Kaurna Voices : Cultural Mapping of the Adelaide Park Lands

Kaurna are the traditional owners and custodians of the Adelaide Plains.

The City of Adelaide acknowledges that we are meeting on the traditional Country of the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains and pays respect to Elders past and present. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. We acknowledge that they are of continuing importance to the Kaurna people living today. And we also extend that respect to other Aboriginal Language Groups and other First Nations.

Kaurna History Revealed

In 1836, when European colonisation of South Australia commenced, Kaurna were among the first Aboriginal groups in South Australia to suffer the impacts of colonisation, alienation and removal from their Country. 

Kaurna settlements on the Adelaide plains near water courses would have featured numerous large, semi-permanent habitation sites which would have been important places for living, hunting, ceremonial and cultural practices. The spread of European settlement, and accompanying landscape changes, significantly impacted the lives of the Kaurna people and their cultural practices. 

In particular, Karrawirra Pari/RiverTorrens (including the waters of the river, riverbanks and areas close to the river) retains very high cultural significance to Kaurna people. It is likely there are traditional burial and archaeological sites in this area that remain significant to this day (Hemming & Harris 1998).

Our interactive map explores many of the Kaurna Peoples' sacred connections to the land we know as Adelaide and highlights the significant historical experiences and events that have occurred from early colonisation times.


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Welcome to Country

Welcome to Country
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Kaurna Voices

Kaurna Voices
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Cultural Practices

Cultural Practices
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Kaurna Elders Speak

Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O'Brien, AO, Kaurna Elder

“John Curtin, the Prime Minister of Australia in World War 2, saw that the Japanese were attacking in New Guinea and so he wanted his troops back from Europe. He brought the battalions back and sent them to New Guinea. In New Guinea, Tim Hughes (1919-1976) won a Military Medal because he attacked three machine gun posts by himself with a Sten gun and grenades. He knocked two of the enemy out, and he kept another one under fire, while all of his company took shelter. Many soldiers saw that, and then he received a Military Medal because everyone knew of his bravery and what he really did.

Later, when the war was over, he came back to live in Adelaide. In 1966, Tim Hughes was appointed the first Chair of the Aboriginal Lands Trust started by Don Dunstan, Premier of South Australia. This was when all the Reserves were given back to Aboriginal people. Tim Hughes was the manager of all those reserves with Garnett Wilson and Natasha McNamara. For his work with the Aboriginal Lands Trust, Tim received a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1970.

Aunty Glad (Hughes-Elphick), she worked in the community. She started the Women's Council in 1965 (Council of Aboriginal Women SA) and Don Dunstan helped her to have rooms in Pirie Street in Adelaide. She had a committee there. For her work with the community, she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1971. She was also part of the Queen Elizabeth’s Centenary Walk on North Terrace with two other Aboriginal people. You will see her name there, it is ‘Gladys Elphick’ because she married Fred Elphick. Her plaque is on North Terrace Walk with David Unaipon and Jimmy James. Three Aboriginals are on that walk.”

“Poonindie was started by Archdeacon Hale, who would later become Bishop Hale. There was a mission on the banks of the Torrens called Pirltawardli, at the Aboriginal Location they called it. The Torrens is a river that runs through Adelaide, and it was near the weir that they had this school called Pirltawardli. It was set up by Teichelmann and Schürmann. They started in 1839, and the colony started in 1836, and then three years later the school was started there on the banks of the River Torrens.

The German missionaries believed in teaching Aboriginals in their own language, and so they did that, and they wrote a dictionary. They talked to three Aboriginal gentlemen, Mullawirraburka, Kadlitpinna, and Ityamaiitpinna. They taught the missionaries about our language, which was very prophetic for me, because they knew that they needed to do this to keep our language alive. They told the German missionaries all the grammar, and they wrote it down, and it was a very productive book. It had 3,000 words, and the grammar was there, which was marvellous, and you will see the concepts are in that book.

Teichelmann added to it later, because he authored another book in 1857, and sent it to Governor Grey in South Africa. It was Emeritus Professor Jane Simpson, who located the extra dictionary in South Africa, and so we learned of words like ‘conferencing.’ People do not know that, and that is why our early Kaurna leaders were willing to teach the Germans the language because they knew they were part of the real history of this country.

People are not aware of this, but in every language, it is like a gift. In language, there is always knowledge that no one else possesses that people are not aware of. Everyone wants to think one culture is greater than the other, which is nonsense. What it is, is that every language has knowledge in it that no one else has.”

“An Exemption…meant that you had to give up your rights to be an Aboriginal, and that you had enough intelligence to be ‘a white person’. You really had to change your identity, it's like calling yourself like the Romans. You live in Rome, you say you're Roman, you’re given a loaf of bread. The same as if you got an exemption, you said you were no longer an Aboriginal, you were ‘European’ that you had enough intelligence to live in society. You had to give away your being, which was an oddity because how can you give away the fact of who you are?

You are no longer Aboriginal. You are totally divorced from all Aboriginal things. You are not allowed to go to the Aboriginal Office (SA Government Office). I know Auntie Glad (Elphick) went to see the Secretary of Aboriginal Affairs, and he said to her, “You can't come here, Glad. You have got to go to the DCW (Department of Community Welfare) now because you're no longer Aboriginal. I cannot deal with you”.

You were European only in technical terms because of the certificate you had signed. You have said, "I am of enough ability to be a white person living in the community.” It was really an identity issue which was very cruel, really, to do that to people. Then once exempted you would get a letter, which I was amazed at, which said you were exempt from going to any mission in South Australia.

You were exiled. You had to go to Victoria or New South Wales. We had to get out of the State because if they picked you up, they would put you in gaol. Then the other thing, which was another oddity, in the '30s and '40s, if an Aboriginal person talked to a white person, you were put in gaol for six months because they called this consorting. You were not allowed to talk to each other. People don't know about Aboriginal history because the law prohibited you telling these stories.”

“It was a very destructive method really, they called it assimilation, but really, it is not quite right because what they did, they took your own culture from you and you were not allowed to speak the language, you were not allowed to speak to anyone else to learn. Therefore, if you signed an exemption certificate, you became suddenly white, but who's taught you to be white? Who's taught you the ins and outs of the ‘other’ culture? You must learn on the run. You have to learn to find DCW (Department of Community Welfare), and you have to learn about the other agencies you have got to go to, as a white person, because all your knowledge of ‘darkness’ has gone – has been taken away.

You have no language, and you are speaking English because you have learnt that. That is about the only thing. But learning a language is not enough. You have to know all the innuendos and all the oddities that people say and do. You are not aware of all that stuff because that is ‘a hidden history’. I had found that was difficult even when I was a kid and I went to libraries. As an apprentice, I found I did not have much money, so I could not afford to go to the movies or entertain myself. I wanted some occupation. I asked my mate, "Where can I go?" He said, "The Library." I said, "What's it cost? He said, "Nothing!" I ran all the way there. Then you think, "How didn't I know that libraries were free?" I did not know the libraries were free because when I was an apprentice, in the first year, the union gave me a pass to go to the Institute on North Terrace. The Institute charged threepence a book!”

“Back to Kintore Avenue - the full circle. That was where the Aborigines Department was in Kintore Avenue. It was all these activities around Kintore Avenue. See, even I was caught up in Kintore Avenue going to the Institute, and I had to pay threepence for a book. I had this little ticket that allowed me to borrow the books, and they charged against it to the union. That is why I did not know for some time it was free. These are the little steps you do not know. People think, "How come you do not know?" Well, you did not know because you were not allowed to talk to anyone. You find it difficult to talk to other people and you have to force yourself to do that.

You are not aware of information because you are afraid to ask questions of other people. Because before it was under another rule, if you did talk, you were put in gaol. You have all of these things imposing on you in these difficult situations. You have to bumble your way through all these steps that you do not understand. People get bewildered. "How come you don't know? Where have you been all your life?" You see what I mean? I joined the Institute and it was threepence a book. That is where I have been all my life, paying for a book. When I found it was free, I went, "Wow!" The Library then was a real bonus to me as I could read all these books from everywhere.”

“It was Kumanka, and that means ‘together’ in Kaurna (Kumangka). That is amazing to think that-- it is almost like it was preordained. I was one of the first in there, because it was opened in 1946, and I had just finished being adopted out. I was really fostered out but people did not like fostering you when you were a teenager, so I was lucky this place was opened and I could go there. I went there for three years. It was a marvellous place because they set out to entertain you and to do things with you. I learnt boxing there, I learnt weightlifting.

It was very progressive, I think, for the department to do what they did - they did all these things for the different students there. There were, I don’t know, about twenty-eight of us. Mainly, it was set up for working-class lads. I was an oddity, again, because they asked me, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to go to school." See, because I had come from this longline of educators…I wanted to learn!”

“Of course, it suddenly hit home when I would do certain things - they would say, "Well, you're a ward of the state," or "You're Aboriginal and we're going to make an allowance for you." Then, I would realise that there was this impost. I used to get it shown to me in different ways, it used to be upsetting to me. One day, I talked to this chap for an hour and he said, "Where do you come from?" I said, "I come from Point Pearce." He said, "What are you, the missionary’s son?" I said, "No, I am Aboriginal." He got up and walked away. That made me feel very bad because I thought, "How could you speak to me for an hour, and I mention this funny little word called Aboriginal, and you walk away?" It was like this dislike or distain.”

“We have come a long way because I woke up to the fact that you had to share the space. We have lived here for thousands of years. There is no record or any knowledge of us being here. Therefore, you must put the words out there, and you must put them on the ground, so people can see that. Even on the tram, when you stop at Victoria Square, they say Tarntanyangga. You say, "Yes, well, that's how it should be, because it was there for thousands of years as Tarntanyangga. Why should you change it?" Let people know we lived here. That there were Kaurna people here. It was not a wasteland, as the Foundation Act said and no one lived here, and terra nullius and all that sort of nonsense. That is why I saw there was a need to do that - to rename places. Then you have the support of a lot of other people, you can't do this on your own - I didn't do anything on my own. There were really a lot of other people I met along the way.”

Aunty Lynette Crocker, AO, Kaurna Elder

“My mother was Edith Wilson nee Newchurch. My father was Frederick Joseph Smith, so well before I was a Crocker, I was a Smith, which people used to find difficult to believe for some reason or other. When I said my name was Smith, they would say, "Oh, Yes, Yes!"

Was that because they associated Smith with very English-looking people and was it a comment on your Aboriginal identity?

Yes, I think that would have been a backhanded one. My mother and father did come from humble beginnings, from over on Yorke Peninsula. I always thought I was born in Wallaroo, but I was born in Moonta, which is not too far away, as the crow flies, Wallaroo, Moonta, Moonta Mines - they are all on Yorke Peninsula. The reason that Narungga or Kaurna women at Point Pearce were not allowed to have their children at Maitland Hospital was basically just a racist attitude. People from the mission were not allowed to have their children in Maitland, they had to go to Wallaroo or Moonta.”

“The breakdown of kinship lines was an issue. I think even now, that is what causes intergenerational confusion for young people, because they want to know who they are, where they come from, and on what Country they can stand, and with some authority know their place, or their place of belonging. There is a lot of healing, a lot of counselling, because I think they are still suffering the effects of intergenerational trauma that happened when people were taken off Country. People were told they could not speak their language, then to have their children taken off them. It was a bit of a, I feel in this day, whether the word is too severe, an old genocidal practice. Well, everybody wanted the land, that is what it was all about, they wanted the land and they wanted it for nothing. Then they did not care how they destroyed people to get it.”

“We moved to Adelaide because that was where my mother’s mother was and it was also where her aunty was. Her mother, Jessie Newchurch (Wilson/Sansbury), was in Adelaide, in Logan Street, just around the corner from Sturt Street School there. She had a house. That is where we lived, behind the mosque, that was where it was. I think the house is knocked down now. Everybody who came into town from the mission and lived there.

I think there was a sense that they were going back to Adelaide because their forefathers actually come from Adelaide before they were taken to Poonindie Mission at Pt Lincoln (est., 1851). This is where the big experiment was - that Poonindie was to teach them how to be farmers. Then when you go to the mission, there's only a certain number of jobs, and you had to get an exemption to go off the mission to work, to work even as a domestic or going away fruit picking and things like that. It was very difficult on the mission.

Then, people had to get permission to come back to the mission, although everybody used to. I know my mother used to say no matter where she was, and when we shifted and moved over to Victoria, and we had to bring her back, that she wanted to be buried at Point Pearce. My father, Frederick Smith, did come and visit us a couple of times in town. I am not sure; he must have been successful at fishing as he had some extra money. He'd come to Logan Street and, well, of course, he wanted mum to come back, but she didn't want to go. Then after that, I know he gave me a £20 note and said to me, ‘Here, this is for you, my daughter.’ He put it under my pillow. Then the next morning he was gone.”

“I didn't go to school for time, but then I did go to school with my cousins around to Sturt Street School, and then we were christened by Pastor Zinnbauer (Alfred Freund-Zinnbauer 1910-1978). The Lutheran Church was there in Wakefield Street, and I think he was friends with Aunty Dulcie's Finnish husband, Urho Armas Lehtinen, that's how the introduction was made. Uncle “Harry” was Lutheran, and Pastor Zinnbauer was Lutheran, so we were all christened in the Lutheran Church in Wakefield Street!

The other thing that was really interesting, and I just remembered it, is that Aunty Dulcie used to let one of the back sheds that she had there at Logan Street to the, I don't know what they call them, but his name was Gool Mahomet (1865 – 21 May 1950) also known as Gul Muhammed from the mosque. He used to mind us when our parents went to the Central Market. Part of that early Afghan community and he used to cook vegetarian curry for all of us kids.”

“My cousins, who are a bit darker skinned than what I am, I know when we lived nearby how we used to walk around the corner, one day we got pulled up by the police. It was like, they pointed to me and said, "What are you doing with these Aboriginal people?" I said, "They are my cousins." The police were talking about how they were going to have me up for consorting with Aboriginal people. I said, "Well, they are my cousins." I said, "If you don't believe me, come around, we live around the corner, and come see my mother." Then they thought better of it and left. I was just standing there with my two cousins.”

“By that time in 1961, I would have been about 16 or 17 years of age, Mum took me to, well there was a Commonwealth job placement office, and there were two jobs. One was to be a machinist and the other was to be a picture framer - I often wondered about the latter; I chose to be the machinist. Mum said, "Cut your nails, and learn how to sew!" I did that. There was this shop over the market called Peoplestores. It was upstairs, and it was above the Central Market. It's not there anymore, but it was above the market. First of all, I learnt how to sew on a flat machine, and then I graduated to an overlocker, and then it was an overlocker and a zigzag machine and stuff like that. I know my first job, I got £4-17-6. I gave mum £2 for my board. I had £2 left, out of the 17-6 was my fares in and out to work on the bus. The other £2 I had to dress myself, and if I wanted to go out, I would just take my cousins with me. If that didn't happen, I didn't go out. We went to the pictures; we went to the Palais when the Palais was opposite the old Royal Adelaide Hospital. It's not there anymore but that is where I met my husband – Anthony Crocker.”

“There's a story when I was-- It must have been young at the time, it was when mum had come into town too, and she was just finding herself or mum was at work. She used to leave me with Aunty Glad (Gladys Elphick). She started the Aboriginal Women's Council that was prior to Nunkuwarrin Yunti, it was health that she started with... I didn't know at the time that a lot of doctors and some of them came from … what's that party where everybody was thinking they were ‘reds’ under the beds sort of thing? They were people who were interested in social justice and health and social welfare and things like that. Anyway, to get back to this day, I didn't know it at the time, but Aunty Glad, I think she was way ahead of her time as far as reconciliation was concerned. Because she said to me, "Come on. We are going into town. We're going into the Square (Victoria Square) just in front of where the hotel is now there. She said to me to help her carry this bucket of sand. I didn't question her; I just did what I was told. I carried the bucket of sand.

We got on the bus at North Terrace and we walked up to the Square. Seemed like a long way at the time. Anyway, we got there. Then she put a sheet down on the ground. On it, it had a map of Australia. She said, "Put the sand around Australia." I put the sand around Australia, around the map. Then she put this other heading in the middle, "We are no dying race." She just put it there. Then we were standing there. Then people came and they came around and they were talking to her, and reading the sign, and stuff like that. We were there for the afternoon. We stood there and talked to people.”

References and Acknowledgements

Project Partners

  • Southern Cultural Immersion
  • Corey Turner
  • Isaiah Turner
  • Eve Gregory
  • Denise Schumann
  • Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation


  • A Report on the Indigenous Cultural Significance of the Adelaide Park Lands. Hemmings and Harris 1998
  • Community Land Management Plans: Adelaide Park Lands and Squares- Aboriginal Heritage. Australian Cultural Heritage Management 2005