SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoCharles P Mountford, photographer and ethnographer
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Nepabunna, 1937-39

During the late 1930s and early 1940s Charles Mountford travelled to Nepabunna in the Northern Flinders Ranges to conduct research into the Adnyamathanha people.

The Aboriginal people of the Northern Flinders Ranges at the time of European settlement were the Wailpi, Guyani, Jadliaura and Pilatapa. These four language groups are now collectively referred to as the Adnyamathanha, although some descendants of these groups identify with and maintain their original affiliations. (When Mountford travelled to Nepabunna he described most of the inhabitants as Adnyamathanha, and we will indicate if/when this is not the case.)

Nepabunna was established by the United Aborigines Mission in 1931 on land donated to them by Balcoona Station owner Roy Thomas. It was the first permanent home the Adnyamathanha people had known since their displacement from their traditional lands in the early 1850s.

Europeans started taking up land in the Flinders Ranges in 1851 and, as in all frontier settlements, conflict was widespread. Pastoralists and their stock took over the Adnyamathanha's land, depriving them of their sources of food and water as well as their way of life - with the threat of arrest or violent retaliation for 'trespassing' and 'theft' when travelling across and hunting in country they once roamed unfettered.

Regardless of these conflicts many Aboriginal people began to gain employment with station owners and by the early 1900s the Adnyamathanha had taken on many 'western' ways in their dress, language and lifestyle. Despite this they maintained strong links to their own language, religion, land and ceremony. Employment on stations had scattered much of the population, but there was a large campsite and ration depot at Mount Serle (Atuwarapanha), a significant Adnyamathanha site where they continued to assemble for social and cultural exchange, to speak their language and teach their lore.

When new owners took over Mount Serle and had a falling out with the Government, they stopped issuing rations and the people relocated to Ram Paddock Gate. Already a familiar summer campground to the Adnyamathanha, around one hundred people lived at Ram Paddock Gate during the 1920s. Its Adnyamathanha name 'Minerawuta' was derived from the name of the native fruit tree, the minera or bullock bush that grow in the vicinity.

In the late 1920s the community was joined by Jim Page and later Fred Eaton of the United Aborigines Mission. Soon both the Adnyamathanha community and Mission staff felt that it was necessary to find a new, more permanent home and so they acquired some land that was formerly a part of Balcoona Station, donated to them by the leaseholder Roy Thomas. The land was officially given to the United Aborigines Mission (giving them full control over the inhabitants) and the majority of the community remaining at Ram Paddock Gate had relocated there by 1931.

Mountford first travelled to Nepabunna in May 1937 when he was employed as ethnologist and photographer on an Adelaide University anthropological expedition lasting two weeks. Other expedition personnel were JB Cleland (leader), T Harvey Johnston, Dr E Cooper Black, Dr H Kenneth Fry, Hubert M Hale and Frank J Fenner. Mountford's particular interest was in the art, myth and ritual of the Adnyamathanha people.

These interests brought him back to the area alone during December 1937-January 1938, when under the auspices of the University he continued his research. In the following years Mountford returned to the region several times to further his studies. Between visits he corresponded with some of the residents in an effort to record as much of their language and culture as possible.

Records in the Mountford-Sheard collection indicate that Mountford planned to write a book on the Adnyamathanha, but this never came to fruition. Instead he leaves his legacy in the form of the collection of handwritten journals, photographs, sound and film recordings gathered from the Adnyamathanha people.

This legacy has played an important role in the Adnyamathanha's ability to recollect and continue their language and culture.

A number of the stories ... are now lost to the corporate memory, while others are remembered only fragmentarily. The particular worth of the Mountford manuscripts is that they have stirred the memories of living Adnyamathanha.
(Dorothy Tunbridge in Flinders Ranges Dreaming, p. xvii)

After years of Mission and Government control, Nepabunna was handed back to the Adnyamathanha in 1977.

A sports meeting at Nepabunna
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Adnyamathanha wet weather shelter
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Christmas at Nepabunna
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Fred Eaton
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Huts at Nepabunna Mission
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Lorna Smith
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Motor car at Nepabunna
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Mount Serle
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People under a bough shelter
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Stone axe
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Wild orange tree
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