We are now at the site of the Thukeri story. In front of me is Lake Alexandrina. This part of the country belongs to the Ngarrindjeri people, it’s my people and it’s the site where the two Ngarrindjerri men went out fishing in their bark canoe.
A long time ago, the Ngarrindjeri people would have used their bark canoes to go fishing and to trade with other neighbouring groups along the Coorong and also, the Ngarrindjeri children would have spent a lot of time swimming and playing other games along this area.
Here is one part of the original school building that was built round about the time when the Mission was established in 1859. This church was erected by Reverend George Taplin and his role in the community was to protect Aboriginal people, so he thought he was protecting the Ngarrindjeri people, but what happened was the Ngarrindjeri people lost language, lost their right to practice their ceremonies, to pass on the laws to their young people.
Stories were lost because the Elders of the Ngarrindjeri nation could not pass on these stories and were told that you couldn’t practice your ceremonies, or do any of these important things for the culture to be taught.
What the children get from it is not just looking at how the characters look, but the information they get from the story. It tells of rules, gives them information about the environment as well as the spirit ancestor, Ngurunderi.
Behind is what’s left of the jetty. The Ngarrindjeri men used to shear the sheep and bring the sheep’s wool down onto the beachfront and then it would be baled up and taken by paddle steamer over to Goolwa and then transported to Adelaide.
This area was taken up for farming. The Ngarrindjeri people were very lucky to have all this water, because the Ngarrindjeri people were people who used the ocean and the water for fishing. There’s many different types of fish in Lake Alexandrina. We have Cape Barron Geese and swans, when the egg-laying season starts, the Ngarrindjeri people would go in their boats to go amongst the long bulrushes in the lake, where the swan would make its nest and they would take some of these eggs and eat them. We would also eat swan.
The Ngarrindjeri women came down here. There are long rushes that grow along the lakefront. They used these long rushes to weave carrying-baskets, big woven mats to sit on in their traditional camps and also the two Ngarrindjeri men who went fishing on Lake Alexandrina, they took with them a woven mat and a couple of woven baskets and they used these woven baskets to carry the Thukeri back to the camp.
This monument was erected by the young Ngarrindjeri men of the Mission. This commemorated the voyage of Captain Sturt down the River Murray. I think for the Ngarrindjeri people there wouldn’t have been any other significance to building it, other than an idea put forth by the missionaries.
For the Ngarrindjeri people, it’s very important that these stories are continued and the Thukeri story is told today in all South Australian schools. The story is very important because it teaches the young people about respect. It teaches about greed and lying and it also teaches about respect for your spirit ancestors, the creators of the Ngarrindjeri people and Ngarrindjeri lands.
I see it-as a Ngarrindjeri person-that, while we continue to tell the Thukeri story, our cultural beliefs will stay alive and that the young people-and most importantly the Ngarrindjeri children-will have something that they can identify with.
(Veena Gollan. Lake Alexandrina, South Australia, 1997)