The cultural story of the Adelaide Hills began with the Peramangk traditional custodians. They ‘wrote’ the first thousand chapters as they cared for country, while living, trading and meeting for ceremonies with the neighbouring Ngarrindjeri (Coorong and Lakes region) and Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) peoples.

Amos Roach, Peramangk Man, Adelaide Hills
Amos Roach, Peramangk Man

We acknowledge and pay respect to the Peramangk people – the original inhabitants of the Mount Lofty Ranges – and recognise their ongoing connection with the land.

Peramangk country extends from the foothills above the Adelaide Plains, north from Mount Barker through Harrogate, Gumeracha, Mount Pleasant, and Springton to the Angaston and Gawler districts in the Barossa, and south to Strathalbyn and Myponga on the Fleurieu Peninsula. There are also sites along the River Murray to the east where Peramangk people had access to the river.

They named this area Bukatila, a deep pool or wash place. The name Peramangk is thought to be a combination of the words Pera, meaning the place on the Tiers Range of Mount Barker, and maingker, red colour or ochre skin warrior.

The area was fertile and rich in vital resources – food, water and firewood, animals for fur, stone, timber and resins for making tools, bark for huts, shields and canoes and pigments for painting. Peramangk Peoples were known as the “Fire Makers” and also “Red Ochre Peoples” because of their use and access to red ochre, flint and mineral pyrites. The Peramangk traded ochre, flint, quartz, supple whip-stick mallee spears, possum skins and other items not found on the plains and lower lakes.

Records indicate that approximately 600 Peramangk were living around Mount Barker and at least 1,200 across its Nation and Claim areas at the time of European colonisation.

Family records show that the early contact between the Peramangk and the settlers was mainly peaceful. The Peramangk helped the settlers by teaching them to catch possums and find edible plants. They also provided shelter and possum skins for clothing. By the mid 1840s conflict had begun as settlers’ sheep crowded the watering holes and grazed on traditional lads impacting on the Peramangk people’s complex cultural system. They were no longer able to move freely between different areas for food-gathering and ceremonial purposes. By the late 1850s many families were moved to Aboriginal missions set up by Lutheran Church and government organisations.

There are still many descendants living today in South Australia. There are nearly 600 residents in the Adelaide Hills region who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander (2016 Census, 220 Adelaide Hills Council, 360 Mount Barker District Council). The whole language of these people has not survived, but there are still many words, names of places and names of the Clans that made up the Peramangk Nation.

The Peramangk people share close relationships, culture and some language with the Nations of the Kaurna to the West, Ngadjuri to the north, Ngarrindjeri to the south and Meru to the east.

In the south-east of Peramangk country, Wommamukurta was a meeting place for inter-tribal gatherings and a source of ochre pigment. Today this ‘mountain on the plain’ is called Mount Barker.

The Peramangk would return to the sites used in previous years depending on the seasons and the condition of the environment. The diet also varied according to the season with vegetables, seeds, honey, eggs, grubs, insects, lizards, snakes, fish, yabbies, opossums and larger game with kangaroos, wallabies and emus all included, but depended on traditional laws of season and permissions of access. Peramangk people wore very little clothing, especially in summer, but the women were more likely to wear a clock of opossum fur or kangaroo skin.

The Peramangk managed and preserved the Adelaide Hills, using fire to clear old grasses and promote fresh plant growth. They also covered freshwater rock holes to keep their water supply clean and maintained many walking tracks.

Ceremony played an important role in their lives, with corroborees and meetings held to settle disagreements, for initiation, marriage and trade.

Many places and property names in the Adelaide Hills are derived from Aboriginal words. Together with artefacts, scar trees and shelter paintings they are important reminders of the traditional custodians of this land – the Peramangk.

With thanks to Ivan-Tiwu Copley OAM and Hahndorf Academy for assistance with Peramangk information.

More information is available on Wikipedia.