A broader story
Australia’s First Nations people represent the oldest, continual, surviving culture on Earth.
The land that today we call the Barossa has – for tens of thousands of years – been the spiritual and physical home of the Peramangk, Ngadjuri and Kaurna people, who continue to carry this unbroken cultural connection into the 21st century.
The Peramangk people live and care for the land from the Barossa Valley in the north, south to Myponga, east to Mannum and west to the Mount Lofty Ranges. Their Dreaming Stories include the legend of Nganno the Giant, whose body forms the Mt Lofty Ranges.
This land shares a boundary with the Ngadjuri people who live and care for the land embracing Angaston and Freeling in the south and running northwards to Clare, Crystal Brook, Gladstone up to Carrieton and Orroroo in the Flinders Ranges. Their traditional lands are closely aligned with the range of the peppermint gum, which explains why the Kaurna people's name for Ngadjuri people is Wirameju, meaning in Kaurna "peppermint gum forest people.”
Cultural knowledge of the Ngadjuri people includes the Dreamtime story of the Crow and the Eagle, while other Dreaming Stories explain the invaluable ochre deposits found at Parachilna Gorge, harvested by the Ngadjuri people for its medicinal properties and also for cultural ceremonies.
The Kaurna people live in the Adelaide Plains and their lands extended from Cape Jervis at the bottom of the Fleurieu Peninsula to Port Wakefield on the eastern shore of Gulf St Vincent, and as far north as Crystal Brook in the Mid North, encompassing most of the modern Barossa region.
The stringy bark forests over the back of the Mount Lofty Ranges have been claimed as a traditional boundary between Kaurna and Peramangk people. Many places around Adelaide and the Fleurieu Peninsula have names either directly or partially derived from Kaurna place names, such as Cowandilla, Aldinga, Morialta and Munno Para. The Kaurna people are the custodians of the Tjilbruki Dreaming, an important Dreamtime story of law, relationships and the creation of significant landscapes along the coast and in the Adelaide Hills.
The arrival of Europeans in South Australia had an indelible impact on the First Nations people who lived here prior to 1837.
Significantly, and unlike the rest of Australia, South Australia was not considered to be terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) upon the arrival of Europeans.
When the fledgling province of South Australia was established by the South Australia Act 1834, the subsequent Letters Patent expressly acknowledged prior Aboriginal ownership of the land and stated that no actions could be undertaken that would “affect the rights of any Aboriginal natives… to the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such natives."
Nonetheless, under the Act, the Indigenous owners of the land were deemed to have become British subjects and while the Letters Patent guaranteed – on paper - land rights for the First Nations people, in practice these provisions were ignored by the South Australia Company specifically and the white colonists more broadly.
By the 1850s there are increasingly few references to the Peramangk people, while several contemporaneous records note that sudden and significant decline in the Peramangk population most likely due to the devasting impacts of introduced diseases such as smallpox.
In the broader Adelaide Plains, dispossession of their traditional lands and increasing conflict with the European colonists led to the fragmentation of cultural practices and destruction of a traditional way of life led by the Kaurna people for hundreds of generations.
As with other First Nations people in South Australia, the Ngadjuri people were decimated by introduced European diseases such as smallpox and measles, and this loss was compounded by the dispossession of the Ngadjuri people from their traditional lands as colonisers took over their water and land resources.
Further reading and information:
Living Kaurna Cultural Centre
Warriparinga Way (off Sturt Rd)
Bedford Park SA
Ph: 08 8357 5900
The Ochre Warriors
Peramangk culture and rock art in the Mount Lofty Ranges
Robin Coles and Richard Hunter
© 2010 Axiom Australia
Welcome to Country
A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia
Professor Marcia Langton
© 2018 HardieGrant
The story of the Lutheran settlement of the Barossa is another element in this narrative.
It is the legend of how an uncompromisingly devout Lutheran Pastor named Kavel befriended George Fife Angas, an entrepreneurial Scottish industrialist who had recently come into possession of vast tracts of land in the newly founded South Australia. Together they paved the way for the migration of the founding families of the Barossa, seeking relief from the religious persecution they were suffering in their homeland.
These founding Barossans were lit by the light of God who, they believed, had delivered them to a promised land of plenty. Their industriousness, devotion and unfailing belief in community found expression in their new home and delivered into the 21st century a region unlike any other in Australia. You can see it in the celebrations and festivals that infuse our calendar and bring the whole region together, in our generous, abundant food culture and in our rich, diverse arts community.
Today, descendants of these early migrants maintain a tangible gratitude for their forebears who risked their lives to secure a better future for their families.