Chapter 3 ~ Kudnato’s early life
Daily life of the Kaurna people revolved around the extended family group of about ten to twenty people. This family group consisted of a husband and wife, or wives according to the circumstance, the children from the various wives, the various grandparents, the widowed men and women and any unmarried relatives. A man with more than one wife indicated that he was highly respected and a good provider.
Members of family groups were able to travel across this wider territory shared with some six or eight neighbouring groups containing in total some 60 and 120 people. Contact with people from distant yerta groups was rather uncommon but this would occur upon a number of occasions each year when they met for significant ceremonies, for trade or to defend territories from outsiders.
The use of the name Kudnarto by her parents indicates that they adhered strictly to the very traditional Kaurna family structure and belief. Consequently, it is reasonable to conclude that her early life followed that of the traditional Kaurna pattern for children.
The role of child rearing and education was considered to be a community responsibility involving all adults and children. The Kaurna people had a particular structured methodology for rearing children. Each child received a general education coupled with specialisation based upon the child's abilities. There was no differentiation in rearing between the sexes until each child achieved specific age mile-stones. Gender only became significant after the child attained about five years of age.
From Kudnarto's infancy, her family and relatives played an integral role in rearing her to puberty. While she was a baby, her mother and relatives would have nursed her until she was ready to be weaned. Any woman who was suckling her child also shared the breast feeding of other women’s children. Breast feeding children was not confined to the natural parent. Obviously, in these circumstances, a woman who was capable of expressing prodigious amounts of milk was held in very high regard. The sharing of child feeding had significant social implications. It introduced the child in a positive manner to the many people of her community. It also built a strong bond of trust and identification with the tribal group. Each mother would contribute to her sustenance while other people would assure her safety.
The seasonal pattern of obtainable foods and divers climatic conditions influenced Nantowarra movement. They moved according to an annual pattern dictated by their environment. As hunters and gathers, they were able to harvest the seasonal foods. The Nantowarra did not practice agricultural husbandry crops in a similar manner as the Europeans. The consequence required continual movement within the pangkarra. After the depletion of the available food within one location, the family moved to a new site. It is generally believed is that the Kaurna people moved from the coastal areas in the summer months to the shelter of the hills in the winter. In the winter, the cold antarctic winds made coast al life uncomfortable while the flooding of the rivers of the Adelaide Plains made their free movement difficult.
The coming of spring or willutti, was most important for the Kaurna. This was the time they re-entered the plains to take advantage of the extensive freshwater swamps behind the dunes. These provided the roots of bulrushes and reeds as a staple food, as well as water birds and their eggs. In addition, there were many different varieties of grains to be gathered which could be milled and made into damper.
When the food resources were depleted within one location the family group relocated to another area within the pangkarra. Sometimes, depending upon the supply of food resources they may also wander into the yerta territory. In conducting relocation of the family group there were distinct gender roles allocated to ensure a smoothness of movement. Thus the women were assigned the duty to carry the various possessions and small children. This left the men to carry their tools for hunting and if necessary, defence. Since hunting for meat was a task allocated to men, they required freedom of movement. This required the men carrying only the vital weapons required for hunting game. This ensured a reasonable amount of success in pursuit of animals.
While the group moved through the pangkarra, the men kept an eye out for game. At the same time, the women gathered the vegetable food necessary for the night's meal. When a woman found some edible roots, she would use her digging stick or katta for excavating the vegetable matter. This process of digging out roots was bakkandi. Plant foods were prised off trees and bushes by the women. The fruit and vegetables were placed in women's net bags called yammaru and carried along with them. Women and older children also hunted lizards or other small animals for food.
It is noteworthy that on 27 June 1840, a party of women and children were encountered by the expedition of John Eyre. The location detailed in his journal indicates that the area was that inhabited by the Nantowarra people. It is exciting to speculate whether this group also contained Kudnarto who was nine years old at the time. Eyre writes:
Before the European settlement of the Adelaide area, the Nantowarra people had a wide range and quantity of animals, birds, reptiles, fish, shellfish and insects to provide a balanced diet. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus, water fowl and possums were caught relatively easily. In the spring and summer months fish and shellfish were abundant. From the inland waterholes and creeks, yabbies and fresh water fish were also available. Just as it was generally the responsibility of the women to collect vegetable foods, mai, it was the men's duty to hunt and obtain meat - paru. This was not an inalterable rule as women would catch small animals and yabbies in their gathering of food and men would collect plant foods to eat on their hunting expeditions.
Other skills inculcated by the mothers included the ability to catch small animals like lizards, small marsupials, possums and birds, for food. Cawthorne writes about the hunting techniques employed in catching the various animals. He writes:
Tracking and trapping techniques required careful attention to the habitats of the various animals. Added to this was the ability to fish. Her particular tribal group was close to Spencer's and St Vincent's Gulf that would have given the tribe access to significant sources of protein. Crabbing, yabbying and collecting shell fish would have been the task of the children. The ability to gather all these sources of animal protein would have been extremely valuable to the tribe. The labour content of the children in contributing to the tribe can never be under estimated.
During her childhood, Kudnarto would have followed her many mothers  into the bush to gather food. Every aspect of tracking was shown. Usually, the women were excellent trackers, far exceeding the abilities of their men. Every animal or plant left a signature upon the ground as a track. Each child was required to learn these tracks to assist with the retrieval of food for the community. Since the community had strict rules on food distribution, they were taught through food gathering the relationships between all members of the tribal group.
Aboriginal people used a number of names for the one species. These names appear to reflect the operation of certain food avoidance requirements, for example the avoidance of the meat of the female kangaroo by young men, as well as distinctions within the social life of the Kaurna. The vocabulary of items listed may also include names derived from groups neighbouring the Kaurna.
As part of the young Kudnarto's training they would show her how to find the many water holes and creeks that dotted the countryside on their family's dreaming trail. These trails were millennial old. People followed the same trail year in, year out with little variation. This was the lot of a nomadic hunter and gatherer tribe. Due to the natural fecundity of the area, the trail followed covered a few hundred square miles wherein the community was able to sustain itself.
Each creek and water hole was a place of survival, especially during the long hot summer periods. Also, every watering place became a camp site for some period. This meant that they were close to burial sites which gave them a spiritual context. Thus each site brought them always into close contact with their ancestors. The importance of correct understanding of the Dreaming trails and the water holes was carefully inculcated within the children.
Within this region, Kudnarto's mothers gave her full instruction as to botanical properties of the flora. Each plant would be carefully described and shown to the child. The known properties relating to the plant were revealed. In so doing the mothers indicated those plants that were edible and those which found good use as medicine. As a personal note, the author also spent many hours with her grand mother in the bush lands learning about the botanical descriptions of the flora around the family's tribal lands. Her knowledge of plant properties was significant and this transfer of knowledge very useful. It was only years after her careful education that the author understood the significance of that education. The significance for Kudnarto was equally as strong. The survival of her family rested upon her skilful use of medicines and the ability to find good quantities of nourishing food.
Unlike the Aboriginal people living in the drier parts of South Australia the Nantowarra people of the Adelaide area had good supplies of water in both winter and summer. During the summer months, while camping along the coast, there were permanent fresh water springs and small rivers and streams. There were also waterholes in the beds of the rivers that crossed the Adelaide and Northern Plains. In winter, with the heavier rains, many areas became swampy. At this time, creeks fed by the winter rains flowed and water-holes in the foothills were replenished. Camps were usually made beside these different water sources. When water needed to be carried or stored in shelters, the people used several kinds of containers. Many different types of material were used in constructing them. Materials included large shells and animal skins.
Upon arrival at suitable camping site the women and children prepared the place for habitation. Apart from clearing the ground of rubbish, they then fetched branches, fuel and water. To ensure protection, they constructed a temporary shelter. Towards the afternoon, the men arrived with the day's catch. When the family group was together, a fire was lit and the food was cooked.
The type of temporary shelters used by family groups depended mainly upon their location and the time of the year. Their shelters were usually made of branches, bark and leaves. When mild weather prevailed the shelters constructed were only windbreaks, usually known as a ku.  Should the weather be inclement the structure could readily be enlarged and water-proofed with bark, grass, seaweed or earth. In addition, during summer, each of the individual materials so used in the structure also provided a natural insulation against heat. An added benefit was that the dark interiors attracted fewer flies.
The onset of autumn brought on the colder weather stimulating the Nantowarra group to move inland towards more forested areas of the Flinders Ranges foothills. It was the season for building huts against fallen trees as the apt Kaurna word wodliworngatti,  or autumn, describes. The natural supply of large gums ensured that there were good foundations for the construction of the wodli. The structure used the tree trunk as a wall. On the sheltered side of the trunk, the balance of the wodli was erected.
The construction of these shelters was ingeniously simple. Fallen branches with forked ends were collected from around the local area. Utilising the unique and irregular shapes of the scattered branches were the correct shape when they were used to create a semi-circular shelter. The people then dug shallow holes in a semi-circle. Branches were inserted into the holes to form an arched structure where each branch retained its position by mutual pressure of other branches forming a rudimentary ogee arch. The interlocking forks of the branches ensured that the wodli remained sturdy. They covered the branches with foliage and bark. Soil was then applied to bind the tree materials in making a form of wattle and daube that gave the structure strength and waterproofed it. Shelters were able to be adapted according to the size of the family. Usually a fire was lit at the wodli's entrance for many different purposes. It served to cook various foods while at night it provided warmth.
By the time they returned again to that site a few months later, the plants would have regenerated. The seasonal availability of food also influenced the timing of ceremonial activities when large numbers of Kaurna family groups came together for a week or more for rituals, social activities, marriages and trade. The ceremonies were planned for a time when people could expect a surplus of food in a certain area.
During the summer months especially, when travel was easy and food was abundant, large groups of people drawn from several yerta based groups would have met for celebrations and trade. At this time, marriages were arranged between the interested parties. Kaurna laws required people to marry someone from outside their moity and yerta.
People came together in certain well chosen spots. The Glenelg area and the banks of the Torrens are two locations that are known to have been popular meeting places. These gatherings probably ran for several weeks and were characterised by long nights of singing and dancing and displays of skills.
One of the strongest themes that runs through early settlers' writings about the Kaurna are descriptions of their palti.  The sound of pulsing rhythms and voices singing alien refrains obviously intrigued many of the early European settlers. Many of them became regular and enthusiastic spectators. During the 1840s and 1850s a flourishing minor industry of performing palti grew. All the performers, usually the men, expected to collect a fee for their performance. The most popularly attended palti was that held at Rose Park. Thus the usual boring Sunday afternoons in early Adelaide were enlivened by this activity.
Captain Hughes, a station owner around the Skillogolee area, reported his experience of a palti and on the numbers he saw at Reedy Creek in 1841 when he wrote:
It is exciting to speculate whether Kudnarto, who would have been in her tenth year, was actually present at this corroboree reported by Hughes. Unfortunately there is no ability to confirm this situation but in view of family conduct, it would have been unusual if Kudnarto was not in attendance at this palti.
For the Kaurna, dance became a source of relief in the increasingly hostile environment. Singing and dancing became a regular feature of their life in the Adelaide parklands. An immense amount of time and effort went into preparations for a dance or palti. The fully initiated male dancer wore complete traditional regalia.
Their palti was traditionally performed on nights of full moon. It is worth noting that Aboriginal dance was highly structured and as rigidly controlled as every other aspect of society. Dancing was a spiritual exercise, many dances tying in with one of the Dreaming stories which it illustrated.
In addition there would have been movement by particular groups of people for spiritual and trading purposes. As part of the initiation process it was customary for the young men to be escorted along the route of their Dreaming Ancestor. These journeys could have lasted weeks or even longer and traversed wide areas of country. Small trading parties probably travelled long distances bartering ochre, skins and flints with northern neighbours. Some of the materials may have travelled even further, passing through several groups.
Because of the group nature of family activity, all adults would have watched Kudnarto at play at some time or another. As a community, they would have observed the young girl's natural abilities. Within the group, either implicitly or explicitly, the group decided which abilities to emphasise. Subsequently they encouraged the best skills Kudnarto displayed which could assist her integration within the tribal unit. Later, this careful attention to the child's ability would lead to specialised functions within the group.
All children received lessons in performing their tasks as best as possible. Adults strongly believed that they were instrumental in ensuring the proper survival. A further aspect relating to education was its tie with spirituality. People implicitly believed that the pursuit of perfection fostered the attitude of paying proper respect to the Spirit Ancestors. Since adults rarely scolded the children or disciplined them, the community used the Dreaming rituals to give the child a sense of place and belonging and the implied self discipline required to fit in with the society. This was a powerful combination to impress upon the young children. It greatly assisted in setting the tone for community cohesion through applying a strong social glue. This gave the internal strength to Kaurna society that even today shows its vigour despite over 150 years of settlement.
Another important final survival skill was the making of fire. It was used for many different functions. Making fire was a skill that was highly valued. Cawthorne details the method in the following extract:
One major skill transferred was the ability to build a fire for cooking and preparation of food. Vegetable foods and fruits could either be eaten raw, warmed, steamed or roasted in a bush oven. Most animal foods were cooked in bush ovens similar to those used to cook vegetables except that the pits were larger and the steaming process replaced roasting or baking. This oven was called kanyayappa. 
To prepare an oven for steaming plants, a circular hole was dug using a wooden digging dish. Its dimensions were some 60 centimetres deep and between 90 to 130 centimetres in diameter. The Kaurna placed combustible material into the hole in anticipation of setting a fire. Pebbles and small stones were placed next to the fire wood at the bottom of the hole. Afterwards, when everything was prepared, they lit a fire. The Kaurna kept the fire burning until the stones were white hot. The coals were then taken out and sticks laid across the hole. A layer of reeds or damp grass was placed over the sticks. On top of the reeds or grass, the vegetables such as native cress or cabbage, were placed in concentric layers with root ends facing the outside. Over the food another layer of grass or reeds was placed with the warmth further sealed in by placing more grass around the heap.
A digging stick was then thrust into the heap which formed a hole. They then poured water into the hole. When the water reached the white hot stones, steam was immediately produced in great quantities. During the hour taken to cook the vegetables, more water was added. If the vegetables were to be baked, they would be added to the type of oven used to cook animals.
First, the animal was gutted. Then the fur was singed in the fire by holding the back legs and placing the rest of the body over the fire. They turned the carcass regularly to make sure all the fur was burnt off and just the skin remained. This process helped to seal the moisture in the meat.
When the fire had burnt down to coals some of the hot stones were placed in the gutted cavity of the stomach along with leaves for seasoning. The carcass was placed in the hole followed by a layer of gum leaves or wet plants. These were covered with hot stones and more wet leaves and earth and left to cook for about an hour or more, depending on the size of the animal. The cooked meat was removed from the fire and gum leaves were used to brush off any ash or sand. The meat was then divided and served on a platter of green gum leaves.
During the nights, the gathered families would congregate around the central camp fires. The heat generated from these fires was usually sufficient to warm the people on most nights. When it didn't rain, most people slept close to the fire. Sometimes people would accidentally roll into the fire. This resulted in burns to the body. It was rare to find an Kaurna person who was not scarred by fire.
Finally, the use of fire in land management was extensive. It was well known within the Kaurna community that land management was enhanced by properly conducted burn offs. The fires rarely destroyed plants for plant life had evolved around the culture of fire. The burn offs created and maintained the luxuriant pastures upon where the wild life prospered. Kangaroos thrived upon the vigorous pastures that were stimulated giving the particular pangkarra a fine source of food.
The Kaurna idea of fire culture was often commented upon by the early settlers. These people feared the consequences of fire and prohibited its use. There are early arrests and trials of Kaurna people around the Adelaide region for burning off during the summer periods. The defences employed by these people during their trials usually fell upon the use of tradition in stimulating the activity rather than criminal pyromania. These defences indicates the extent to which the pyroculture was inculcated within Kaurna society.
Tanned animal skins, particularly possum and kangaroo, had wide use in Kaurna society. When a suitable animal was killed it was skinned and the curing began. The Kaurna word for the preparation of animal skins for making bags or cloaks by dressing and scraping the inside is kandappendi. 
Game playing was also essential within the tribal unit. As a young girl she would have played the usual 'girls' games' with all her friends. In common with other cultures, the majority of games imitated adult daily activities. They were given miniature tools to play pretend foraging games, or as they grew older, they would build a small wodli  as white children build cubby houses.
When they were not playing these games, all the friends would join in collective singing and dancing with each other. For fun, as a group activity, they played a string game that is a universal game among children and especially girls.  This game playing ensured that strong bonds developed between the various members of the tribes. It also reinforced the group nature of tribal activity rather than any emphasis upon the individual.
Another game, similar to football, called Pando Ball, used an opossum skin ball to kick around.  Everyone played this popular game together, even the adult members of the tribe. There was a good description of the methods used in playing pando ball by the Aboriginal people. Cawthorne wrote:
There is a theory having some currency that this game, commonly played by many different tribes, became the foundation source of Australian rules football.  Only further research will discover the truth of this claim.
As she grew closer to adulthood, she would have started to participate in the rites of passage required by tribal law to become a woman. Since the process of becoming a woman is considered inappropriate knowledge to anyone but mature Kaurna women, the initiation rites and transmitted knowledge became forever lost to the modern days. The information was to be transmitted by oral sources from one initiate to the new initiate. The knowledge died with the initiates as they died. With the declining numbers of Kaurna women, the knowledge also declined until it was forgotten. Consequently, the only information obtained about her entrance to womanhood can only come from the overt observations of white males. These sources are rare and the reliable information very scarce.
There is also some speculation as to whether Kudnarto also received any formal education provided at the Native Location. This was a series of twelve buildings established on the north bank of the Torrens River, and some two kilometres west of King William Street. The Native Location was started by William Wyatt, the Protector of Aborigines in 1838.
The school aimed to impart the benefits of British culture into the indigenous people. As an added inducement for education, the children who attended received rations. In times when food was scarce, this was a blessing but when food was plentiful, attendance dropped.
The basis of the claims about Kudnarto’s education stems from a statement from Moorhouse made in 1843. He reported to the Governor that:
In making this statement, it is unknown whether it is a piece of self serving propaganda or a statement of accuracy. If it is accepted as true, judging by Kudnarto’s age, there is every possibility that she was taught in the Kaurna language by the German missionaries, Teichelmann and Schürmann. It is also evident that Moorhouse expresses a familiarity with most Kaurna families and thus must have known Kudnarto when she was a child.
There seems to be a strong basis for confirming that Kudnarto did indeed receive at least some formal education. Hale, in 1889, described Kudnarto as:
Hale did have contact with Kudnarto over a period of one year and thus had some knowledge of her background. He often referred to her as a model of the benefits of civilising and Christianising the indigenous people within Australia. He used her case to justify the creation of the training school at Poonindie. It was here that the social experiment of inculcating indigenous people with the values of European culture. While the educational experiment was carried out in a manner similar to that described in Plato’s Republic, the results were rather dubious. However, it is through the advocacy of Hale through using Kudnarto as his example that brought his idea to reality. This information would have been readily confirmed by Moorhouse who would have known of her presence at the Native Location school. It can be concluded that, in these circumstances, Kudnarto did receive some formal education at Adelaide.
Even though Kudnarto did receive formal education, the quantum and quality of this education are unknown. However, by the time she turned sixteen, her knowledge of the written form of English seems to have regressed for she is incapable of signing her name. Thus the durability of that education seems to be very much in doubt although the fact of her education is confirmed.
One further piece of information given by the article of Hale tells the location of Kudnarto for a part of her life after her marriage. Hale stated that she lived at "some settler’s station". This station belonged to Peter Ferguson, one of the first settlers in the Crystal Brook region. At the time, Adams lived at the same station as a shepherd. By 1848, Ferguson sold his station and moved to another property at Port Pirie.
If Kudnarto was brought up at the station, she could only have spent four years at the site. Ferguson settled at Crystal Brook in 1844 and moved to Skillogolee Creek in 1848. From this information, it can be ascertained that Kudnarto was thirteen when she began to reside at Ferguson’s station. At this time, she would have moved there with her first spouse.
Over the years of her childhood, Kudnarto received two conflicting forms of education. On the one hand, she was raised in the traditional Kaurna culture. However, the British settlement gave her a window into a completely different culture. Attendance at the Native Location school gave Kudnarto an opportunity to sample European culture. Throughout the rest of her life, Kudnarto constantly tried to juggle to conflict between the two competing cultures. She did so with varying measures of success.
1. Eyre, E.J., (1845), Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia and Overland From Adelaide to King George's Sound in the Years 1840-1, Volume 1, T & W Bone, London, p. 42. Return to text
2. Cawthorne, W.A. "Rough notes on the manners and customs of the Natives", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, 1925-26, Vol 27., pp. 64-65. Return to text
3. The sisters-in-law of a child's mother, known in Kaurna as Ngarpadia while the sisters of the child's mother were called Ngangkitta who were collectively referred to as mothers of the child rather than aunts. Return to text
4. ku - shelter; it was a windbreak erected at temporary camps; as in kungga, in the shelter or windbreak. Return to text
5. wodliworngatti, autumn; literally, 'the time of building huts against fallen trees'. Return to text
6. palti - a dance. The term corroboree comes from the eastern coast. Return to text
7. One other activity that enlivened politics was the establishment of brothels nearby where the wives of the performers were the prostitutes. [Protector's Report, Second Quarter 1842, June 30 1842 - South Australian Public Records Office, CSO 483/1842.] The scandalised white women of the colony sought to repress Aboriginal women prostitutes for they saw their men folk visit the prostitutes in preference to having relationships of a similar nature with them. It was white women who actively promoted the segregation between the indigenous people and the European community. See the South Australian Register over this period for the continuous debate about the Sunday palti. See also Roberts, J., (1981), Massacres To Mining - The Colonisation of Aboriginal Australia, Dove Communications, Victoria, p. 18. The case which really brought this to a head was that which occurred in October 1846 a young Aboriginal servant girl was badly beaten by a settler after he attempted to rape her in full view of five soldiers of the 11 th. Regiment. Extracted from the South Australian, 2 December 1846. Return to text
8. Letter dated 28 June 1843, GRG 24/6, A769 (1843) Return to text
9. Cawthorne, W.A., "Rough Notes on the manners and customs of the natives", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, Vol 27, 1925 - 26. Return to text
10. kanyayappa - a hole for steaming game or vegetable; an earth oven for steaming. Return to text
11. kandappendi - [verb active] to dress an animal skin by scraping it. Return to text
12. 'Transactions of the Statistical Society - Report on the Aborigines of South Australia', The Southern Australian, 11 January, 1842. Return to text
13. Wodli is the Kaurna word for house. Return to text
14. Bourke, C., Johnson, C., & White, I., (1981), Before the Invasion: Aboriginal Life to 1788, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 59. Return to text
15. Cawthorne, W.A., "Rough Notes on the manners and customs of the natives", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, Vol 27, 1925 - 26. Return to text
16. Cawthorne, W.A. "Rough notes on the manners and customs of the Natives", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, 1925-26, Vol 27. Return to text
17. This is a theory put forward by Professor Geoffrey Blamey. Return to text
18. Hunt, J.M., (1971), Schools for Aboriginal children in the Adelaide District 1836 - 1852, Adelaide, p. 44. Return to text
19. Hale, M.B., (1889), The Aborigines of Australia: Being an Account of the Institution for their Education at Poonindie in South Australia, London, SPCK., p. 76. Return to text
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