Aboriginal heritage around Tara Hills

Lifeflow meditation mindfulness Adelaide tara hills aboriginal heritage 01

The Tara Hills Retreat Centre in Native Valley lies within the traditional lands of the Peramangk people who lived in the Adelaide Hills for thousands of years before European settlement.

According to The Manning Index of South Australian History this area became known as Native Valley because it “was the site of a permanent Aboriginal encampment set amongst trees, with an assured water supply”.

The home lands of the Peramangk tribe stretch from Myponga and Currency Creek to Gawler and Angaston, east to Strathalbyn, Kanmantoo and Mannum and west through the Mount Lofty Ranges in line with Hahndorf, Woodside and Charleston. It is believed that when Europeans first arrived in the Adelaide Hills around 1830 there were close to 1000 Peramangk people living in the Mount Barker area and that they were often referred to as the Mount Barker tribe. Their neighbours to the west were the Kaurna people living on the Adelaide Plains. To the east and the south lie the lands of the Ngarrindjeri people and the country to the north through the northern Mount Lofty Ranges is the traditional home of the Ngadjuri tribe.

The settlers called any land that was not surveyed and cultivated “wasteland” but in fact the countryside around Tara Hills was rich in native fauna and flora providing abundant food and water for the original owners as well as firewood and bark for dwellings, shields, canoes and utensils. The creeks flowed freely and the ridges and valleys were covered in red gums, sheoaks, acacias and native grasses. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, possums, many varieties of birds, snakes and lizards were plentiful as well as edible plants and delicacies such as the moth grub, insect larvae and birds’ eggs. During the summer months the Peramangk moved freely through their territory and beyond, trading with their neighbours from the Adelaide Plains and the Murray River region. During the wet winter months, however, family groups stayed in their local areas camping in sheltered spots, and making homes in large red gum trees which had been hollowed out by fire. Bark sheets, animal skins and fallen tree branches were all used to keep out the rain and cold and possum and kangaroo skins would be worn for extra warmth. The Peramangk were well aware of the regular cycles of drought and rain and had learned to live with the land so that it continued to give and support life.

The introduction of crop farming and intensive stock grazing in the 1840s changed the land very quickly and made it impossible for the Peramangk to continue their traditional way of life. The changes also surprised the settlers, but they did not have the knowledge to reverse what they had put in place so the degradation of the land continued. Sheep and cattle polluted the creeks, introduced plants clogged the waterways and killed the native grasses, fences, dogs and the competition for pasture drove the native animals away from Native Valley and the clearing of the land destroyed much of the original forests. On top of this came introduced diseases such as small pox, whooping cough and measles to which the Peramangk people had little or no resistance. Many people died. Those who survived tended to move to other areas: down onto the plains or north and west to find more suitable homes with other tribes related by kinship ties.

Much evidence of the Peramangk people can still be found around Tara Hills. Ridge lines used as trade routes by the Peramangk turned into country roads. Hollowed red gum trees used for shelter, winter homes and storage can be seen throughout the district, some very close to Tara Hills in neighbouring paddocks. Trees where the bark has been cut away to build canoes and other utensils can also be found closeby. Listed heritage sites in the Native Valley area include camp sites, rock art, scar trees and stone placements.

Peramangk heritage also lives on in many place names through the Adelaide Hills. Brukunga, the name of a small town near Tara Hills and for many years the site of a pyrite mine, comes from the Peramangk word Barruka-ngga meaning “a place of hidden fire”. The Peramangk are said to have traded fire-making kits with other tribes using the pyrite from this area. The Tjirbruki songline runs through the Brukunga area and according to the legend Tjirbruki’s body became a rocky outcrop at Brukunga.

Lartingga-parri means “flooding land creek” and is the site of the wetlands at Mt Barker now called Laratinga.

Kanmantoo, from the word Kungma tuko means “different speech”. The Peramangk people had a distinct pronunciation different from their neighbours.

Yurebilla means “two ears” referring to Mount Lofty and Mount Bonython.

Piccadilly Valley from the word Picolda meaning “Earlobe Place” (from a traditional legend)

Kuitpo = sacred or forbidden place.

Tarra = land that rises up steeply, a steep hill or ridge.

Taingappa (Tainga-Tappa): Foot Track; Trail – A trail that follows the Marne River from Wongulla to the foot of Mount Crawford. This was an important trade route that linked the Peramangk and Nunguruku peoples. Significant camping and art sites are located along the river with hollowed trees, burial and artifact sites. Evidence of semi-permanent huts with stone foundations have also been located in the Eden Valley area and stone fish traps along the Marne River

Kangari-lla (Kangarilla) means “Caring Place”.

Cuddlee Creek comes from the words Kadli-parri meaning “Dingo creek” named after the wild dogs that were abundant in the area.

Echunga comes from Ityangga, meaning “near by place”.

Myponga from Maitpa-ngga (Autumn food place)

Today many of the descendants of the original Peramangk still live in the Adelaide Hills and other parts of South Australia. They continue to maintain a deep spiritual connection with their traditional lands and to practise their unique cultural and heritage beliefs. When you walk along the creek or through the paddocks at Tara Hills you may feel a connection with the “old people” who lived here and cared for the land long ago.

Robyn Walden 6/8/2009


I would like to acknowledge the help and encouragement of Ivan Copley (South Australian of the Year finalist 2009), a descendant of the Peramangk people from around Harrogate and the Eden Hills area.

On-line references





Printed resources

Carver, Gregory William. An examination of indigenous Australian culturally modified trees in South Australia . Archaeology thesis, Flinders University, 2001.

Coles, R and Draper, N. Aboriginal history and recently-discovered art in the Mount Lofty Ranges. From Torrens Valley Historical Journal, no 33: pp.2-42. Torrens Valley Historical Society, Gumeracha, 1988.

Fitzpatrick, Philip. Indigenous Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Assessment Kanmantoo Copper Ore Project Final report to Enesar Consulting Pty Ltd 2007

Hassell, Kathleen. The relations between the settlers and Aborigines in South Australia, 1836-1860. Adelaide, Libraries Board of SA, 1966.

Ladd, Mike. Starting at the source. Adelaide Review, 1984.

Martin, Vivien S. Mostly Mount Barker in South Australia : aspects of the early history of the district, including Blakiston. Adelaide, V.S. Martin, 1982.

Mills, May. Millbrae and its founding family. Lutheran Publishing House, 1973.

Roberts, Rhys. The Peramangk and culturally modified trees : significant heritage sites. Archaeology thesis, Flinders University, 2000.

Teichelmann, C. G and Schurmann, C.W. Outlines of a grammar, vocabulary, and phraseology of the Aboriginal language of South Australia, spoken by the natives in and for some distance around Adelaide. Adelaide, 1840.

Tindale, N. B. Aboriginal tribes of Australia. University of California, 1974.


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