Ngarrindjerri - the first fishers of the Lower Lakes

13 April 2012

Paul Caica states in “Lakes flood plan defies the existing evidence” that "the culture and wellbeing of the region's traditional owners, the Ngarrindjeri, have for thousands of years been directly tied to the water in the lakes being fresh.”

Mr Caica is correct in stating that the Ngarrindjerri are the region’s traditional owners, but he is wrong in asserting that their wellbeing was “tied to the water in the lakes being fresh”.

Prior to the construction of the River Murray Barrages in the 1930s, the Murray Mouth and Coorong were connected with the Lower Lakes forming a great estuary. The mix of fresh and salt water, and its movement in response to both tidal and seasonal influences, created a vibrant and productive ecosystem.

Ngarrindjeri folklore abounds with references to “the meeting place of the two waters - the salt and the fresh water”. Today, we call that an estuary and it was very important to the Ngarrindjeri. They relied heavily on fishing and their rich language reflects that fact with an abundance of words for fish species. A scan of Mary-Anne Gale’s excellent “Ngarrindjeri Dictionary” reveals a wealth of estuarine and marine species of fish, such as: malawi, naraingki (mulloway), kungguldhi (congolli), tinungari (bream), minmekutji (greenback flounder), kanmaindjeri, poronti, kanmeri (saltwater mullet), waltjeri (saltwater perch), kuratji (bony saltwater fish in Coorong), tarrawi (salmon), ngrakami (gummy shark), taralgi (saltwater fish similar to callop), pameri-kop, ripuri (garfish) and tulari (black bream). There are also words for freshwater species such as pondi (murray cod), tyeri (golden perch), tji:ri (silver perch) and pomeri (cat fish). But for every freshwater species mentioned in the dictionary, there are two estuarine or marine species.  

Language reflects culture. The culture and wellbeing of the Ngarrindjeri was tied to “the meeting place of the two waters”, not freshwater alone.

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