At last, with the help of Nepele (his wives' brother), the giant fish was speared as it entered Lake Alexandrina. Ngurunderi cut it up, creating new species of fish from the different pieces....

Fishing | Hunting & Food Gathering | Plant Medicine

The Ngarrindjeri fished in the rivers, lakes and sea. Using nets, spears and traps, they caught a variety of fresh- and salt-water fish. They also relied on magic charms and songs to ensure a good catch.

Fishing at Second Valley
An 1840's scene of fishermen using a net in the bay at Second Valley, south of Adelaide.
Artist : WA Cawthorne, ca 1842. Mitchell Library Collection.

Head of a fishing spear
Fishing scoop
Head of a fishing spear. These long spears also served as punting poles for canoes. Artist : GF Angas, 1844. (AA8).
Ngarrindjeri fishermen used spears to kill the larger fresh- and salt-water fish, like Murray cod and mulloway.
A coiled basketry scoop made at Point McLeay, South Australia. Obtained in about 1900. The Ngarrindjeri used basketry scoops to collect fish caught in nets and traps. Women also used scoops to collect small fish in the shallows. Donor: HE Read, (A6404).
Fishing at Chowilla Creek
eel trap from Western Victoria

A fishing scene from Chowilla Creek on the Upper Murray, photographed in 1886. The man on the left, Kulkyne Tommy, is holding a hoop net. Godson Collection, State Library of South Australia.
This long eel trap was made by Aborigines at Lake Condah in Western Victoria in 1910. The Ngarrindjeri used similar traps.
After the autumn rains, large numbers of eels swam into the Coorong from inland creeks. Ngarrindjeri fishermen used a combination of weirs and basketry traps to catch them. Collector : AS Kenyon (A6431).

Making Fishing Nets
The Ngarrindjeri used several different fishing nets. Some were made to catch single fish like the Murray cod. Others, several metres long, were used to catch schools of smaller fish. Fishing nets were made from the stems of sedges or from string made of bulrush-root fibre.

Making fishing nets at Encounter Bay
Bulrush-fibre string
Making a fishing net at Encounter Bay in 1844. The seated woman is softening the bulrush-root fibre by chewing it; the man is rolling the fibre to make cord for a net like the one on the roof of the whale-bone hut. Artist : GF Angas, 1844. "South Australia Illustrated". A sample of bulrush fibre string, collected during the 1860’s.
Before being made into string, the bulrush root was softened by steaming in an earth oven. Donor : G Taplin (A1995).


This is the oldest known example of an Aboriginal fishing net from South Australia. It was collected during the 1840’s from near Adelaide—possibly from Lake Alexandrina. Its knotted string is probably made from bulrush fibres. Donor : AC de Hailes (A2000).
A diagram of the netting technique



Hunting larger game was a man's activity. In the spring and early summer the larger animals began to gather near permanent water sources. At this time of the year the kangaroo and emu became a major source of food. Sometimes the men hunted alone and at other times in groups.

The Ngarrindjeri used several types of throwing clubs to hunt large game, birds and smaller animals.

On hunting expeditions these clubs were often carried in sedge baskets. Collector : NB Tindale (A16640). Collector : Dr Clindenning (A5751). Collector : NB Tindale (A17533). Basket : Collector : NB Tindale (A22795).

Bag of hunting clubs
reed spears
Ngarrindjeri spearthrowers, showing the two main types of pegs, made from animal bone and carved from the solid shaft. Bone peg : Collector : NB Tindale (A21129). Wooden peg : Collector : Unknown, about 1870 (A4000). The Ngarrindjeri used reed and grass-tree spears to hunt larger animals like kangaroos and emus. These reed spears have hardwood tips joined to the main shaft with resin and animal sinews. Maker : J Koolmatrie (A53549). Collector : G Taplin (A5270). Collector : Unknown (A5682).


A hunting scene from the Lower River Murray. The hunter is using a bunch of grass to hide from his prey. This scene was drawn in 1876 by Yertabrida Solomon, an Aboriginal woman from the Coorong. G Taplin.

Ngarrindjeri hunters used sharp climbing sticks to cut toe-holds in the trunks of trees when climbing after possums. They smoked the possums out of hollow branches. Artist : ST Gill, about 1849, Australian National Library.


Food gathering

Ngarrindjeri lands were rich in plants and animals. The range of foods available varied throughout the year. The men hunted larger animals, while women and children hunted smaller animals and gathered plant food.

Digging tools

Ngarrindjeri women collected bulrush roots throughout the year. These roots, Manangkari, were both a reliable food and a source of fibre for string. Digging sticks were used to dig them out, and sedge baskets and string bags were used to carry them away. Basket : Collector: O Lower (A14008). Digging stick : Collector : NB Tindale (A33377).

Pellampellamwallah, an Aboriginal woman of the Coorong.

Pellampellamwallah, an Aboriginal woman of the Coorong. She has all her food gathering equipment with her: a net bag, a sedge basket and digging stick. She is wearing a sedge cloak and is carrying live coals between to pieces of bark. Artist : GF Angas, 1844 (AA8).

egg collecting tools A duck-egg scoop woven from sedge, designed to collect eggs otherwise out of reach, together with a sedge bag for carrying eggs. Made in 1937 by Amy Johnson, an Aboriginal woman from the Northern Coorong. Collector : NB Tindale (A26242), (A26240).


string bag A netted bag made from bulrush-fibre string, collected in the 1840’s. Women used bags like these to store their catch of crayfish or mussels. Collector : A Zietz (A6400).
grub hooks
Food mat
Women used grub hooks like these to extract larvae from holes in roots and branches. The larvae were eaten both raw and cooked. Short hook : Collector : W Howchin (A29295), Long hook : Collector : A Zietz (A1658). Mats like these were used to keep food free of sand and grit. This mat was made at Kingston in about 1890. Collector : D Collins (A67684).

Hunting water birds

The abundance of water birds in the Ngarrindjeri lands provided a major source of food. Men caught the birds using nets, nooses and hunting weapons.

Hunting ducks
Hunting cormorants
Hunters frightened a flock of ducks along the river towards a net. By throwing boomerangs above the flock to imitate a hawk, the hunters forced the ducks to fly down into the net. Artist : G Aldridge, 1988. Ngarrindjeri hunters throwing clubs at cormorants. The curved shafts helped them spin when thrown, Artist : G Aldridge, 1988.
duck noose
Boomerangs made from sheoak, arranged to show curvature and motion in flight. Left to right : Collector : ER Mitchell (A54467), Collector : Mount Gambier Institute (A44336, A44337), Collector : Unknown (A53557). Pole and noose used to catch ducks. Made by Clarence Long in 1936. Collector NB Tindale (A26097).


The Ngarrindjeri used a wide variety of plants in treatments for minor illness and injury. Many of these remedies have been passed down to the present generation of Ngarrindjeri people.

steam bath
Dick Koolamtrie
Steam baths were used to treat rheumatic complaints. Wet water-weed was placed on hot stones to make the steam. Artist : T Newman, 1988) Dick Koolmatrie collecting plant medicine on the Coorong in 1984. Much of his knowledge about plant medicine, as well as that of other elderly Ngarrindjeri people, was learnt while living in "fringe camps" near towns like Meningie and Murray Bridge. Photographer : P Clarke, 1984.
Wattle gum
Old man's beard
Gum leaves
Stinging nettles
Wattle gum, tungari, was softened in water and eaten to relieve chest pain. Photographer : P Clarke, 1984. The Ngarrindjeri used old man’s beard yalkari, as a treatment for rheumatism and skin sores. The bruised green leaves were applied to the painful area. Photographer : P Clarke, 1984. Gum leaves were dried with water and drunk as a cure for colds. The smoke from burning gum leaves was also regarded as beneficial. Photographer : P Clarke, 1984. The leaves of the stinging nettle were steamed and applied to cuts and sores. Photographer : P Clarke, 1984.