ForewordThe story of Kudnarto excited me when I heard of it. I first came into contact with her legend after talking to some women of the Kaurna region. They had only a vague idea of her life.
Other people had written snippets about Kudnarto’s life. These references ranged from being very brief to those couched in terms so as to disguise the real situation that prevailed at the time. The most extensive production in existence received little circulation. It was simplistic and proved to be relatively unreliable as a source of information. The authors were keen to gloss over the major problems that existed between Kudnarto and her husband in the first instance, and the contempt that the Protector of Aborigines, Dr Matthew Moorhouse had for her husband. This collapse in relationships was very instrumental in charting the course of the history of the Adams family long after the death of Kudnarto.
The reasons for the essay ignoring these issues was to ease family sensitivities. I am very conscious of the myths which prevail within the descendant families. There are three major family myths. They are that: Kudnarto taught her husband how to read and write; Thomas Adams was the ne’er do well son of a noble family who travelled extensively throughout Australia; and, Thomas Adams arrived in South Australia on the HMS Buffalo. Each of these claims is examined and found wanting. Family folklore, unfortunately, is not a substitute for good history.
The lack of available research was instrumental in stimulating this voyage of historical discovery into the life story of Kudnarto. My search for facts took me to the State Archives where there are many primary source documents available. The few letters written by Adams are preserved as well as the responses from the various government agencies with whom he corresponded. In addition, the Mortlock Library made available all newspapers, migration records and Registrar General records. One resource of ancillary use which was available at the Mortlock Library was the International Genealogical Index compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints. The edition used was produced in March 1992. The last resource was the Department of Lands and Surveys. They are fastidious in retaining their records to a high standard. The survey books bring alive the expeditions that mapped the territory in which Kudnarto lived.
After many months research, I began to understand Kudnarto. As I came to know Kudnarto as a woman, she emerged through the mists of history as a real person who lived an extra-ordinary life. My research revealed Kudnarto’s circumstances with a strong emphasis upon the period in which she lived. One problem confronting a researcher is the lack of established research within the discipline of South Australian Aboriginal studies. Very little research has been undertaken in South Australia within the sphere of Aboriginal history and even less has been published. Thus, to tell the story of Kudnarto requires a great deal of explanation to do proper justice to a brave woman who deserves better in death than she received in life.
Another problem is that primary resource documents are rare. This situation usually arises when a group of people, whose history was recorded through the oral tradition, suddenly comes under great pressure for survival. Any ensuing conflict disrupt the normal course of cultural transmission. Few people, if any, survive who have detailed knowledge and understanding of the specific community’s oral tradition. The inevitable result is the complete destruction of an independent culture. Like the death of other cultures, only few fragments are left for future generations to make sense of that which has passed.
When the British settled in South Australia, very few felt any need to preserve understanding of the diverse Aboriginal cultures with which they came into contact. Few serious scholarly works were produced during this period. The only people who showed any interest were two German Lutheran ministers, Christian G. Teichelmann and Clamor W. Schürmann. These two intrepid men quickly learned the Kaurna language. This study bore fruit. Within a year of their arrival, they published their first work in 1840 called Outlines of a Grammar, Vocabulary, and Phraseology of the Aboriginal Language of South Australia. The work was self published Adelaide and advertised regularly in the Register.
Teichelmann and Schürmann’s efforts were short lived. In 1841, Governor Grey forbade them to preach, teach or speak in the Kaurna language. Thus serious legal scholarship relating to the Kaurna people came to an abrupt halt. The dearth of information from this time onwards is palpable.
The only other serious work to emerge about the Aboriginal people within South Australia was published by D. Wood as editor in 1879 called The Native Tribes of South Australia. This was a collection of essays reminiscing about a bygone era of the original inhabitants of South Australia. This was an attempt to preserve that which was recognised to be already dying.
The key issue to emerge from this story is that of land and its usage. To Kudnarto, no one owned the land upon which she traditionally lived. The Kaurna people had traditionally used the land for many thousands of years. Since there was an abundance of land, there was little concern when the British settled in Adelaide. However, when the British started to imprison the Kaurna people for undertaking activities which were considered to be acceptable and desirable, they realised that the Europeans had stolen their land.
In a historical irony that was missed at the time, Crown land was given to back to Kudnarto for her personal use. This was land that her people had traditionally lived upon since the earliest times in Australia. In recognition of this changed power relationship, Kudnarto was happy to accept the property allocated to her. It gave her the ability to continue living a traditional lifestyle tempered by the requirements of British culture.
Although Kudnarto endured many personal difficulties through her marriage outside her traditional cultural group, her husband Thomas Adams also faced a different series of problems. He was an impoverished shepherd. This placed Adams as an outcast from European society. In contrast to Kudnarto, Adams saw land as representing wealth and social position within European society. When he obtained land, it was on such conditions that effectively made him a tenant beholden upon Kudnarto's good will. This was the cause of considerable personal distress which was never resolved during his lifetime. It took many years for him to accept that at no stage was he ever going to be entitled to receive any land grant from the government of the day.
A dynamic tension emerges between an adventurous and intelligent young woman who leaves her tribe to live in another culture with a man who is considered to have poor social and cultural ties. These conflicts between Kudnarto and Adams sets the scene for both the personal and cultural aspects of their relationship. Each is a microcosm of their own cultural tradition. Their relationship is the first formal attempt for the two diverse communities to reach out to each other.
South Australian's have limited awareness of all the issues involved when an indigenous woman marries a European man as occurred in the Kudnarto story. To tell the story as sympathetically as possible, the best person to relate the account is one who shares a similar record. The mantle of responsibility falls upon the person who can intimately understand the problems which confronted Kudnarto and, furthermore, detail and describe these challenges. In addition, that person must also have a deep understanding of the underlying feelings and conflicts that confronted Kudnarto.
Unfortunately, few publishers will take on a work of this nature because of its perceived poor market appeal. After all it deals with women’s issues and indigenous people. These are two distinct areas of poor publishing records. This is the first work produced about the life of an indigenous woman in South Australia.
This subject is very appears very parochial thereby giving the work the “kiss of death” as far as publishing is concerned. Rarely will a book about South Australia stimulate people in the eastern seaboard to purchase it. This problem of book selling economics is further compounded by the State Government. Their monetarist policies have severely curbed the free dissemination of knowledge and debate. A major plank in the current monetarist thinking is the concept of “user pays”. This is good in economic theory but economic theory and reality are two different issues. There is no such wonder as a workable economic model. Every party has their own pet theory but as yet, none seem to produce results in accordance with the theory. Thatcherite monetarist economics as practised by the South Australian government has a similar track record as experienced in England. The government is more interested in devolution of function than to stimulate the growth of collective knowledge. Privatisation of research has resulted in the reduction of public spirited debate through learned cultural resources. The new bench mark is “the lowest common denominator”. The market place does not respond favourably to social research with long term results. Consequently this has been a traditional role for government patronage. Now this assistance has been reduced to almost non-existent levels.
The running down of the research base within South Australia has been disastrous. It provoked and encouraged South Australian people to remain relatively ignorant about their early history and cultural setting. Thus a work of this type cannot take for granted a level of knowledge or assumptions about Aboriginal history that is normally attributed to European history. This work attempts to overcome such shortcomings.
Kudnarto is a shadow in history. She is rarely allowed to speak out on her own behalf. It is her historical muteness which requires this generation to correct this injustice. It is our responsibility to give her an authentic voice and thus allow her to speak with to our people. Despite this lack of personal information, once seen as a human with all the concomitant ardour and zeal for life, Kudnarto speaks to the current generation with succinct clarity which gives powerful direction.
These are the reasons which inspired me to write this book. It is a necessary story which promotes understanding between races regardless of who these races are. It is a woman's story. Also it is a social history. Finally, it makes comment about today as well as dealing with issues of the past. My hope is that this story is as inspirational to you, the reader, as it was to me, the author. This is Kudnarto's story. Also, it is our story.
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