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» Yandruwandha / Yawarrawarrka at Cooper Creek

Yandruwandha / Yawarrawarrka at Cooper Creek


Hi Dave,
I am hoping you can assist me or at least point me in the right direction.

My son (through his father’s mother) is a descendant of the Innamincka Aboriginal tribes which we are researching for a 'family tree'. I noticed in reading this site, you mentioned 'land set aside by the SA government at Cooper's Creek for the exclusive use of the Yandruwandha.' Do you know exactly where this land was situated?

I have been also been told that it was granted via the Queen / Victorian government but if my recollection is right the Queen wasn't ruling at the time?

Any information with regard to this matter and any literature relating to specific aboriginals at this time, i.e. +/-1860 would be most appreciated.

Vicki Clemow

Dear Vicki,

The land was supposed to be for a mission station on the banks of Cullyamurra Waterhole, but it was never used for that purpose and by 1875 the land had been resumed by the Crown and sold to Edward Laughton as a pastoral lease.


When John King returned to Melbourne as the sole survivor of the party of four that reached the Gulf of Carpentaria he spoke of the kindness shown to him by the Yandruwandha. Victorians were particularly taken by the respect they showed to Burke’s remains. King recalled,

they [the Yandruwandha] were very anxious … to know where Mr Burke lay, and one day … I took them to the spot. On seeing his remains, the whole party wept bitterly, and covered them with bushes.
King’s narrative, #255110, Box FB33, MS 13071, State Library of Victoria.

Finding Burke dead by Charles Summers, 1865.
One of four bas-reliefs at the base of Summer's 1865 Melbourne statue to Burke and Wills.

This description inspired Charles Summers to use it as the theme for one of the four bas-reliefs on his statue and the Bishop of Melbourne, Hussey Burgh Macartney (1799-1894), proposed establishing a Christian mission station at Cooper Creek. The Church of England thought

the interest in those poor blacks of Cooper's Creek had been deepened by the knowledge of the manner in which they treated the … explorers. Their noble conduct gave us strong call upon the members of the Church to endeavour to return their kindness. If they shewed such sympathy we should endeavour to return it.
Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1862, p. 5

The idea was well supported and many religious organisations and the South Australian Aboriginal Friends League donated money and equipment to start the "evangelisation of the Aborigines" (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1863, p. 5).

It will be seen from the report of the Church Society that a serious effort is about to be made to establish a Christian Mission among the Aborigines. Cooper's Creek and the surrounding neighbourhood is the scene of this new enterprise. It is impossible for any humane man not to desire its success.
Sydney Morning Herald, 22 February 1862. p. 4.

Alfred Howitt (leader of the Victorian Contingent Party that found King at Cooper Creek in 1861) was contacted for advice about the best location for a mission station. He suggested his 1862 Depot Camp on Cullyamurra Waterhole (Yandruwandha = Kalya-marru) offered the best water and feed on Cooper Creek (Empire, 22 August 1863, p. 2).

Howitt's 1862 Depot CampMemorial marking Howitt's 1862 Depot Camp (C25) on the northern bank of Cullyamurra Waterhole, Cooper Creek.
Image © Dave Phoenix 2008.

Four German Moravian missionaries arrived in Victoria in December 1864, and by the winter of 1865 two of them were ready to leave Adelaide for the Cooper. They made several attempts to reach Cullyamurra, but the drought conditions meant it was the winter of 1866 before they reached the furthest outstation on the Cooper at Lake Hope. They did not progress beyond Lake Hope, and as they were not well received by the Dieri Aborigines there, they eventually retreated to the newly formed Lutheran mission on the lower Cooper at Killalpaninna. In December 1866 the Moravians moved a short distance away and established a mission at Kopperamanna.

Both Killalpaninna and Kopperamanna were in the land of the Dieri people. The land that was supposedly set aside for the Yandruwandha at Cullyamurra became South Australian Pastoral Lease 2437. This block of 252 square miles was called Callumurra and was on the northern side of the Cooper adjoining the SA-QLD border and sandwiched between Henry Colless’ Innamincka station and John Conrick’s Nappa Merrie station. Helen Tolcher (Drought or Deluge, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1986; Seed of the Coolibah: A History of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka People, Linden Park: H M Tolcher, 2003) uses a reference from Rodney Cockburn (Nomenclature of South Australia, Adelaide: Thomas, 1908) to suggest the Callumurra block was set aside by the SA government "for the exclusive use of the Yandruwandha" as early as 1862, but I have not found any evidence that the block was specifically set aside as early as that, however a search of the records in the Land Services Group, Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure (SA), would clarify this. There is no evidence that Queen Victoria was personally involved in the establishment of any of these mission stations, although she was definitely sovereign from 1837-1901.

There are records in the South Australian archives of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka on the Cooper from the time of European pastoral settlement, particularly the records from the police outposts, the Protector of Aborigines and Gerry Walker, who was manager of Innamincka Station from 1882. I have listed some of the published literature below. The Yandruwandha T.O.s  (Thayipilthirringuda and Parlpamadamadra dialects) have established family trees back to the 1860s – have you contacted any of the elders?

Cullyamurra Waterhole, Cooper CreekCullyamurra Waterhole, Cooper Creek. The site of the proposed Aboriginal Mission.
Image © Dave Phoenix 2005.

* Helen Mary Tolcher, Drought or deluge : man in the Cooper's Creek region, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1986.
* Helen Mary Tolcher, Innamincka : the town with two lives, Innamincka: Innamincka Progress Association, 1990.
* Helen Mary Tolcher, Conrick of Nappa Merrie: a pioneer on Cooper Creek, Linden Park: H M F Tolcher, 1997.
* Helen Mary Tolcher, Rogues and heroes: policing the Cooper 1876-1952, [N.S.W.]: H M F Tolcher, 1999.
* Helen Mary Tolcher, Seed of the coolibah: a history of the Yandruwandha and Yawarrawarrka people, Adelaide: Openbook Print, 2003.
* Gavan Breen, Innamincka talk: a grammar of the Innamincka dialect of Yandruwandha with notes on other dialects, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Austranalin National University, 2004.
* Gavan Breen, Innamincka words: Yandruwandha dictionary and stories, Canberra: Pacific Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, 2004.
* AIATSIS, Guide to sound recordings collected by Gavan Breen, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies, 2009.
* AIATSIS, Selected bibliography of material on the Yandruwantha / Yandruwandha language and people held in the AIATSIS Library, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies, 2011.
* Ben Kerwin and J G Breen, 'The Land of Stone Chips', Oceania, Vol. 51, No. 4 (June 1981), pp. 286-311.
* Elizabeth Burchill, Innamincka, Adelaide: Rigby, 1964.
*Alfred William Howitt, The native tribes of south-east Australia, London : Macmillan, 1904.
* Alfred William Howitt and Otto Siebert, Legends of the Dieri and kindred tribes of Central Australia, London: Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1904.
* Robert Brough Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria: with notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia and Tasmania, Melbourne: Goverment Printer, 1878. (Volume 2, Appendix D is 'Notes on the Aborigines of Cooper's Creek' by A W Howitt).
* Judy Lucas and Keith McConnochie, Aboriginal traditions and cultures of the Innamincka Region and their significance for the proposed Innamincka Regional Reserve: report of a National Estate Project, Adelaide: Deparment of Environment and Land Management, 2001.

Additional Information:
Hi Dave,
This land in question was known as the Moravian Mission Block, then Pastoral Lease 2437. If I am correct that this block was first offered to Anglican Church and another Church (?) but was rejected due to been too remote. They ended up setting up in other locations (Kopperamana & Kilalpaninna). Then the land was set aside by the SA Government for the exclusive use of the Yandruwandha people due to the humanity / kindness shown to Burke, Wills and King.

I do not know when it became Crown Land again, but I found information that around January 1875 Edward C Laughton purchased this land from Commissioner of Crown Land (SA), and in 1887 it changed hands and was purchased by Mr James Mcleod, and was then rented by Mr Conrick. It would be very interesting to view this property transaction history from 1862 - 2011.

I also believe that Howitt presented three brass breastplates commissioned by the Victorian Exploration Committee to the Yandruwandha people in appreciation of the assistance they had given to Burke, Wills and King.

Leslie Harris

Dear Leslie,

Thanks for the additional information on the Mission Block at Cooper Creek.

In 1867 the Church of England did send two missionaries to the Paroo, Bulloo, Wilson and Cooper to investigate the possibility of setting up a mission station. (Argus, 17 July 1868, p. 6). The missionaries, Holden and Shaw, reported the Aboriginal population was "scattered in small bodies, chiefly in families, over a wide area, and it seemed to be impossible to collect any large number of them in one place" and therefore it was not economically viable to set up a mission station on the Cooper. They were not specifically intending setting up at Cullyamurra and the church records do not mention the Mission Block.

The Moravian Missionaries, Walder, Kramer and Meissel, were intending to set up at Cullyamurra Waterhole, but the dry, sandy conditions between Lake Hope and Cullyamurra meant there were unable to get their drays there. They did consider staying at Lake Hope, but there was some degree of unrest between the Dieri Aborigines at Lake Hope and the missionaries, and so they moved downstream to Killalpaninna where the Lutheran missionaries had already established a mission. In 1869 the Moravian Church abandoned any plans to set up a mission at Cullyamurra.

I haven't found any records to indicate the Mission Block was then set aside for the Yandruwandha, beyond the reference in Nomenclature of South Australia by Rodney Cockburn (Adelaide: W K Thomas &​ Co., 1908). As there were no European settlers on this part of the Cooper until 1873, none of the boundaries had been surveyed and so the Mission Block only existed as lines on a map in the South Australian Lands Department. The first land surveys in the area did not begin until 1879.

Helen Tolcher charts the European ownership of the block: Although Laughton bought the block in 1875 he did not stock it as he was unsure which side of the SA-QLD border it was. When McLeod bought it in 1877 he did not rent it to Conrick, rather he found himself in conflict with Conrick who claimed much of the land as his Nappa Merrie lease, again as a result of uncertainty which colony the block was in. The situation was clarified in 1880 when the border was surveyed by William Barron and Alexander Salmond (and later Salmond with Augustus Poeppel and Lawrence Wells). In 1881 the block went to Simpson Newland and in 1886 it became part of William Campbell's Innamincka Station. Kidman bought Innamincka Station in 1908 and it is still part of SK Holdings.

Alfred Howitt distributed three breastplates to the Yandruwandha in September 1862. One of them was discovered near Innamincka in 2001 and Kerry Stokes paid $219,600 for it at auction in 2008. He donated it to the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. The second breastplate was owned by descendants of James de Pury who had been the policeman in Innamincka between 1924-8. It was purchased at auction by the National Museum of Australia, Canberra for $96,000.

Two of the three breastplates presented to members of the Yandruwandha people.

Additional Information:

There is no question here but just a wee bit of Innaminka history and King Wilpy.

I worked on Innamincka station in the early 1950's. During that time I used to visit the local Aborigines who were camped on the station waterhole, i.e. Wilpy and Mabel (I think) and there were some children also there at the time (I think these were Mabel's children, but not real sure). What I do know is that Wilpy was a very old man then and if the others that were there with him were all part of the same family then then the children were possibly his great grandchildren. I have no names for any of these people. Knowing what I know now about the family then I would taken notes etc but of course I didn't so now I rely on memory (which doesn't work too great these days).

However, what I do have as a reminder of my time there was that Wilpy made me a set of boomerangs. Before beginning the task he had to walk out into the stony country searching for the right Minaritchie tree.The tree had to have the correct curve in it to make the boomerangs from. We walked together for quite a way before locating the correct tree. I carried the axe for an hour or so before finding the correct tree. I cut down the right branch that he pointed to and he showed me where to cut it. After we got back to the waterhole wilpy set about cutting and trimming the branch and after a few days he handed me a pair of boomerangs. Being made from that particular the timber was colored in three colors. Namely dark brown, a beautiful deep red and and a cream colour.

I still have these two boomerangs on my office wall to this day and they take pride of place. I have had a couple of offers for them but refused to sell as they really mean something to me and probably nothing to buyers as they would not know anything about the area or the people.

At the same time I do not what know what will become of them after I pass on. I have told my children about the boomerangs but like all second generation children they are not interested.

So there you go eh! I hope I haven't bored you with this letter but I thought I had better tell someone about what Wilpy made. For all I know there may not be another item of any type made by King Wilpy in existence.

Sorry to bother you with such a long and possibly boring letter but I thought that someone should know that Wilpy was firstly, a very gentle man and secondly a bit of a legend as I understand it.

Cheers for now,
Warren Stoddart
Lake Macquarie NSW