State Library of South Australia logoDownstream, the River Murray in South Australia
SA Memory. South Australia past and present, for the future

Aboriginal Australians and the river


 Aboriginal communities along the Murray    
 Aboriginal life along the Murray    
 Edward Eyre and Aboriginal groups    
 Aboriginal missions on the Murray    

Aboriginal Australians have occupied the Murray-Darling river system for many thousands of years, and Europeans for less than 200. The Aborigines lived in harmony with the land and the river's cycles of flood and drought. The river provided them with fish and crustaceans, and other foods; the river red gums provided the bark for their canoes and for shelter.  They built elaborate fish traps and made nets for catching fish and birds. The Aboriginal Dreaming stories tell of the creation of the river and its creatures.

Archaeologists have in the last few decades unearthed proof of the antiquity of Aboriginal use of the river, but long before that Europeans began the process of displacing Aboriginal communities from the choicest areas.  This began with clashes with the overlanders and their herds of cattle and sheep: lives were lost on both sides. Europeans would take the best land, with little consideration of how adjacent land practices would impinge on Aboriginal use of the land and river.

Mission stations were established and food and blankets doled out.  The Europeans did not consider tribal boundaries and the implications of these. In some cases Aboriginal people with no ancestral links to the area were settled on the river.  Governments and churches continued to establish and maintain missions and it was only in the mid 1970s that control of these was given back to Aboriginal communities.


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