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The Potaruwutj were an indigenous Australian people of the state of South Australia, now believed to be extinct.


Potaruwutj is an autonym, meaning in their language, 'wandering' (-wutj is a suffix meaning 'man'), referring to their continuous shifting of their campsites throughout the mallee scrubland.[1]


Relying on two informants, Clarence Long and Alf Watson,[2] Norman Tindale estimated that the Potaruwutj's lands covered 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2), extending westwards from Naracoorte down to within the third inland dune range of the Coorong area, some 10 miles from the coastline. The northern reaches touched Tatiara. It included Bordertown, Wirrega, and Keith.[3]

Ecologically, Potaruwutj territory was less fertile and suffered from lower rainfall than neighbouring areas.[3] The Ngarkat foraged to their north, with the Potaruwutj also present south of the main belt of mallee where the Ngarkat predominated. Like the Tanganekald and Jarildekald, the Potaruwutj marked out their territory with stones or cairns.[4] The Potaruwutj clans, following a usage shared by these two tribes, named the major features of their territory by a name that referred to a distinctive characteristic of the zone, suffixed with a word like -injeri (belonging to) or -orn (an abbreviation of the word for 'man'] attached to denote the area possessed. The suffix -injeri had the meaning of 'belonging to' while -orn is a contraction of korn meaning man or person,[4]

Social organization[edit]

At least 8 hordes are known to have constituted the Potaruwutj tribal group.

  • Coolucooluk (horde name)
  • Wirigirek (to the north. Cf. the toponym Wirrega, a place name)
  • Tatiara (toponym)
  • Polinjunga[1]
  • Kangarabalak


The pelekaw song form is one in southeastern South Australia that makes a defiant accusation in the expectation it will be challenged, One notable case concerned the rules of exogamous exchange regarding women. A dispute with the Coorong lagoon Tanganekeld, whom the Potaruwutj called Tenggi, arose when the Tatiara Wepulprap clan of the Potaruwutj suspected the women they gave to the former were maltreated and subject to the sorcery of lethal bone-pointing. The reality was one of resentment over a perceived break-down in one-on-one exchanges arising from women being sent to the wrong, rather than the right, clan they were contracted to marry into.

A Potaruwutj big man with a repute for powerful magic, Dongaganinj,[a] composed a pelekaw refrain which articulated these feelings of grievance.

We call the Tenggi people women chasers
They are mating throughout the tribe
We call the Tenggi people women chasers
They are all chasing and mating.[6]

The neighbouring Meintangk, who sided with the Tanganekeld, on hearing this rude insinuation, composed a slanderous 'weritjinj variant on the pelekaw song which both slandered the Potaruwutj and challenged them to battle at the traditional combat grounds at Nunukapul (Telauri Flat) near Marcollat station[b]. This song, chanted while men danced imitating their enemies coupling with dogs, rang:

Big man Dongaganinj makes his own rules
About the woman Manggeartkur[c]
Dongaganinj helps himself
Frightens Manggeartkur to come to him
M! m! wi! wo![d]

A resolutive battle was arranged, and seven warriors were left dead on the Nunukapul field.

The Tanganekeld then took up the challenges, and composed a song:

The Tatiara people we hear
Have erect penises and swollen testicles
Our women are tired of carrying them
Hei! ja!
Weritjamini has an erect penis and big testes
His women carry them for him
Bad woman Manggeartkur lies for any man
We men will not sleep with her
Weritjamini and all the stupid (deun) spirits (powoqko) are bad marriage makers

Weritjamini was another influential Potaruwutj headman, associated with Dongaganinj. In this region's lore, the spirit,powoqko was, on death, believed to travel northwest, cross over the sea to dwell on the island of Karta, and the implications of the original language were so abusive that the two groups would not intermarry for another two generations.[6]

This ruined marriage exchanges between the two tribes for 2 generations.

Alternative names[edit]

  • Potangola
  • Woychibirik.
  • Wepulprap.(an exonym meaning 'southern people' in Tanganekald)
  • Polinjunga
  • Jaran (language name)
  • Yaran.
  • Tatiara (toponym)
  • Tattayarra, Tatiarra.
  • Djadjala.
  • Dadiera.
  • Tyattyalla
  • Tyatyalli.
  • Tyeddyuwurru.
  • Wirigirek (a northern horde; Wirrega, a place name)
  • Wereka
  • Wereka-tyalli.
  • Werekarait.
  • Wergaia.
  • Wra-gar-ite (see Marditjali)
  • Kangarabalak (of the Tanganekald, kangara meant 'east'+balak, 'people.')
  • Cangarabaluk
  • Coolucooluk
  • Padthaway tribe.[1]

Some words[edit]


  1. ^ 'Dongaganinj was a man who practiced magic. He had a wooden bull-roarer or mimikur that he kept suspended in a katal or " talking tree," that is, one in which the branches chafed together and supplied him with information of events in other places. When Dongaganinj spoke a man's name to the mimikur in the talking tree, that person would become ill and might die. '[5]
  2. ^ This toponym anglifies the native term Matkalat.[6]
  3. ^ Manggeartkur belonged to the Potaruwutj Kangarabalak clan[6]
  4. ^ 'Their lewdly enunciated "m! m!" were expressions of derision. When they shouted "wi!" they shook their bodies fiercely and then shouted "wo!" In effect this meant "Send her back where she came from; let the dogs have her!".'[6]
  5. ^ Tindale speculated on the prehistorical indications potentially resident in the etymological link between the word for 'native dog', whose introduction into Australia can be periodized archaeologically, and the word for fur seal; 'Is the word for seal derived from the word for wild dog and coined when the Potaruwutj arrived near the shore of South Australia in post-dog-arrival time, or was the word for dog coined by an old established people confronted with a strange new animal that reminded them of the fur seal?'[7]


  1. ^ a b c Tindale 1974, p. 218.
  2. ^ Monaghan 2009, p. 232.
  3. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 68.
  4. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 29.
  5. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 35).
  6. ^ a b c d e Tindale 1974, p. 35.
  7. ^ Tindale 1974, p. 119.


  • Monaghan, Paul (2009). "Aboriginal names of places in southern South Australiaʹ Placenames in the Norman B. Tindale collection of papers". In Koch, Harold; Hercus, Luise. Aboriginal Placenames:Naming and re-naming the Australian landscape. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-1-921-66609-4.
  • Tindale, Norman Barnett (1974). "Potaruwutj (SA)". Aboriginal Tribes of Australia: Their Terrain, Environmental Controls, Distribution, Limits, and Proper Names. Australian National University Press. ISBN 978-0-708-10741-6.