During Captain Matthew Flinders’ voyage of discovery around the South Australian coast in 1802, he anchored his ship off Corny Point but was dissuaded from landing by campfires on the beach and the barking of dogs.
Before the coming of the European pastoralists, Yorke Peninsula was the home of the Narungga people, who occupied the land from near Port Wakefield in the east, over to Port Broughton in the west, and all the way down to the southern tip of the Peninsula. The Narungga consisted of four clans, Kurnara (north), Windera (east), Wari, (west) and Dilpa (south). It is believed that the Narungga maintained large settlements along the coast throughout much of the year. These coastal camps would have provided a regular supply of food and fresh water, as well as a gathering place for social and religious ceremony.
The Narungga managed and preserved their lands. They used fire to clear old grasses and promote fresh plant growth. Fresh water rock holes were covered with slabs of stone or brushwood to keep the water clean and to prevent animals from drinking from them. Track ways were maintained through the thick mallee forests, linking places and people throughout the peninsula.
Evidence of Narungga people’s day to day lives can be found in the form of these old campsites. While most of the sites are found along the coast, many more lie inland, typically around small salt lagoons and lakes.
The seasons probably had some influence on their movements. During the winter months for instance, when the small swamps and clay pans found throughout the peninsula filled with water, people could travel away from the coast and spend more time inland, hunting game and collecting vegetable foods from the thick mallee forests. At other times of the year, people would gather to exploit the fish ‘runs’.
It has been estimated that about 800 aboriginal people lived on Yorke Peninsula, and it is reasonable to assume that a fair percentage lived on the “bottom end”. Just as the Dilpa clan’s totem “Wilthuthu”, the shark, came from the sea, so too did a great deal of their food. Their expertise at fishing was admired by many of the early European settlers with catches including butterfish, salmon, mullet and snapper.
The use of the word Adjahdura (my-people) instead of Narungga (campsite) has been questioned as an alternative to describe the traditional owners and land of the Yorke Peninsula. Historical documents support Aboriginal elders that the traditional name of the original people of Yorke Peninsula was Adjahdura.
An early European settler who lived on Moorowie Station saw many corroborees and wrote:
“…they were usually held at night. The men would dance around a fire and imitate kangaroo hunts, fishing exploits or fights with other tribes. They used to daub themselves with pipeclay and red ochre. The men would chant a kind of song and the women sat around in a circle with a possum rug in their laps rolled up to make a drum.” (Carmichael 1988:3)
From 1899-1905, J. Howard Johnson recorded more than 400 words of the Narrunga language. His informant was Louisa (Lucy), an aboriginal woman from Marion Bay, who was married to George Eggington. Some place names are still used today although not spelt exactly as recorded by Mr. Johnson.
Point Turton: Punpu
Sturt Bay: Banata
While many burials have been located in shallow graves, they have also been noted in small caves such as at Corny Point.
During the early 1900s the last of the local aboriginal population, Lucy, and her mother, Tilly, were well-known figures in Warooka. Lucy did much of the town laundry. They lived between the main Minlaton road and the beach north of Warooka. Tilly eventually just disappeared, and local opinion was that she was buried, according to her tribal custom, in the sandhills at the northern end of Hardwicke bay.
“The land, the Earth, need respect, and we are all its people”. E.M. Fisher 1986