Ngurunderi smelt the forbidden fish being cooked by his two wives. He started after them but they escaped across Lake Albert on a raft made from reeds and grass-trees....

Reeds & Grass-trees | Family Land

Reeds and grass-trees were abundant in the Ngarrindjeri lands before European settlement. These plants were used in many ways - for making rafts, as raw materials for tools and weapons, and as food.

Befote the impact of pastoralism, reed beds grew abundantly on the banks of most fresh-water rivers, lakes and lagoons in the Ngarrindjeri lands. Reeds were used in many ways - for spear making, hut building, raft making, necklaces, ornaments and clothing. Ngarrindjeri boys also used reeds as drinking straws during their initiation.

An ornament made from pieces of reed on a fibre string. These ornaments were attached to small sticks and worn in the hair. Artist : GF Angas, 1844 (AA8) As with the reed spears, the grass-tree stem made a strong and lightweight butt. This could easily be replaced if it was damaged on impact. Sinews of the kangaroo or emu have been used as binding on the spear. Detail of a fighting spear showing remnants of resin and a single barb.
The Ngarrindjeri used a special mixture of grass-tree resin and sand to fix tiny barbs of stone or quartz to their fighting spears. Collector : Unknown (A4932).


Grass-trees were a feature of the Ngarrindjeri landscape before land clearance by pastoralists. Most parts of the grass-tree were used by the Ngarrindjeri. They gathered nectar from the flower, used the stem for spear shafts and fire making tools, ate the bases of the young leaves and the roots, and collected resin from the trunk for glue.

The model triangular raft (back), of bulrushes and reeds bound together with fibre rope, was made in 1930 by Amy Johnson, a Ngarrindjeri woman. A raft of this size would support a small child. Large rafts were used by groups of up to ten women for mussel collecting expeditions. Collector : NB Tindale (A14632)
The model raft (front), shows the layered construction of the large rectangular rafts used by Ngarrindjeri people on Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert. The extra layers of reeds and grass-tree stems increased bouyancy. Collector : NB Tindale (A14633). Grass-tree fire making sticks (front left). Collector Unknown (A53558). Museum diorama.

A young man from Mount Barker making
fire by friction with pieces of grass-tree
stem. Artist : GF Angas, 1844 (AA8).

Today many Ngarrindjeri people can still trace links with particular pieces of land. Somefamilies own land that once belonged to clans from which they are descended.

The land associated with three Ngarrindjeri families,
the Rankines, the Camerons and the Karpanys.

The Rankine Family
Henry Rankine is a prominent member of the Rankine family. He is Chairman of the Raukkan (Point McLeay) Aboriginal Community in 1989 and has been in this position for most of the period since 1973. The location of the traditional land of his father’s family was passed down to him by his father Hendel Rankine. This land is on the western side of the Murray River, to the south of Wellington.

Henry and Jean Rankine outside their home at Raukkan, 1987. Photographer : S Hemming. (AA650)

The Karpany Family
In the 1840’s, George Mason began working as Sub-Protector of Aborigines on the eastern side of the Murray River, opposite present day Wellington. The site he selected, Murungun, was an important Aboriginal camping place.
Mason had a close relationship with Louisa Karpany, a Ngarrindjeri woman from Murungun. One of their children, George Karpany, obtained a lease for the Murungun area in 1897. The land passed out of the family’s hands but nearly eighty years later, in 1975, another Karpany descendant, Val Power, purchased the Murungun lease again.

Louisa Karpany at Wellington, across the river from Murungun, in 1911. Photographer : AC Minchin (AA309).

Val Power at Murungun, standing near the ruins of buildings associated with the Sub-Protector George Mason, 1987. Photographer : P Clarke (AA651).

Alfred Cameron, photographed in about 1940. Photographer : Unknown (AA666).

Lola Cameron-Bonney, grand-daughter of Alfred Cameron, standing in front of "The Needles" homestead in 1987. Two of Alfred Cameron’s daughters remained on this property until the 1970’s. Photographer : S Hemming (AA650).

The Cameron Family
Alfred Cameron was born in about 1850 on the Coorong. His father was Scottish and his mother was Ngarrindjeri. He decided early in life that he would try to succeed in the new world of the European, although he did not ignore his Aboriginal heritage. After working as a shearer on Lower Murray sheep properties Alfred leased "The Needles" property on the Coorong in 1914. This property was on his mother’s traditional land. Through good management he later purchased a second property, also on his traditional land. This property was still in the Cameron family in 1989, being run by Alfred’s great-great grandson’s family.