Wangayarta

In Kaurna language ‘wanga’ means ‘grave’ and ‘yarta’ means ‘land, earth, ground, soil, country’.

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Located within the Smithfield Memorial Park, Wangayarta is two hectares of purpose built memorial park dedicated to Kaurna ancestral remains reburials. The park was designed by the Kaurna community and opened in December 2021.

Wangayarta’s entry is marked by nine sandstone boulders intricately carved by Kaurna artist Alan Sumner.  The first stone is etched with ancestors’ footprints returning to Country and their final resting place. A small water course transitions the entrance to the ceremony area. The water reflects Karrawirraparri and the Kaurna stories the river supports from the hills to the ocean.  A central lawn ceremony area in the shape of a Kaurna shield is a symbol of protection. On the edge of the lawns are four reburial mound areas with one at each point north, south, east and west. Stone firepits and a metal bower shelter provide places to prepare for reburials. High earthen mounds covered in native shrubs and trees hug the boundary, a tribute to very old Kaurna burial practices. Over 5000 shrubs, trees and ground-covers shade the reburied ancestors with the traditional food and medicine and the colours, sounds and smells that the ancestors grew up with.

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The Wangayarta Journey

In 2019, the Kaurna community seized an opportunity to turn an empty field within the Adelaide Cemeteries’ Smithfield Memorial Park into a memorial park dedicated to reburial of Kaurna ancestral remains. Supported by the Premier of South Australia’s pilot grant and working closely with the South Australian Museum and Adelaide Cemeteries the Kaurna community successfully created Wangayarta, a new type of burial place on the Adelaide Plains that is uniquely Kaurna.

Using cultural authority and community participation, the Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation led development of Wangayarta.  A project Reference Group comprised of Kaurna leaders guided the project through two distinct phases, co-design and implementation. 

Phase 1 - Co-Design Process (September 2019 – March 2020)

Landscape architects Oxigen worked with the Kaurna community through-out the co-design process.  Core cultural design principles were identified and scoped into concepts that resulted in a design endorsed by the Kaurna community. During community design workshops, participants talked about the changes across the Adelaide landscape that make it difficult for the Kaurna ancestors to be reburied back in their original burial locations. The idea of spreading soils from all over Kaurna Country in the memorial park was explored as a way of bringing the ‘land that the ancestors walked across’ back to them.

From March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic affected the project schedule, however, the project continued with phase 2 (construction) and phase 3 (implementation) running in parallel from early 2021.

Phase 2 – Construction (April – December 2021)

Despite the COVID-19 disruptions, construction commenced in early 2021.  Once the initial earth works were underway, soils for the north, south, east and west of Adelaide were brought to the site and blended together before being spread across the area at a ceremony led by Uncle Moogy Sumner.

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Phase 3 – Implementation (March 2021 – December 2021)

While the construction was underway, the Reference Group focused on implementation. The Kaurna name ‘Wangayarta’ was agreed and a date set for the first reburials.  Difficult decisions were made about movement of the ancestors from the Museum Keeping Place to Smithfield; how the ancestors would be prepared and by who; the style of burial grave; and the reburial ceremony.  These complex decisions were communicated in a new Kaurna community newsletter. Additional community meetings were held leading up to the reburial ceremony.

Read the Kaurna Wangayarta (Smithfield Memorial Park) Community Newsletters:

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Kaurna Wangayarta reburial ceremony – 7 December 2021

On 7 December 2021 the Kaurna community came together to rebury their ancestors into Wangayarta’s northern mound. The historic ceremony was attended by Kaurna leaders, family and friends. The Premier of South Australia and representatives of the SA Museum, Adelaide Cemeteries, Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, Local Government and University of Adelaide were also invited to share this experience. The ceremony acknowledged the past and reflected upon the Kaurna community’s remarkable journey, resilience and achievement.

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In the News

Listen and Watch:

Read:

  • NITV News - Remains returned to Kaurna Country in unique repatriation

  • SBS News - Aboriginal ancestral remains returned to Kaurna land in SA

  • ABC News - SA Museum apologises for holding 4,600 Aboriginal remains as first repatriations laid to rest on Country

  • The Guardian – 'It brings dignity to every one of them’: inside the reburial of Indigenous bones and restless spirits

  • The Guardian – ‘This is what we need’: Indigenous remains finally laid to rest in historic Adelaide ceremony

  • CityMag - A historic Kaurna reburial will take place in Smithfield next week

  • CityMag – The Weight of Wangayarta

  • Australian Associated Press

  • MuseumNext

  • South Australian Government (on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter)

  • South Australian Museum (on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter)

  • Australian Government Office of the Arts (on Facebook & Twitter)

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Coming Soon:

  • Wangayarta Repatriation History curriculum resources Years 7-10

  • Wangayarta Repatriation History curriculum resources Years 11-12

Acknowledgements

Kaurna Smithfield Memorial Park was supported as a pilot repatriation project by the Hon Steven Marshall Premier of South Australia, South Australian Museum, Adelaide Cemeteries, University of Adelaide, the State Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation agency in the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Australian Government’s Indigenous Repatriation Program through the Commonwealth Office for the Arts.  The Kaurna People led the Kaurna Smithfield pilot project and named the unique place they created, Wangayarta; for Kaurna People past, present and future.

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Coming up next

Museum

Kaurna ancestors laid to rest