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The Ngadjuri People

The Ngadjuri People

by Clare Historian Jean Schmaal
published September 1987
Ngadjuri - Aboriginal people of the Mid North.jpg

By the little stream they dwelt,

By their glowing campfires knelt.

Sought the bounding kangaroo,

'Possum and the Bokra too. 

Only brown men in this land -

Wide and open - rock and sand.

Dwelt there from the dreamtime days

Lived their simple, peaceful ways.

Not a house and not a steeple

Only brown Ngadjuri people.

The first inhabitants of the Clare Valley, long before Europeans came to decimate them were the Ngadjuri ("Gum Tree") aboriginal people. They were a gentle people who lived a simple, nomadic life, wandering from place to place in search of food.

In a few short decades there were only scattered remains of the Ngadjuri left around Clare, and a way of life that had persisted in the area for thousands of years came to an end.

The common cold, influenza and measles were the cause of much suffering and death. At one time there was quite a large aboriginal population at Bungaree ('Bungari' is a Ngadjuri word meaning 'Tribal lands') and another group near Leasingham.

 Their territory extended from Angaston to Gawler, and to Port Pirie and Orroroo. 

They made their wurleys by placing three sticks in the ground in a triangular shape. Then large sheets of bark from red gum trees were taken and placed against the sticks with yacca leaves and reeds placed in position to make a cover. Camps were moved about once a fortnight which took good care of hygiene.

Ngadjuri native title boundary.png
Ngadjuri Aboriginal people win native title claim in SA's mid north after more than a decade

ABC North and West SA

 By Dimitria Panagiotaros and Christian Cominos

Posted Fri 7 Jul 2023 at 2:38pm

Friday 7 Jul 2023 at 2:38pm, updated Sat 8 Jul 2023

The Ngadjuri people have been recognised as the native title holders in South Australia's mid north. 

Key points:

  • Native title has been granted to the Ngadjuri people in South Australia's mid north 

  • The native title area covers about 15,000 square kilometres

  • The claim was first filed in November 2011


The Federal Court delivered its consent determination at the Burra Town Hall on Thursday afternoon, granting the Ngadjuri people more than 15,000 square kilometres encompassing Burra, Clare and Orroroo.

The Native Title Determination application was first lodged with the Federal Court in November 2011.

Ngadjuri elder Aunty Pat Waria-Read said her people were finally being recognised as being the traditional owners of that land.

"It's such a wonderful thing to finally be acknowledged," Ms Waria-Read said.

"This is a pathway that we can make changes to the mid north, that we can have a brighter future for not only us Ngadjuri people, but also for those non-Indigenous people that live in this country.

Aunty Pat Waria-Read says it was great to have the court sitting in Burra and on Ngadjuri land. (ABC News: Dimitria Panagiotaros)

"We don't want to be people that think it's all ours … today is about a future for all of us.

"This is a day of victory, for all of us Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people, for all of us to work together through future challenges, for our future generations.

"It's a brighter future for our younger generations to know their kinships, relationships and their spiritual connection to the land."

The President of the Clare branch of the National Trust (Mr G.V. Tilbrook) refers to a few facts of aboriginal life around Clare, as recounted to him by his late grandfather, Henry H. Tilbrook (founder of Northern Argus, 1869).

From Northern Argus, 26 August 1970


On one of his visits to Clare in the 1920s, he took me on a walking tour of the Clare hills and some of the places mentioned herewith:

The old police station and courthouse, or casualty hospital (now historical museum).

During the warmer months of the year, aborigines used to call at the police station for a handout of tobacco, etc., by the police. +

They had several camping places. There is a very old gum tree at the rear of the building where they congregated. This tree is on a past flora and fauna park, known as the Police Paddock.

If any persons like to visit Neagles Rock reserve, about 1½ miles further south, an inspection of the big rock on the south side reveals that there is a cave several feet off the ground.

In this cave one can see the blackened walls from campfires, where they cooked and had meals.

There is the old red gum in the centre of Christison Park with the east side burnt out by the aborigines, and at one time there were several other such trees there, all used by them.

There were also quite a few of these trees all the way to, and beyond Watervale.

He was very definite about corroborees that used to take place on a tree-clad plateau directly opposite the present Clare Cemetery, this property now owned by Mr. B.H. Hampel.


The weapons of these peoples included spears, boomerangs and waddies. The animals they hunted were kangaroos, wallabies, opposums, kangaroo rats, lizards, emus, wild turkey, ducks and pigeons. 

Nardoo seeds were collected by the women who walked many miles in their gathering. These seeds were pounded in flour for food.


If large game were killed, the animal was gutted and taken back to camp where it was cooked by scraping a hollow in the ashes and hot coals, placing dry gum sticks and leaves in the gut with hot stones from the fire, and the whole covered with more hot ashes and coals. When cooked the meat was cut up and shared among the members of the tribe, who ate it in their own wurlies.

They had another method for cooking cress. A circular hole was dug in the ground about 2 feet deep and 3 feet in diameter, and into the bottom of the hole large pebbles were placed.  fire was kindled and kept burning until the stones were red hot. The embers were then taken out and sticks placed across the hole; on these a layer of reeds and damp grass was placed, and on these cress in concentric layers, the root-ends to the outside.


Over the cress another layer of cress was laid and more grass placed around the outside of the heap.  A yam stick was thrust through the heap from the top and when withdrawn, water was poured down the hole this made; this, reaching the hot stones, came up in steam which permeated the whole heap, more water being added from time to time if necessary. In about an hour the cress was well cooked and oven ready for another fire as before.

Bushes were steamed in the same manner. They were kept warm in the heap and taken by the women, two reeds at a time, and were chewed from end to end to break up the pith; they were then combed with the fingers. The fibre was then rolled into twine by the men twirling it with the hand on the naked thigh.


The twine thus made was used for making into nets for fishing, and for catching kangaroos and emus. For the latter, the twine was made about the thickness of a sash cord. Babies were carried by their mothers on their backs in nets made from twine.

During the winter months these people wore skin cloaks to protect them from the cold; otherwise they went without clothing for most of the year.

During the winter the wurlies were moved closed together, and small fires were kept going through the night; a fire in front of each wurley, and the people slept with their feet to the fire.


In most areas the aborigines were regarded as little more than hindrance to the pastoralists, and, unfortunately, the early settlers showed little interest in the culture and customs of the aboriginal people, with the result that knowledge of them was soon lost, the Ngadjuri being the least known tribe of them all.

In early days Police Troopers as part of their duty from time to time, sent in reports of the natives in their districts to the Protector of Aborigines, and these are some of the few scant details that have survived.

Police Trooper Noble of Laura, in particular, left some enlightened reports, especially when compared to other settler opinions. 

Mrs. Sam Pink and her sister Miss Craig (both in their 90s) remember when they were small girls walking into Clare to school from their home high on the hills west of Clare.

As the girls came down the Main North Road, they often saw aborigines camped near the corner, and think they may have come in from Bungaree.

They believe they came to that particular corner to dig for yams, because there was always water there.

Sometimes Aborigines came to their home, and asked for food, and Mrs. Craig often gave them bread and jam, which were made at home, and this was accepted eagerly. Sometimes they asked for bacon, but as this was an expensive item, which was not produced at home, it was not so readily forthcoming.


Little remains to remind us of these original inhabitants, other than a brief old-time newspaper item now and then, and official records, such as Births, Deaths and Marriage, through the Ngadjuri Retirement Village in Clare, whilst Parriworta was the name they used for the Hutt River.

During the construction of the Clare railway line, a dozen skeletons were discovered in a burial ground a little way south of Leasingham, and now and then a long-dead woman's nardoo grinding stone is turned up as a farmer ploughs his land, pathetic reminders that another civilisation once occupied this land.

In 'modern' times the Bungaree camp was situated about ¼ mile east of St. Michael's Church. It was abandoned about 1912 for good by the tribe because of the death of its old head of the tribe, 'Queen' Caroline.

The late Sir Richard Hawker remembered the (Bungaree) camp being cleaned up by his father - the old wurlies were burned down, and the remainder of the tribe went to Point Pearce. As late as 1939, six or seven mounds could still be seen in their burial grounds about a mile North-West of St. Michael's, but nothing can be seen there today.

Aborigine life around Clare
Ngadjuri win Native Title
Ngadjuri chairman Carlo Sansbury (right) being handed native title documentation by Justic

Researching Indigeous History

The Ngadjuri of the Mid North of South Australia

By Courtesy of Sue Anderson — Community History,

The History Trust of South Australia Magazine

As published on the Federation CD-ROM of CRHG 2000


In 1997, when Fred Warrior asked me to assist him in researching the history, oral histories and archaeology of the Ngadjuri people of the mid north of South Australia, I had no idea of the amazing journey that was to follow, or the positive outcomes that were to be achieved.

Fred had recently discovered his Ngadjuri ancestry when an historian working in the archives made the connection between the name Barney Waria (an initiated Ngadjuri man who talked to anthropologists in Adelaide in the early 1940s) and the Warrior family.

An excited Fred then initiated National Estate Grants Programme funding to research his Ngadjuri heritage.

Researching Indigeous History
Dr Sue Anderson.jpg
Background and Resources

The Ngadjuri language lies in the mid north of the state of South Australia. Ngadjuri country incorporates the towns of Burra, Jamestown, Peterborough, Orroroo.

Books and pamphlets


At that time, I had barely heard of the Ngadjuri. I had worked with communities in the Riverland, in the southeast and on the West Coast, and I knew of many other groups in the State, but the Ngadjuri name had rarely come up in my work as an archaeological consultant, or through my research.

This was despite the fact that the mid north contains a rich archaeological record, predominated by numerous ancient engraving sites which have long been the subject of national and international discussion in academic circles.

There are a number of historians who have a long and extensive experience researching South Australian Aboriginal history who knew the name and could give a few leads (for which I am most grateful).

It was known in the Heritage Branch of the Department of State Aboriginal Affairs (DOSAA), but Ngadjuri descendants had not been identified and indeed, were considered to have 'died out'. As a result, no systematic research had been conducted into this group.

I suspect this is for two main reasons. Firstly, the Ngadjuri were early and violently in South Australia's settlement dispossessed of their lands, leading to their decimation and dispersal to other areas.

  • They succumbed to introduced diseases, loss of access to traditional food and water resources and were hunted and massacred, until it reached a point where their survival was dependent on leaving their traditional country.

  • Secondly, as a result of this, Ngadjuri descendants today had come to identify with other more visible and active groups from whom their heritage also derives.

  • For example, many Ngadjuri moved to Point Pearce mission after its establishment in 1868, where different groups intermarried, leading some Ngadjuri people to primarily recognise their Narrunga or Kaurna descent.

  • In Fred's case, he hadn't even realised his great grandfather, Barney Waria, was Ngadjuri.


So, where to begin? I already had the most important first step established — the sanction of the Indigenous community.

Had I initiated the research process rather than Fred, I would have firstly contacted DOSAA to ascertain who was the relevant community.

I would then have met with the community to explain what research I wanted to conduct and how I was to carry it out, and proceed according to their direction


The obvious next step in our case was to refer to Tindale's (1974) map of tribal boundaries to determine the area we were working in, because these could not be defined by contemporaneous information.

  • As it happened, these boundaries were corroborated by the information given by Barney Waria to anthropologists Berndt, Mountford and Tindale.

  • Worried that his cultural heritage was being lost, Barney Waria travelled from Point Pearce to Adelaide in the early 1940s specifically to relate his knowledge to the anthropologists.

  • Without this valuable historical legacy, we would only have the non-Indigenous record to work with.

  • Some of his information was published and other material is held in journals in the Mortlock Library and the South Australian Museum.

  • Unfortunately, an embargo on the Berndts' material means that there is likely a further important resource we are not able to access for many years yet.

  • We also researched the State Library's newspaper archives (which unfortunately do not usually identify Aboriginal group names) and the files of the Protector of Aborigines from State Records (access to which requires written permission from the community and DOSAA).


While Fred and I were conducting our research from the central archives, we also recorded oral histories from a Ngadjuri descendant, which added another important Indigenous perspective to the record.

For example, Aunty Irene Agius fondly remembered her Grandfather Barney who told her stories about his culture and his country.

Under the National Estate Grants Programme funding, with Ngadjuri consultation, I conducted an archaeological field survey of the mid north, visiting, photographing and reporting on all the sites on the State and National Aboriginal Heritage registers and recording a number of previously unrecorded sites.

We were able to add this information to our research portfolio.


A further development is to be the establishment of a Ngadjuri Cultural Exhibition Centre in Burra.

  • A collaborative project by the Ngadjuri Walpa Juri Land and Heritage Association, the Regional Council of Goyder, the Burra National Trust and the South Australian Museum.

  • The Centre will provide a permanent rotating exhibition of Ngadjuri culture, drawn from the many research materials collected, the collections of the South Australian Museum, artefacts held in the Bon Accord Museum in Burra and historic film footage.

  • Videos of Ngadjuri community members relating stories will enhance the historical material. The content of the display will be decided by the Ngadjuri Heritage Association.


While the research materials available for the establishment of an exhibition of this type can be somewhat limited, in this case particularly because of the dispersive nature of the history of this group, the direction of the Ngadjuri community has been central to the possibility.

As custodians of their cultural heritage, Ngadjuri people control the interpretation of it, and will be projecting their own history.

I am grateful to the members of the Ngadjuri community for allowing me to participate in this process over the last five or so years - in particular I thank Fred Warrior, Aunty Irene Agius, Aunty Josie Agius, Vince Copley, Lainie Newchurch, Pat Waria-Read, Roslyn Weetra, Vincent Branson, Marlene Lindsay, Cora Sumner, Robert Buckskin and Fred Agius for their guidance and assistance. This now strong and active Heritage Association has generated a lasting legacy for their following generations and for cross-cultural understanding.

By Courtesy of Sue Anderson — Community History,

The History Trust of South Australia Magazine
Read more:
Background and Resources
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