Not a great deal is known or has been published on this topic. The Aboriginal people of the Mid-North of South Australia were the Ngadjuri who occupied an extensive area from south of Kapunda north to Quorn. Clare and Jamestown were near the western border. They extended east until the plain country and north of Hallett considerably further east
The initial contact was made with the explorer John Edward Eyre in 1839 and Governor Gawler and Captain Sturt the same year. By the early 1840’s pastoralist were entering their territory. Initial contacts seem often to have been mutually helpful but were soon followed by conflict over food and stock and living space. There are a a number of cases of Aborigines being murdered and the Europeans usually escaped punishment (See Alan Pope 1989: Resistance and Retaliation Aboriginal European Relations in Early Colonial South Australia, Heritage Action)
The Ngadjuri were people of the Eucalyptus odorata scrub. In the early 1850’s around Burra on the pastoral runs considerable numbers seem to have been employed as shepherds, wool scourers etc. when Europeans went off to the gold fields. But there are also report of this being a time when some sought to retaliate as European numbers fell. In any case in the later 1850’s epidemics of measles and scarlatina and smallpox severely depleted the population. J.D. Wood 1878 “The Native Tribes of South Australia” says that the Aborigines around Burra were extinct . The remaining Ngadjuri retreated to the north and to hill country. It may be said that today none remain, but there are people who can claim Ngadjuri descent.
The Ngadjuri have left their imprint with place names and there are of course burial sites and rock art sites in the district.
A useful pair of references are:
References in Burra specifically are not very numerous by the time the local paper started in 1876 and many of them are probably to transient Aboriginals rather than to locals. A few Aborigines appear in the courts, but not very often. The cemetery records list about 12 graves between 1862 and 1888 that are identified as Aboriginal. Jemmy Wonga, who died aged 45 on 27 June 1882 at Burra Hospital is identified as one of the last of a group from the Mannannarie Hills.
Old Time Memories When We Were Boys by William Copley was published in the Observer from 8 January to 22 January 1898 and reprinted in Ian Auhl (Ed) N.D. Burra Burra Reminiscences of the Burra Mine and its Townships. This recounts the author’s experiences in playing freely with aboriginal boys at Burra in the early 1850s.
Ian Auhl in The Story of the Monster Mine p 233 reports that the Ngadjuri were encouraged by the exodus of men to the Victorian goldfields in 1852 and had grown more aggressive. At the same time many of the pastoralists turned to Aborigines to look after sheep. The Protector of Aborigines reported in June 1852 that upwards of 200,000 sheep were in the care of Aboriginal workers.
Perhaps one significant discovery within the town was made in 1900 as reported in the following article from the Burra Record:
Later references are few, scattered and concern individuals rather than groups. They are mostly occasional court appearances of transient persons.