Ngurunderi is one of the main Dreaming ancestors of Southern Australia. This exhibition is about Ngurunderi's people, the Ngarrindjeri of the Lower Murray River, Lakes and Coorong.

 

"The Bulrushes" on the shores of Lake Alexandrina with Raukkan (Point McLeay) in the background. Photographer : P Clarke (AA651).

This exhibition describes the culture of the Ngarrindjeri people of the Lower Murray River and Coorong areas of South Australia. Their environment was rich with animals, plants and aquatic resources and the Ngarrindjeri groups were consequently less nomadic than Aborigines of the inland. A wide range of material culture items - wooden artefacts and basketry in particular - reflected this more sedentary lifestyle.

Ngarrindjeri social structure and religious life was also distinctive. In common with other south-eastern Australian groups, Ngarrindjeri religion was characterised by Dreaming Ancestors who established laws and social practices before leaving the earth to live in the sky. Ngurunderi was the most important of these Ngarrindjeri ancestors. The exhibition uses the story of Ngurunderi, his role in the creation of the Murray River and the Ngarrindjeri lands to introduce Ngarrindjeri culture.

From the early 1830's the Ngarrindjeri people have survived the massive dislocation wrought by the European colinsation of South Australia. While also serving as a refuge, the establishment of Christian missions like Point McLeay (Raukkan) helped weaken the culture of a people already suffering the loss of their land and their rights. Outside the missions, many Ngarrindjeri lived in town fringe camps until the 1860's, when the political situation of Aboriginal people throughout Australia began to improve with the recognition as full citizens. Today the Ngarrindjeri community, located in several country centres as well as in Adelaide itself, is one of the largest Aboriginal communities in southern Australia.

The South Australian Museum has had a long association with the Ngarrindjeri people. Aborigines at the Point McLeay Mission contributed artefacts and natural history specimens to the collections as early as 1864, just two years after the Museum first opened its doors.

Since those early days, several Museum curators have developed a close working relationship with the Ngarrindjeri. Edward Stirling, the first Curator of Anthropology, was responsible for the growth of the collections during the 1890's and 1900's. He reorganised the exhibition areas and incorporated a diorama depicting a Ngarrindjeri fishing and camping scene. The mural painted for this diorama in 1915 has been retained for the Ngarrindjeri exhibition. Norman B Tindale added significantly to the collections acquired by Stirling. He also worked extensively with Clarence Long (A Tangani man of the Coorong) to record Ngarrindjeri culture and beliefs. At this time, the anthropologists Ronald and Catherine Berndt obtained research material from Ngarrindjeri people, notably Albert Karloan and Margaret (Pinkie) Mack. More recently, Steve Hemming and Philip Clarke have re-established these historic links with Ngarrindjeri communities.

In 1982, the South Australian Museum commenced research and planning for a major exhibition on the culture and beliefs of the Aboriginal people of the Lower Murray, Lakes and Coorong. Since then the exhibition has developed with the active support of Ngarrindjeri communities and particular individuals. Lola Sumner, Dick Koolmatrie, Henry and Jean Rankine and their family, Doreen Kartinyeri, Marlene Stewart, George Trevorrow, Ronald Bonney, Lola Cameron-Bonney and many other Aboriginal people have all helped. The generous and enthusiastic help of many others has ensured the successful development of this exhibition.