Ngarrindjeri noticing

By Rev Susan Doughty

Posted in Culture

In 2016, after being called to Adare Uniting Church in Victor Harbor, I had a conversation with Ian Dempster. Having participated in Walking on Country in 2014 while I was a candidate for ordination, I wanted to discover the First Peoples stories of the Victor Harbor region – and to do it early in my placement, before I became too settled. I knew there was a story that I would not hear if I did not actively seek it out.

It took some time, but Ian and I and six others travelled to Ngarrindjeri country under the guidance and wisdom of Sean Weetra.

Sean explained to us the story of Ngurunderi and how the Murray River (Murrundi) and Coorong (Kurangk) came into being. Beginning at Long Island (Lenteilin), Sean shared the story as we pilgrimaged by car in convoy to sacred landmarks around Lakes Alexandrina and Albert. (Read the story at the foot of this article.)

We were privileged to spend significant time at Raukkan, where Sean invited Uncle Clyde Rigney and Jordan Sumner to share stories. They told us the story of the people of the Ngarrindjeri Nation being brought together during South Australia’s colonisation by white settlers in the 1800s.

Uncle Clyde shared with us the impact of our shared history in the most respectful and dignified way. While he never hid any of the impact our colonisation has had on the Ngarrindjeri people, he acknowledged that there is a way forward, and that together we have shared history and a shared future.

Uncle Clyde also told us that in order to understand our shared history we need to hear it truthfully and honestly, no matter how painful the words and pictures those stories may be.

I believe this readiness to listen and hear the voices that we don’t always want to hear is an excellent first step in mutual movement towards a shared future. I wonder if this willingness to sit at the feet of people who have been silenced or who have gone unnoticed may also be the most essential step in moving forward.

The beauty of the landscape, coupled with the respect and love that Sean, Jordan, Uncle Clyde Rigney and Aunty Phyllis Williams shared with us, made the pilgrimage deep and moving. Viewing the landscape while hearing sacred stories somehow deepens the significance and depth of spirituality present in the land and creation.

Sean has kindly included Ngurunderi’s story for us to read as part of this article:

In the dreaming, Ngurunderi travelled down the Murray River in a bark canoe, in search of his two wives who had run away from him. At that time the river was only a small stream below the junction with the Darling River. 

A giant cod fish (Ponde) swam ahead of Ngurunderi, widening the river with sweeps of its tail (Ponde's tail also made swamps and cliffs along the way). Ngurunderi chased the fish, trying to spear it from his canoe. Near Murray Bridge he threw a spear, but it missed and was changed into Long Island (Lenteilin). At Tailem Bend (Tagalang) he threw another spear; the giant fish surged ahead and created a long straight stretch in the river. 

At last, with the help of Nepele (the brother of Ngurunderi's wives), Ponde was speared after it had left the Murray River and had swum into Lake Alexandrina.  

Ngurunderi divided the fish with his stone knife and created a new species of fish from each piece he threw in the water, and he said: Nginti ma:mi, thukeri-walun. Nginti ma:mi, kanmeri-walun. Nginti ma:mi malowi-walun. Nginti elun pondi. 

Meanwhile Ngurunderi's two wives had made camp. On their campfire they were cooking bony bream (Thukeri), a fish forbidden to Ngarrindjeri women. Ngurunderi smelt the fish cooking and knew his wives were close. 

He abandoned his camp, but before leaving he threw his canoe into the sky in anger that his wives broke Ngarrindjeri Law. His canoe became Wayirriwar (the Milky Way) and his huts became two hills known as Mount Misery (Lalanganggel).

Hearing Ngurunderi coming, his wives just had time to build a raft of reeds and grass-trees and to escape across Lake Albert. On the other side, their raft turned back into the reeds and grass-trees. The women hurried south. 

Ngurunderi followed his wives as far south-east Kingston. Here he met a great sorcerer, Parampari. The two men fought, using weapons and magic powers, until eventually Ngurunderi won. He burnt Parampari's body in a huge fire, symbolised by granite boulders today, and turned north along the Coorong beach. Here he camped several times, digging soaks in the sand for fresh water, and fishing in the Coorong lagoon. 

Ngurunderi made his way across the Murray Mouth and along Encounter Bay coast towards Victor Harbor. He made a fishing ground at Middleton by throwing a huge tree into the sea to make a seaweed bed. Here he hunted and killed a seal: its dying gasps can still be heard among the rocks. At Port Elliot he camped and fished again, without seeing a sign of his wives. He became angry and threw his spears into the sea at Victor Harbor, creating the islands there. 

Finally, after resting in a giant granite shade-shelter on Granite Island (Kaike), Ngurunderi heard his wives laughing and playing in the water near King's Beach. He hurled his club to the ground, creating the Bluff (Longkuwar), and strode after them. 

His wives fled along the beach until they reached Cape Jervis. At this time Kangaroo Island (Karta - the land of the dead) was still connected to the mainland (18,000 years ago), and the two women began to hurry across to it. Ngurunderi had arrived at Cape Jervis, and seeing his wives still fleeing from him, he called out in a voice of thunder: ‘Prenkulun prakuldun (water rise, water fall)’. The women were swept from their path by huge waves and were soon drowned. They became the rocky Pages Islands. 

Ngurunderi travelled across to Kangaroo Island and sat underneath a big sheoak tree. The wind blowing through the tree made a crying sound. It reminded Ngurunderi of his wives and he became upset. Ngurunderi knew it was time for him to enter the spirit world. He travelled to Kangaroo Island’s western end. After first throwing his spears into the sea, he dived in to cleanse his spirit, before rising to become the brightest star in the Milky Way. Before Ngurunderi left the earth to enter into the Milky Way he told the people: 'I am going first, you will come after me.’



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