Kaurna Sal

Sally was from the Kaurna people, from the mainland adjacent to Kangaroo Island, in the Gulf of St Vincent, south of what is now called Adelaide. The Astrolabe’s Officer Gaimard recorded the first known word list of Kaurna language, using Sally and her countryman Harry as informants in King George Sound, 1826. (95)

Given evidence of other sealers’ raids in the area, it is probable that Sally’s arrival on Kangaroo Island was not the result of a reciprocal arrangement between her family and the Kangaroo Island sealers like some that occurred in Van Diemen’s Land. Resident Islanders’ forays on the mainland for women were regular, brutal and created political animosity between Kangaroo Islanders and Indigenous peoples.

To illustrate the circumstances of how Sally arrived on Kangaroo Island and what her life there may have been like, I give the following examples of women taken by Kangaroo Islanders:
Albert Karloan, a Yaraldi man from the lower Murray, told the Berndts in the late 1930s that sealers had caught a Ramindjeri woman from near the mouth of the Inman River. She had had a child with her, but they left it on the mainland. “Then they took her to Nepean Bay, where she was ‘passed around the camp’. After this horror, she had managed to crawl away exhausted. She hid that night and most of the next day. When she had rested enough, she swam across the strait and recovered her child.” (96)

In ‘The Booandik Tribe of South Australian Aborigines’, women tell the story of two women who were collecting shellfish on the shore at Rivoli Bay and surprised by some white men who came ashore. The woman who stopped to pick up her child was captured and taken away. Three months later she escaped when the same boat put in at Guichen Bay and she returned “to find her country women lamenting her loss. She did not give a very favourable account of the treatment she received from the crew. Even as late as 1846, the black women, in speaking of this event make all sorts of grimaces, signifying disgust.” (97)

When the Rapid Bay woman Kalloongoo was taken to Flinders Island after several years on Kangaroo Island and Bass Strait, she gave the following testimony to G. A. Robinson. I have quoted a large section here to show what Sally would have experienced, from her abduction to her life on Kangaroo Island.

The woman states that at the time she was seized and torn from her country, Allan the sealer was led or guided to her encampment and where her mother and sister then was by two blackfellows her countrymen but not her tribe and who had been living with the sealers on the island [Kangaroo Island].
Said the blackfellows came sneaking and laid hold of my hand; the other girl ran away. The white man put a rope around my neck like a dog, tie up my hands. We slept in the bush one night and they then tied my legs. In the morning we went to the boat. They took me then to Kangaroo Island.
She remained there a long time until she was brought away in the schooner [Henry owned by J. Griffith] to the straits. She said there were several New Holland [mainlander] black men on Kangaroo Island. Said two of them died from eating seal; her brother died also from eating seal. Said the sealers beat the black women plenty; they cut a piece of flesh off a woman’s buttock; cut off a boy’s ear, Emue’s boy. This woman [Emue] is now on Woody Island with Abyssinia Jack. The boy died in consequence of his wounds. They cut them with broad sealer’s knives. Said they tied them up and beat them and beat them with ropes. Bill Dutton beat her plenty. Said the sealers got drunk
plenty and women get drunk too. Said the country where she came from was called BAT.BUN.GER. (98)

Sally sailed to King George Sound with either James Everett or John Randall in 1826. When they met with the crew of the Astrolabe, the officers Quoy and Gaimard described her and her countryman Harry as not being disguised by the ochre that the Menang people smeared over their bodies but with “black, their skin was very smooth, their hair long, black and smooth.” (99) D’Urville was less detached in his journal, writing that Sally was “quite well proportioned” and possessed “rather beautiful eyes.” (100)

Sally stayed in King George Sound with Dinah, Moonie and twelve sealers, until they were taken to Sydney aboard the Ann in May 1827. It is not recorded whether the Ann stopped at Kangaroo Island or whether Sally disembarked at Port Dalrymple with Dinah and Moonie.
However, it is definitely recorded that Sally was living on Kangaroo Island in 1831, having participated in an extraordinary interaction that gives a picture of her strength of character.

Sal is documented in an extract regarding the death of Captain Collet Barker. Barker had just completed his post as the fourth Commandant of King George Sound and was sailing east on the Isabella when they stopped at the Murray River mouth. Barker, wanting to explore, had stripped naked, strapped a compass to his head and swum the Murray River. He climbed over a sixty foot sand dune and was not seen again by his friend, assistant surgeon Robert Davis.

Barker had apparently been stalked and speared to death by three men. It was speculated by the Europeans that the spearing was in retaliation for the Kangaroo Islanders killing and abducting Kaurna people, and that Barker’s naked, white body was to them fair game.

Although Barker’s crew did not see the murder, they knew he’d been attacked and the only men who could swim refused to cross the river, because they could see the warriors and their spears on the other side. Davis sought assistance from a group of Aborigines at Cape Jervis. Here, the crew from the Isabella recognised Sally as one of the women who’d been in King George Sound four years previous. She suggested that they sail to Kangaroo Island and seek help from the resident sealers to find Barker or retrieve his body. On Kangaroo Island, Sally led Robert Davis to a party of sealers on the island and two of them agreed to provide their services as guides. Together with Sally, her father Condoy and another Encounter Bay man, they sailed back to the mainland. They then constructed a traditional reed raft to cross the Murray River and contacted the local people. (101)

The theory that Barker was killed due to the Aborigines’ fear and hatred of the Kangaroo Islanders is complicated by the fact that two Kangaroo Islanders acted as negotiators between the same Aborigines and the Isabella crew. Robert Davis wrote in his report that the sealer George ‘Fireball’ Bates was essential for obtaining the information of the circumstances of Barker’s death, due to the “knowledge he possessed of the language and manners of the natives.” (102)

But the death of Captain Collet Barker also lends to an interesting discussion of a cross cultural communication between sealers, colonial military and Aboriginal women. Although Sally was probably abducted during an Encounter Bay raid and imprisoned on Kangaroo Island for several years; after travelling to King George Sound in 1826 she became trusted by the Commandant’s men and by the Kangaroo and Breaksea Islanders, plus she was also still able to maintain a utilitarian relationship with her country men and women.

Between Sally, her father, George Bates and the other Kangaroo Islanders, they ascertained the names of Barker’s killers. The three spearmen were named as Cummaringeree, Pennegoora and Wannangetta. Davis paid the Kangaroo Islanders twelve pounds, one shilling and sixpence and commended one of them in his report to the Governor, then gave the receipt to those officers handling the ex-Commandant’s affairs. (103)


95 Rob Amery, ‘Kaurna language (Kaurna warra)’, SA History Hub, History SA, http://sahistoryhub.com.au/subjects/kaurna-language-kaurna-warra, accessed 2 July 2014. See also, Amery, R., Kaurna in Tasmania: A Case of Mistaken Identity’, in Aboriginal History, Vol. 20, pp. 24-50, 1996, p. 45.

96 Taylor, R., Unearthed: The Aboriginal Tasmanians of Kangaroo Island, Wakefield Press, South Australia, 2002, (2008), p. 41.
The Backstairs Passage between Kangaroo Island and mainland Australia is roughly thirteen kilometres.

97 Smith, J., ‘The First Ship at Rivoli Bay’, in The Booandik Tribe of South Australian Aborigines, E. Spiller, Government Printer, Adelaide, 1880, p.25. Available from
https://archive.org/stream/booandiktribeso00smitgoog#page/n7/mode/2up (accessed 06/06/2014).

98. Amery, Rob, 1996, ‘Kaurna in Tasmania; A case of mistaken identity’, p. 41. (BAT.BUN.GER translated as Patpangga, or Rapid Bay, to the south of what is now called Adelaide.)

99. Rosenman, H., Trans. Ed. 1987, p. 45.

100. Rosenman, H., Trans. Ed. 1987, p. 34.

101. Mulvaney, J., & Green, N., Eds., Commandant of Solitude: The Journals of Captain Collet Barker 1828-1831, Melbourne University Press, Victoria, 1992, p. 25.

102. Robert Davis in Taylor, R., 2002 (2008), p. 63.

103. Mulvaney, J., and Green, N., Eds., 1992, p. 26.