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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.

Of the latter see in particular:

Biddle, J.P.H. 1925, Aboriginal Markings on rocks near Burra

Trans. Roy. Soc. S.A. Volume 49, pp121-122


Campbell, T.D. 1925, Notes on the aboriginal intaglios near Burra

Trans. Roy. Soc. S.A. Volume 49, pp123-127


Badedow, I.A. 1914 Aboriginal rock carvings of great antiquity in SA

J. Roy. Anthony. Inst. Vol. 44 pp195-21


Rock Art at Burra and articles file no LHSOU1HS00014

A useful pair of references are:

Knight, Fran 1997 Ngadjuri of the Mid-North of South Australia

(Unpublished draft in Burra Community Library)

This covers the whole Ngadjuri area quite usefully but has little of direct relevance to the Burra area.


Knight, Fran and Pring, Adele 1997, Ngadjuri Role Play

This has a useful timeline for Ngadjuri-European contact

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:

11 Apr. 1900, page 2

Aboriginal Body.  The remains of an Aboriginal were discovered at New Aberdeen last week.  Local geologists consider he died at least 100 years ago because of the marks on the bones and their condition.  It is not possible to be sure whether he was buried or the body was covered by ‘the sands of time’, though the latter seems most likely.  [The following is a separate article on the same page about this discovery.]


Mr A. Fuss, was engaged excavating his back yard at New Aberdeen on Thursday morning when he came across one or two bones.  This raised his curiosity, because he was always under the impression that his yard was composed of virgin soil.  He became interested in his somewhat strange discovery and proceeded carefully about the work.  After a few drives of the pick and the application of the shovel additional bones were found, and Mr Fuss than came to the conclusion that before ‘his time in the world’ someone had been buried there.  Curiosity ran very high and he called in a second party to make a full investigation.  Subsequently the skeleton of an aboriginal was unearthed.  The body was intact but the bones from the hips down were disarranged, still the large bone of one of the legs was complete down to the foot.  The right arm when the body was placed in the hole, which is about 18 inches below the surface, was put across the face and the fingers were bent under the palm of the hand.  The front teeth were much decayed, but strange to say the molars on the jaw were remarkably well preserved, the ivory on the teeth being very plainly seen.  Time has, apparently, with the aid of lime, transformed the bones into petrified stone.  The skeleton measured about six feet, and it is said to be that of a male aboriginal.  Quite a number of persons inspected the skeleton which has been buried again.  Mr W.J. Davey under instructions photographed the relic which can be inspected at the Record Studio.

Later references are few, scattered and concern individuals rather than groups.  They are mostly occasional court appearances of transient persons.