The Kaurna People


The Aboriginal Catholic Ministry recognises with respect the traditional owners of the land upon which our Centre is built.


Ngai wangandi marni nabudni Kaurna yertaanna

The Adelaide Plains of South Australia are home to the Kaurna Aboriginal people.

This welcome message:

Ngai wangandi marni nabudni Kaurna yertaanna
is in Kaurna language (pronounced garna) and translates to:

First let me welcome you all to Kaurna country






Indigenous people owned and occupied the whole of the Australian continent prior to the arrival of Europeans.


The Kaurna people lived on this land for many thousands of years and were made up of independent groups living within their own lands but who came together for trade, social, ceremonial and religious reasons.


They lived in a narrow corridor along the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent: Cape Jervis to Port Wakefield; inland to near Crystal Brook, Snowtown, Blyth, Hoyleton, Hamley Bridge, Clarendon, Gawler, and Myponga; from the east side of the Hummock Range to Red Hill. Inland the Jultiwira or stringy bark forests of the Mount Lofty Ranges marked their boundary.


This territory was 2,800 square miles (7,200 sq. km.) with a population of 650 in the South Australian Register of 30 January 1842.


They were united by one basic language.


Their movements were in rhythm with the seasonal changes based on religious and ceremonial events as well as climate and food supply. The Kaurna seem to have moved between the coast in summer months, for coastal berries and various sea life, including turtles, and the foothills in the colder weather which had better shelter and firewood. The inland areas also contained more mammals to hunt, and creeks and swamps contained fish and other water life. They had well-established travelling tracks, which were taken over by Europeans, and now are reflected in some road routes.


They undertook periodic burning, which drove out game for hunting. There are reports from the time of the first European settlers of sightings of fires burning in the hills near Adelaide. They also encouraged certain kinds of edible plants such as yam daisies, thistles and cresses, as well as increasing the kind of plants eaten by hunted animals.


The Kaurna were the southernmost tribe to perform the initiatory rite of circumcision.


The basic unit was the extended family of between 10-18 people with each family having a well-defined home territory called the 'pangkarra' which was able to support the family in normal seasons. Families were grouped to form local groups. All the members of family groups were able to travel the wider territory, called the 'yerta'. Usually 6 or 8 adjoining family groups shared the use of a yerta.


Within the area recognised as that of the Kaurna people there were quite a number of yerta-based groups.

The Kaurna were a dignified and gentle people who lived lightly off the land. Older people gave leadership within family groups and every person was valued in this society. All things were shared as needed. They built a rich culture of song, dance and story.


The Kaurna people were pushed out of Adelaide by the city's development.


In 1839 there was a group of Lutheran Missionaries teaching Kaurna literacy in a school on the banks of the Torrens River.


Today descendants of the Kaurna live across the metropolitan area of Adelaide and in the communities of Point Pearce on the Yorke Peninsula and Raukkon or Point McLeay near the River Murray Mouth.


Cultural Revival


In recent years the descendants of the Kaurna have been undertaking a cultural revival. This has included both language and ceremony revival.


Adelaide's River Torrens has been given the Aboriginal name Karrawirraparri in a gesture of respect to the local Kaurna people.


It means the red gum (karra) forest (wirra) river (parri) and was recorded by Lutheran missionaries in 1838 as the Kaurna name for the river.


After three years of research, the Adelaide City Council agreed last night to ask the Geographic Names Advisory Committee to formally assign the dual name.


The Adelaide City golf links will be known as Piltawodli (possum house). An area west of the city known as Emigration Square will be named Tambawodli (camping plain). Nearby park 23 will be called Wirranendi (to transform into a green, forested area) while park 12, which takes in the university footbridge near the River Torrens, will be known as Karrawirra (red gum forest).


A Kaurna elder, Mr Lewis O'Brien, said local Aborigines welcomed the dual names. "I think it's all these things that are helping. It's a very easy step, people need easy steps sometimes," he said.


The Tjilbruke Walking Trail

This path follows the Aboriginal legend of Tjilbruke who carried the body of his slain nephew down the coast from where the city of
Marion stands today to the present site of Cape Jervis. At each place where Tjilbruke stopped to shed tears for his nephew, a spring welled up in the ground.

At Signal Point Interpretive Centre, in Goolwa, there is an opportunity to learn of how these skilled and successful hunters and crafts people of the eastern Fleurieu lived at one with nature.



The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal

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Schwab, Jerry Ambiguity, style and kinship in Adelaide Aboriginal identity In: Being Black 1988 ML 305.89915./31

Aboriginal People of the Adelaide Plains, Education Technology Centre Education Department,
Adelaide, 1981

Amery, Robert Encoding New Concepts in Old Languages: A case study of the Kaurna... Australian Aboriginal Studies 1993 No 1 p 37-47

Cawthornes, W.A. Sketch of the Aborigines of South Australia 1991

Clarke, Philip A. Adelaide Aboriginal Cosmology Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol 28 No 1-2 1990 p 1-10

Foster, Robert The Aborigines Location in Adelaide: South Australia's first 'mission' to the Aborigines Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol 28 No 1-2 1990 p 11-37

Gara, Tom A Bibliography of the Kaurna Anthropological Society of South Australia Journal Vol 28 No 2 1990 p 143-164

Gara, Tom The Life of Ivaritji (Princess Amelia) of the Adelaide Tribe Anthropological Society of South Australia Journal Vol 28 No 1 p 64-104 Kaurna People, The Education Department of South Australia, Adelaide, 1989

O'Brien, Lewis The Cultural Significance of the Onkaparinga River Kaurna Higher Education Journal April 1992 No. 2 p 67-70

Rann, Mike South Australian Aboriginal Languages Kaurna Higher education Journal April 1992 No 2 71-73

Ross, Betty Aboriginal and Historic Places around Metropolitan Adelaide and South Coast, Anthropological Society of South Australia, Adelaide, 1984 Testimony to Gawler in Davis, Jack Paperbark: A collection of Black Australian writings Univeristy of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1990

Tindale, Norman The wanderings of Tjirbruki: A tale of the Kaurna people of Adelaide Records of the South Australian Museum Vol 20 1987 p 5-13