pirrkurna taingiwiltarninthi – pirrku Kudnartuku : Keeping story strong – Kudnartu’s story


A Kildare College Aboriginal Art Installation Launched on Wednesday 3rd July 2013
By Nicola Butler

Girls, who dream of change, become strong, independent, right minded, caring individuals, who are able to make a difference.
In 2012 Kildare College teacher, Paul Beltrame, applied for and was awarded funding from History SA and the Tea Tree Gully Council to create an Indigenous Art Project. Kildare students in Years 8-10 gathered together and decided to use the funding to create mosaic art works to commemorate the life of inspirational Kaurna woman ‘Kudnartu’, the third daughter.

Kudnartu is most well-known for being the first Indigenous women to marry a white man in South Australia in 1848. After she married she was also allocated land in Skillogalee (near Clare and the site of the Skillogalee Winery today), which she managed, while her husband sheared sheep and worked as a carpenter.

After gathering information on Kudnartu the students found that she had been a perfect choice. Not only had Kudnartu achieved many great things in her lifetime but through her life and achievements the students were able to see that women have powerful stories. They learnt that sometimes girls have dreams to change things and because of this become powerful women within their families.

DSC_10010 Creating the Art

Students creating their masterpieces and awaiting their turn to present during the launch of their art installation on Wednesday 3rd July 2013

“It has been great to see the development of an unknown story, evolve into an art work with deep personal and historical importance and relevance to young women today.” Said Barbara Madonna

Parents and artists from the community volunteer their time to work together with the Kildare College students. College teachers Angie Selga, Barbara Madonna and Paul Beltrame were involved in the project along with artists Liz Votino, Carol Omer, Louise Byrne, and Katrina Power from Relationships Australia.

DSC_0289 Artists Carol Omer, Katrina Power and Brian Butler, Director Chamber 3 National Congress of Australia's First People

Artists Carol Omer, Louise Byrne & Katrina Power pictured with Brian Butler, Chamber 3 Director – National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

DSC_0419 An emotionally charged speech full of empowerment for the young women from Katrina Power

Katrina Power accepting her flowers and delivering a passionate response full of encouragement empowering the young women of Kildare College

“The artists who helped us produce our mosaics encouraged us to be brave and think outside the square with our designs…They will be the legacy we will leave here at Kildare.” Brooke Lovegrove and Anissa Elkofairi said during the presentation

DSC_0431 Shania Sharkey-Treloar & Narsheka Jones with Kaurna Elder Uncle Lewis O'Brien

Shania Sharkey-Treloar & Anissa Elkofairi pictured with Kaurna Elder Uncle Lewis O’Brien

“As a descendant of Kudnartu, we knew this project has significant meaning for Uncle Lewis” said the girls.

DSC_0010 Mosaic 001

Mosaic 001 – Artists: Shania Sharkey-Treloar & Narsheka Jones

In the beginning there was a connection to the land and the people. The story of what happened to the land is the story of the people. In the Dreaming TaruTharu used his tail to split man in half in order to create woman. The woman in our story is called Kudnartu which means third born girl child.

DSC_0011 Mosaic 002
Mosaic 002 – Artists: Anissa Elkofairi & Achok Riny
Kudnartu was born a traditional woman, with Kaurna mother and Ngadjuri father near Skillogalee in the Clare Valley in the early 1800’s.

DSC_0012 Mosaic 003
Mosaic 003 – Artists: Shara Davey & Alajwa Ellis
Kudnartu attended the Native School on Kintore Avenue, Adelaide, to learn the ‘modern ways’ with other Aboriginal women in order to get permission to marry Thomas Adams.

DSC_0013 Mosaic 004
Mosaic 004 – Artists: Mickayla Reid (Absent) & Caitlin Wallace
Kudnartu married Thomas Adams in 1848, the first legal union between two cultures.

DSC_0014 Mosaic 005

Mosaic 005 – Artist: Tayla Hammer represented by Yasmin
Kudnartu was granted 81 acres at Skillogalee, near where she had been born. This was given to her, as an Aboriginal woman, in her own right, to be passed on to her children upon her death. She and Tom struggled but built a small home for themselves and their growing family.

DSC_0015 Mosaic 006

Mosaic 006 – Artists: Kristina Fitzroy & Rachel Pearson
Kudnartu and Thomas’s family grew and they made a living in the area. They had two sons, Tom junior and Tim.

DSC_0016 Mosaic 007

Mosaic 007 – Artists: Sarah Walker & Brooke Lovegrove
Sadly after 7 years of being married, Kudnartu passed away. The family was dispersed and the land taken back by the government of the day. Her husband and two children never forgot her legacy, or their entitlement to the land. Her descendants claim to the land was ongoing over generations.

“We all need to explore our own stories, find those grandmothers and aunts who influence and change lives, bringing positive energy and hope to future generations.” Says Barbara Madonna

The art work is now on display at the College with the full story of Kudnartu memorialised as the introduction to this wonderful installation.

DSC_0028 On Display at Kildare College

Kudnartu’s Story
It is through stories that we not only discover who we are, but who we can be. Stories of people who achieve great things, or who inspire us to find justice, exist in every generation, in every culture.

This is the story of a young woman, Kudnartu, who inspired her descendants to seek the land granted to her, but reclaimed by the government upon her death.

It is the story of a girl who fell in love, who learnt new skills in order to marry, who taught her husband, as well as her children to read and write, and who died tragically young leaving a legacy for her descendants. Her story inspires others to seek justice. Which of the women in your life inspires you to be this person? Are you such a woman yourself?

Kudnartu was born in the Crystal Brook region of South Australia, of Ngadjuri father and Kaurna mother, a few years before the arrival of the first Europeans to South Australia, probably in 1831 or 1832. Her young life was typical of an Aboriginal girl of those times – she was educated in the ways of her people and she probably spoke the languages of the neighbouring groups numbering about seven. She also quickly learnt English when the Europeans arrived.

In 1847, Thomas Adams, a shearer in the area, applied to the Protector of Aborigines, Matthew Moorhouse, for permission to marry Kudnartu. The two had been living together for 18 months, and Thomas wanted the union to be legal. Kudnartu, which means ‘a girl who is third born’ in Kaurna language enrolled in the Native Establishment School on Kintore Avenue in order to learn the ‘modern ways’ (domestic duties), as the Protector required, in order for the marriage to take place. She was an excellent student, quickly learning to read and write. Kudnartu, or Mary Jane Adams as she became known, later taught her husband and both her sons to read and write.

In January of the next year, 1848, the two were married. This was the first legal union between the two cultures, and she was the first Aboriginal woman to marry.

By May 1848, Kudnartu was granted a small landholding of about 81 acres, in her own right as an Aboriginal woman married to a non-Aboriginal man, near Skillogalee, an area she would have been very familiar with, on the Aboriginal Reserve there. The couple could clear. Enclose and cultivate the land and build or erect a home upon it. Upon her death, the right to this land would be granted to her offspring, according to the laws of the time.

Over the next few years, Kudnartu and Thomas struggled to make ends meet. Thomas applied for funds to erect fencing and to clear the land but it was denied. In 1849, Tom Junior was born. Tim, the second son was born in 1852. Kudnartu and Thomas Senior, unsuccessfully sought to have the ownership of the land guaranteed for her descendants, writing letters to the Protector, without any success.

Kudnartu made a successful life for herself and her family even though they struggled financially. She was a respected citizen, and her witness statement in a murder investigation in the area was accepted in the Magistrate’s Court without question; another quite unique event for an Aboriginal person of those times.

Sadly after 7 years of marriage, Kudnartu died. The government reclaimed her land and the family was destitute. Thomas Adams Senior was unable to provide for his young children without the support of his wife, and he placed them in care. The boys went to Poonindie, an Aboriginal Mission near Port Lincoln, far away from their birth home.

Once they attained adulthood, Tom and Tim, Kudnartu’s boys tried to return home and reclaim the land which had been granted to their mother, but times had changed, and Aboriginal people were no longer given ownership of land – they had lost their birth right and their inheritance. There was no longer a place where they could manage their own affairs independently. The boys had no opportunities to create their own livelihoods and were restricted by institutions and the laws.

Tom, as eldest never forgot his mother’s claim. He and his father who had stayed in the Port Lincoln area to be near his sons, repeatedly applied for the return of the land at Skillogalee, and if that was not available to land near Poonindie. For a short period of time, Tom was granted a small landholding, but the lease did not last long, and he moved to Point Pearce as Poonindie was eventually broken up and sold to wealthy landowners. Government opinion was moving from granting Aboriginal people individual landholdings to reserving land for missionary purposes. It was the beginning of the Protection period, which isolated Aboriginal people on missions and reserves.

Tom and Tim Adams both eventually married Poonindie women and raised families of their own. Both men contributed to the success of the community. They were excellent shearers and ploughmen, and played in the cricket team which competed against Port Lincoln and even St Peters College teams in Adelaide. Both died far from their homeland disillusioned and dispossessed.
Tom and Tim Adams and their descendants never forgot who they were or where they came from. They continued to fight for recognition and opportunities to return to the Skillogalee area. They remembered their Kaurna heritage and passed this knowledge to their children and their children’s children. Their story is one of many, who suffered similar dispossession and dispersal. Their mother’s birth right and strong spirit remained in the story of their past and encouraged their desire for reconciliation and recompense.

Kudnartu’s short life represented a time when Aboriginal people were treated with respect and managed their own affairs successfully. They lived and worked alongside the colonists in a respected partnership. Within the first few years of the colony however, views changed and opportunities for successful integration were lost. Her story, however, holds up the possibilities which are available to all of us today. We are all women of strength, who shape our families’ stories and dreams.

From ‘the Kaurna People: Aboriginal people of the Adelaide Plains’ 1989 and ‘the clock struck thirteen’ as told to Mary Anne Gale by Uncle Lewis Yerloburka O’Brien


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