Continued)". Oceania. 10 (4): 369–388. JSTOR 40327864.
- Gray, J. (1930). "Notes on native tribe formerly resident at Orroroo, South Australia". The South Australian Naturalist. 12 (1): 4–6.
- Hack, Bedford; Taplin, George (1879). "The Mount Remarkable Tribe". Folklore, manners, customs and languages of the South Australian aborigines (PDF). Adelaide: E Spiller, Acting Government Printer. pp. 64–66, 142–152.
- Hercus, Luise Anna (1992). A Nukunu Dictionary (PDF). AIATSIS. ISBN 978-0-646-10460-7.
- Jauncey, Dorothy (2004). Bardi Grubs and Frog Cakes: South Australian Words. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-195-51770-5.
- Krichauff, Skye (2017). Memory, Place and Aboriginal-Settler History: Understanding Australians' Consciousness of the Colonial Past. Anthem Press. ISBN 978-1-783-08682-5.
- Mathews, R. H. (1900). "Divisions of the South Australian Aborigines". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 39 (161): 78–91. JSTOR 983545.
- Moorhouse, M. (1846). A vocabulary, and outline of the grammatical structure of the Murray River language: spoken by the natives of South Australia, from Wellington on the Murray, as far as the Rufus (PDF). Andrew Murray.
- "S.A. Northern Pioneers: P. Ferguson". State Library of South Australia. 2012.
- Teichelmann, Christian Gottlieb; Schürmann, Clamor Wilhelm (1840). Outlines of a grammar, vocabulary, and phraseology of the Aboriginal language of South Australia spoken by the native in and for some distance around Adelaide (PDF). Adelaide.
- Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Nukunu (SA)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.
- Valentine, J. C. (1886). Curr, Edward Micklethwaite, ed. Mount Remarkable (PDF). Volume 2. Melbourne: J. Ferres. pp. 136–139.
- Wilhelmi, Charles (1860). "Manners and customs of the Australian natives, in particular of the Port Lincoln district" (PDF). Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria. Melbourne. 5: 164–203.