Mr Stefan Wilton

Adnyamathanha People, the Traditional Owners of the Flinders Ranges


The Adnyamathanha are the Aboriginal people of the northern Flinders Ranges. Adnyamathanha meaning 'hills' or 'rock people' is a term now used to describe the Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaura, Pilatapa and Pangkala, the traditional groups in the Flinders Ranges. The Aborigines of the Flinders Ranges have been living in the area for thousands of years. Their stories of how this ancient landscape was created are as fascinating as the scientist's explanations. 


The Aboriginal people of the Northern Flinders Ranges at the time of European settlement were the Wailpi, Guyani, Jadliaura and Pilatapa. These four language groups are now collectively referred to as the Adnyamathanha, although some descendants of these groups identify with and maintain their original affiliations. Nepabunna was established by the United Aborigines Mission in 1931 on land donated by Balcoona Station owner Roy Thomas. It was the first permanent home the Adnyamathanha people had known since their displacement from their traditional lands in the early 1850s.


After years of Mission and Government control, Nepabunna was handed back to the Adnyamathanha in 1977. In 2009 the Federal Court recognised that the Adnyamathanha hold Native Title over much of the Ranges, including Nepabunna and vicinities. The 80th anniversary of Nepabunna, and the strength of Adnyamathanha culture, was recognised during a large Community reunion in November 2011.


On 30 March 2009, Justice Mansfield made two consent determinations recognising the rights and interests of the Adnyamathanha People covering 41,085sq km of land in and around the Flinders Ranges. The determinations give the Adnyamathanha People non-exclusive rights including access for ceremonial or cultural activities, hunting and camping. The determinations also resolve a claim over the 918sq km Flinders Ranges National Park and another claim including 367sq km Angepena pastoral lease. An Indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) for the co-management of the Flinders Ranges National Park has also been finalised. The agreement reflects the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park agreement, registered in 2006. This is the fourth native title determination in South Australia, following De Rose Hill in 2005, Yankunytjatjara/Antakirinja in 2006 and Witjira National Park in 2008.


Adnyamathanha Culture


The Adnyamathanha are the Aboriginal people of the northern Flinders Ranges. Adnyamathanha meaning 'hills' or 'rock people' is a term now used to describe the Kuyani, Wailpi, Yadliaura,Pilatapa and Pangkala, the traditional groups in the Flinders Ranges.


Sharing a common identity based on the Yura Muda, culture and language of their descendants, all understanding is derived from the land. The Yura Muda is passed on in the form of creation stories from generation to generation in a long held oral tradition. The Adnyamathanha people are proud to share their rich culture with visitors.


Early Settler Heritage


Using traditional knowledge, the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges lived sustainably with the land for thousands of years. However when European settlers moved into the Flinders Ranges in the 1840s their arrival was not welcomed by the Adnyamathanha people who were forced to adapt to this change.

When the early settlers discovered that the land, which was once described as a 'barren sterile country', had benefits to fatten their stock, colonisation of the northern Flinders Ranges began.


While wool production proved profitable and pastoral leases were established at the well-watered Wilpena, Arkaba and Aroona, further conflicts between settlers and Aboriginals arose. Denied access to traditional waters, the Adnyamathanha people stole the settlers' sheep which resulted in murders and reprisal killings. However, despite these clashes Aboriginal stockmen and housekeepers later became an integral part of station life.

Today many Adnyamathanha people live and work in the area. Nepabunna in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, Leigh Creek and Port Augusta are central settlements for the Adnyamathanha people. Rock art, stone arrangements, occupation sites, graves and ochre quarries are reminders of the area's cultural heritage and are of significance to the Adnyamathanha peoples' connection to country.


By 1863, European settlement had spread far beyond the ranges. Copper mining was booming and the track from Port Augusta was busy with bullock teams heading north with mining equipment and stores, and south with copper and wool.


From 1864 to 1866 no rain fell over the ranges causing the widespread saltbush plains to be stripped bare. Huge stock losses were recorded and several species of native animals became extinct. Many runs were deserted and mining came to a standstill.


When the rain returned, grasses replaced the saltbush, deserted runs were reoccupied and fences and boundary riders replaced shepherds.



Adnyamathanha Language


There are only around 20 fluent speakers of this language, but community language revival efforts are well underway both in the traditional Adnyamathanha lands and also with Adnyamathanha people living in Adelaide. Aunty Pauline speaks fluent Adnyamathanha language which students will enjoy hearing when she shares Dreamtime stories.  


Adnyamathanha Ngawarla Yarramalka is a language and culture program offered weekly in term time.

Yarramalka means Message Stick. The Yarramalka was a tool for communication in Adnyamathanha culture. Students gain insight into culture and language as they develop language proficiency. Classes include everything elders feel students should know about language and culture as well as language learning itself. An Adnyamathanha camp is in the Southern Flinders Ranges for three days of sharing between elders, parents and children, in July. Adnyamathanha Ngawarla Yarramalka is a not-for-profit project made possible by collaboration between Australians Against Racism Inc, Tauondi College, and the Adnyamathanha Community.














Books and Pamphlets


The Adnyamathanha people : Aboriginal people of the Flinders Ranges : an Aboriginal studies course for secondary students. Adelaide: Education Department of South Australia, c1992.


Bonney, Neville, Adnyamathanha and beyond : useful plants of an ancient land, Unley, S. Aust. : Australian Plants Society, South Australian Region 2007


Brock, Peggy. Outback ghettos : Aborigines, institutionalisation and survival. Cambridge (England); Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


Brock, Peggy. Yura and Udnyu : a history of the Adnyamathanha of the North Flinders Ranges. Adelaide: Wakefield Press in association with the Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Planning, South Australia, 1985.


Davis, Christine. Adnyamathanha genealogy. Adelaide: Aboriginal Heritage Branch, South Australian Dept. of Environment and Planning, 1985.

Ellis, Julie & Bob. Nepabunna: a brief history, S. Aust:  Adnymathanha Traditional Lands Association, [2011?]


The Flinders Ranges : an Aboriginal view. 2nd ed. compiled by Christine Davis, Clifford Coulthard and Desmond Coulthard. Adelaide: Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Planning, 1986.


Lamshed, Max. 'Monty': the biography of C.P. Mountford. Adelaide: Rigby, 1972. Ch. 10.


The Lives of Jim Page and Rebecca Forbes in the Adnymathanha Aboriginal Community, Interviewer: Tracy Spencer, 2001-2002, OH 647

Mountford, Charles P. Women of the Adnjamatana tribe of the Northern Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Sydney: Australasian Medical Pub. Co., 1941.


Neville, Lily. Adnyamathanha Ngawarla, Collingwood, Vic. : Australians Against Racism Inc., 2007.

Newspaper index : references to Aborigines in Adelaide newspapers, 1836-1940. Peggy Brock: project co-ordinator. Adelaide: Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Planning, 1989.


Ross, Betty. Minerawuta : Ram Paddock Gate : an historic Adnyamathanha settlement in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. 2nd ed. Adelaide: Aboriginal Heritage Branch, Dept. of Environment and Planning, 1989.


Survival in our own land : 'Aboriginal' experiences in 'South Australia' since 1836. Ch. 28 'Nepabunna', p. 227-234


Tunbridge, Dorothy. Flinders Ranges dreaming. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1988.


Tunbridge, Dorothy. Artefacts of the Flinders Ranges : an illustrated dictionary of artefacts used by the Adnyamathanha. Port Augusta, SA : Pipa Wangka, c1985.


Wrightson, Karolyn Kosanke. The fire that brought peace : a spiritual trek at Gum Creek. North Adelaide, SA: Anglican Education Centre, 1997. 

A student's collage post-school camp