South Australian Traditional Owners of the River Murray

The lands and waters of the River Murray, or Murrundi, are central to the culture and beliefs of their Traditional Owners, who have occupied, enjoyed, utilised and managed these areas since the Creation.

The Ngarrindjeri are the Traditional Owners of the Lower Lakes, Murray Mouth and Coorong and along the River Murray as far north as Mannum. The Ngarrindjeri Nation is made up of 18 Laklinyeris (tribes).

The First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Region are the Traditional Owners of the River Murray area from the Victorian border to Morgan.

These Aboriginal Nations believe Murrundi is a living body, formed during the Creation, and the Traditional Owners are part of its existence. The freshwater flows through Murrundi are the lifeblood of these Aboriginal Nations.

The River Murray Creation Story

Creation stories (cultural and spiritual histories) reveal the significance of the relationship between the country and Aboriginal people, both physically and spiritually.

Creation Story of River Murray eg from Ngarrindjeri Nation Sea Country Plan used in CLLMM long-term plan:

‘A long, long time ago Ngurunderi our Spiritual Ancestor chased Pondi, the giant Murray Cod, from the junction where the Darling and Murrundi (River Murray) meet. Back then, the River Murray was just a small stream and Pondi had nowhere to go. As Ngurunderi chased him in his bark canoe he went ploughing and crashing through the land and his huge body and tail created the mighty River Murray. When Ngurunderi and his brother-in-law Nepele caught Pondi at the place where the fresh and salt water meet they cut him up into many pieces, which became the fresh and salt water fish for the Ngarrindjeri people. To the last piece Ngurunderi said “You keep being a Pondi (Murray Cod).”

As Ngurunderi travelled throughout our Country, he created landforms, waterways and life. He gave to his people the stories, meanings and laws associated with our lands and waters of his creation. He gave each Lakalinyeri (clan) our identity to our Yarluwar-Ruwe (country) and our Ngartjis (animals, birds, fish and plants) – who are our friends. Ngurunderi taught us how to hunt and gather our foods from the lands and waters. He taught us, don’t be greedy, don’t take any more than you need, and share with one another.’

Important cultural sites

Aboriginal people have lived on their traditional lands along the River Murray for many thousands of years and there are many culturally significant heritage sites across the region.

Many national parks are rich in Aboriginal heritage such as rock art, graves, middens and canoe trees. These include Coorong National Park, Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park and Murray River National Park.

Find out more about Aboriginal culture and heritage in South Australia’s National Parks.

When visiting heritage sites, it is important to be respectful and not disturb these important places.

Also if you are carrying out works along the river or on traditional lands, it’s important to consider if they may affect a heritage site and if any actions need to be taken or permits are required.

Working together

It is crucial that Aboriginal people are involved in environmental management and water planning to ensure that traditional knowledge is incorporated and culturally important sites are respected.

The Kungun Ngarrindjeri Yunnan (Listen to Ngarrindjeri People Talking) Agreement guides how the South Australian Government and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority work together to ensure the Ngarrindjeri are involved in environmental management across the region.

Find out more about our partnerships with Traditional Owners and the Aboriginal Partnerships programs in the Natural Resources South Australian Murray-Darling Basin and Natural Resources South East regions.