SA Government LogoState Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
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Aboriginal Australians and the river : Aboriginal communities along the Murray

Aboriginal communities along the Murray River were denser than almost anywhere else on the Australian mainland, because of the relatively continual availability of food and water.  For instance in the 65 kilometres of river between Walker Flat and Wellington there were five groups: Nganguruku, Ngaralta, Yarildekald, Portaulun, and Warki.  The confederation of the Ngarrindjeri people inhabited the region of the lakes and Coorong, and included the Yarildekald (Yaraldi), the Portaulun (Portawulun), the Warki, and the Raminyeri who occupied the tip of Fleurieu Peninsula rather than adjacent to the river itself.

The Nganguruku (Ngangurugu) lived in the vicinity of what is now called Mannum and were part of the larger Ngayawung community (see below).  Clans of this group had camps on both sides of the river.  Downstream was the Ngaralta, again with families living on either bank.  Their boundary was near Mason Rock on the eastern bank and a little further down river on the western bank at Woods Point.  The Portaulun was next downstream and extended to the northern shore of Lake Alexandrina and to the west for some 10 kilometres. The Yarildekald occupied the eastern bank of the river as far as the northern shores of Lake Alexandrina.  The Warki occupied the far western reach of Lake Alexandrina. The story of Ngurunderi the Aboriginal mythic hero is central to the peoples of this lower section of the river, and aspects of the story do reflect the river's geography, with straight stretches, islands etc that are recounted as the result of Ngurunderi's activities.

Upstream above Mannum, the Ngayawung spread from east of the river across to the Mount Lofty Ranges and including land to the east of the big North West Bend of the river (Morgan).  Next eastwards along the river was the Ngawait, and then the Erawirung lived on the river between Paringa and Loxton, and the Ngintait in the river region that crossed the border between New South Wales/Victoria.  (The artificial boundaries of the white man had no meaning to them.)  The Ngarkat people occupied the Murray mallee region and had less reliance on the fecundity of the river.  Those furthest from the river were much more widely spaced and drew their water supplies from the roots of the mallee trees.

Each group had its own religions and laws, its own language and ceremonial culture. Their social structure was closely guarded through kinship ties.  Elders were responsible for passing this knowledge to the younger members of the group.  A strong network linked these communities with each respecting the others' boundaries.  Much of this was broken down with the coming of the white men, with their imposition of artificial boundaries and erosion of an ancient way of life that respected the natural environment.

Aboriginal Communities today

Raukkan today is a strong and thriving centre for Aboriginal culture on the lower River Murray. When the Ngarrindjeri community took over the running of the reserve in 1974 it consisted of 6000 acres. After they acquired a neighbouring farm and its stock, it increased to 12,000 acres with 260 dairy cows and some 600 head of beef cattle. In addition maize, potatoes and lucerne are grown and a large amount of land is set aside for grazing.  The community is also endeavouring to restore the native vegetation that was removed under western farming methods.  The farm offers employment opportunities to some 35 families.

In addition to the farm, the Ngarrindjeri Community Land and Progress Association conduct Camp Coorong and an associated cultural museum.  Tours of the Coorong are provided in which visitors learn about Aboriginal history and lifestyle in the region.  Some of the community are state Landcare officers undertaking weed management, feral animal control and revegetation.

Gerard Community Council operates the Gerard Community Reserve, near Berri.  A yabby farm was developed in 1998, and in May 2002 the community joined the Local Government Association of South Australia as an associated member.

Map, Language groupings in South Australia
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Small boat landing on the lakes near Point McLeay
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South Australia illustrated Plate 18
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