Pre-1836: Kaurna Country

Before colonisation, the Kaurna people had lived on the Adelaide Plains and nearby hills region for many thousands of years. Seasonally, they migrated between the coast and the hills using tracks through the Marion Hills that linked ceremonial and spiritual sites, trade centres, seasonal food sources and freshwater springs.


Aboriginal people used land management skills learnt over thousands of years to construct and cultivate the landscape. They used the position of stars and planets to track the changing seasons and created sustainable systems that worked with the environment and supplied the food they needed. In stark contrast, the foreign farming practices and water management introduced by Europeans during colonisation caused significant erosion and salinity in the long term.


Kangaroo grass (Themeda Triandra) – Image: John Englart.

The site we know today as Glenthorne National Park – Itymaiitpinna Yarta, was once covered in kangaroo grass, the dominant grass across the Adelaide Plains, and harvested as a food source by Aboriginal people to make bush bread. Kangaroo grass seeds were collected, ground and cooked over embers to make a type of bread that is believed to have inspired the damper bread associated with early colonists.


The kangaroo grass was also periodically burned for regeneration and to entice kangaroos to the area which were then hunted. Around the time of colonisation, there is evidence of 6-foot tall kangaroo grass surrounding Lizard Lodge, the colonial homestead built by Major Thomas O’Halloran. When a fire swept through the area and threatened Lizard Lodge, Major O’Halloran expressed a fear that unless steps were taken to prevent the burning of grasses, that warfare may break out between the Kaurna and the settlers. Many early settlers believed that fire was used as a weapon by indigenous people.


Fire-stick farming, or cultural burning, has been used by Aboriginal people to manage the landscape for thousands of years.  The colonisers failed to distinguish between wildfires and the controlled fires set by Aboriginal people to encourage plant regrowth for grazing wildlife, promote biodiversity, and minimise the risk of intense bushfires.


Whilst there is little known about specific Aboriginal activity at Glenthorne National Park – Ityamaiitpinna Yarta before or after colonisation, other sites within the Glenthorne precinct have close ties to Creation stories, such as Tjilbruke, a dreaming ancestor of the Kaurna.


The embedded use of both Kaurna and English language throughout the park is highlighted by its co-naming. ‘Ityamaiitpinna’ represents a respected Kaurna elder who played an important role during the colonisation of Kaurna land, ‘Yarta’, is the Kaurna name for Country. Watch the video below to learn how to pronounce the Kaurna name for Glenthorne National Park- Ityamaiipinna Yarta and find out more about its meaning and origin.







Cool Burning: In 2021, the Kaurna community lead bio-cultural burn in Carriageway Park, Tuthangga (Park 17) in Adelaide. Cultural burning is the intentional and skilled use of fire by Aboriginal people for improved environmental biodiversity, clear access to country and spiritual connection.




Tjilbruke: Tjilbruke is an important Munaintya (Dreaming) ancestor to Kaurna people. A written account of Tjilbruke’s Journey is shared by The City of Holdfast Bay. A more detailed telling of the Tjilbruke Story has been shared by Karl Telfer and Gavin Malone.


Nganu and Tjilbruke: a tale of two heroes is a short film based on Kaurna knowledge and stories of Nganu and Tjilbruke. It was created by Wunungu Awara, a Monash University project to work in partnership with Indigenous Australian communities in their language preservation (Note: the film is unrated – viewer discretion advised.)


Indigenous Language: The 50 Words Project aims to provide fifty words in Indigenous languages of Australia. The map is a useful resource for schools and educational organisations to learn 50 words in their local languages, and for others to discover the diversity of languages around Australia.