Some history of the Alexandrina Council and the District Council of Port Elliot and Goolwa

AROUND THE TOWN by Frank Tuckwell – February 2019

From the Gallery

The opening meeting of the new term of Alexandrina Council last November began with a time of confident expectation and anticipation as the torch of public duty passed into the hands of the newly inducted members. Alexandrina is a Council held in high regard over the years throughout the state and in the community of which it serves.

A highlight of the opening meeting of the 2018-2022 term of Council, came from one of the important guests, Ngarrindjeri Elder Darrell Sumner, who reiterated his expression of that wide esteem he holds in our Council, as he delivered his welcome to country address to the new Councillors, staff and guests in the chamber. Darrell, who is a member of the highly respected Sumner family was born, raised and received his early education in Goolwa. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy for a period of ten years. He is a Vietnam veteran and is honoured on the Goolwa Ngarrindjeri war veteran’s memorial in the RSL club grounds.

During the local turbulent 90’s and at the turn of the millennium he fiercely defended his people’s belief and rights without fear or favour, and in doing so suffered greatly for upholding his personal integrity and principles. To all those who know him he is reverently referred to as Uncle, as all respected adult males of their generation are greeted, just as women of similar status are referred to as Aunty. In the Ngarrindjeri community males and females have always enjoyed equal status.

Elder Darrell stood before us as a descendant of his people, who lived here on their clan lands, and by whose campfires they have lit the nights of thousands of years. There were 17 known clans that came together to form a kind of democratic ‘confederacy’ known today as the Ngarrindjeri nation, governed by rule of law and administered under the supreme body called the Tendi. The leader of the Tendi is called the Repulle who is elected from their representative assembly. Each clan in the nation is represented by one of the 17 symbols lining the edge of the Ngarrindjeri flag.

For 20 years Darrell, with other leading elders laboured over Aboriginal Land Title claims covering land and waters over a broad local government area including Alexandrina, Coorong District Council, Rural City of Murray Bridge, District Council of Yankalilla and the City of Victor Harbor, through which the 17 clans were spread. The struggle however was not without cost, as Darrell pointed out the fact that 95 percent of their elders had passed away during that time, however on December 14, 2017 they were rewarded for their long and enduring efforts.

On that day, Alexandrina Council representatives, Mayor Keith Parkes, Councillors Grant Gartrell and Frank Tuckwell, together with staff members Chief Executive Glen Rappensberg and Ms Anne Liddell, travelled to the Sturt Reserve, Murray Bridge to witness the final session of the Federal Court as it wound up its proceedings and handed down its determination in favour of the Native Title case named, Sumner vs. State of South Australia (Native Title Claim Part A).

The court held its closing session on the riverside lawns of the reserve under an open-fronted marquee overlooking the river, specially erected for the occasion. Open-air seating was provided for the large gathering who took little heed to the occasional fine misty shower that drifted by. When the Federal Court completed its final proceedings, Elder Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner performed the ceremonial calling of the spirits from the four corners of the land, then Elder Darrell Sumner received from the Court officer a 2,000-page volume of findings on the 578 parcels of land and waters subject of the claim.

A similar volume was handed down to all Councils concerned in the claim. Although the long legal struggle of the Ngarrindjeri for recognition as being the traditional owners of the land and waters of the region is almost complete, there remains the matter of ‘unfinished business’ in regard to the articles of King William [corrected March 2019] the Fourth’s Letters Patent issued for the settlement of the Province of South Australia, and containing the article for the preservation of the rights and privileges on their lands of the Ngarrindjeri and other Aboriginal people as his subjects according to law. A copy of the Letters Patent declaration is displayed in the entrance foyer of Alexandrina’s Goolwa Council Centre building.

Further reading recommended on the Ngarrindjeri interest:

Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri, Jenkin, G. (Rigby Ltd) Adelaide, 1979

From Saddles to Sea Kings, Tuckwell, F. (Quick Print) 2007

Coming to Terms, Aboriginal Title in South Australia. Shaun Berg, (ed.) (Wakefield Press)

A short history of our local Council, from 1872 (Part one of a seven-part series included in From the Gallery)

Local government first made its appearance south of Adelaide when on August 16,1853 the District Council of Encounter Bay was proclaimed to cover a huge area in the days of limited land transport. It was to include all lands within the Hundreds of Encounter Bay, Goolwa, Nangkita and Waitpinga. To the pioneers of those widely spread settlements of small communities, the task of building up the many infrastructure needs, including the most pressing of providing the internal network of roads to connect with those few main roads provided by the Governor and the colonial commissioners of the day, the task to them seemed enormous.

It was obvious when the river boat trade opened on the Murray, that a more compact formation was to be favoured by the eastern sectional interests of the port of Goolwa and its sea outlet at Port Elliot, both now connected by the first iron tracked public railway in the colonies. Port Adelaide maritime interests opposed the building of this railway which they quickly labelled a South Sea Bubble. This fast-growing riverboat trade bringing down intercolonial wool were soon bringing down wool cargoes to Goolwa to be transported over the railway to Port Elliot for direct shipment to the English mills.

Despite the growing anger and opposition of the powerful Port Adelaide business interests to anything that would give aid to the southern shipping port which they saw as a competitor with their trade, on the 5th of June 1856 the District Council of Port Elliot and Goolwa was proclaimed and separated from Encounter Bay District Council.

(Continued next month)