Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park, located on the River Murray in South Australia, is a significant place for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike. Intimately connected to Aboriginal culture and beliefs, it is the ancestral home of the Nganguraku people, and the central site for the “Black Duck Dreaming.”
Traditional owners have used this area for generations, engraving the limestone walls of the rock shelter with ancient knowledge.
The site also has particular archaeological significance as the first excavated rockshelter in Australia (1929), known to non-Indigenous people as Devon Downs.
Ngaut Ngaut’s dual significance for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians led the late Richard Hunter, an Nganguraku cultural steward and former chairperson of the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Inc. (MACAI), to consider the potential of the site for fostering cross-cultural dialogue and encouraging reconciliation, unity and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This inspired him to develop Ngaut Ngaut as a cultural tourism site.
Today, tours continue to be conducted by MACAI, managed by Richard’s daughter, Isobelle Campbell. As an organization, MACAI consists of dedicated caretakers of the land, as well as custodians of cultural continuity and sustainability.
But sharing this culturally important site comes with substantial challenges. Misunderstandings can occur in the tourist encounter. MACAI has also found that online representations of Ngaut Ngaut were often inaccurate or offensive. These misrepresentations spread quickly in the online environment.
Isobelle Campbell and archaeologist Dr. Amy Roberts developed a collaborative project to address these issues. The goal of the project was to provide accessible, accurate interpretive materials for visitors to Ngaut Ngaut in the form of on-site park signposts and online educational materials. The hope was that these materials would help visitors better understand the site, and give MACAI greater control over the representation of Ngaut Ngaut online (Roberts, in Ciccarello 2013).
Roberts and Campbell also formulated the idea for an open-access interpretive booklet for the Ngaut Ngaut site, which is now available online. The Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Guide, which was funded by IPinCH, describes both the site’s Indigenous Australian past, and highlights its more recent archaeological significance.
Privileging the traditional place name, Ngaut Ngaut—an ancestral being from Aboriginal Dreaming—over the English name “Devon Downs,” Roberts and Campbell also identified important intangible Indigenous values to be included, such as “rock art interpretations and cultural meanings, ‘Dreamings,’ oral histories, discussions about Aboriginal group boundaries, “totemic” issues, and ‘bushtucker’ knowledge” (Roberts and Campbell 2012: 33). The Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Guide paints a vivid picture of how the landscape is and has been experienced and cared for by traditional owners.
Also included in the booklet is information about the archeological research conducted in the 1930s by Norman Tindale and Herbert Hale, who “provided the first clear evidence for long term presence of Indigenous Australians in one place,” marking “a turning point in the way the Indigenous Australian archaeological record was viewed” (Roberts and Campbell 2012: 33).
Overall the guide has a broad appeal to readers from multiple cultural and educational backgrounds and age groups, with materials ranging from archaeological stratigraphy diagrams to illustrated children’s activities.
Campbell and Roberts’ initiative has incorporated different values of Ngaut Ngaut’s heritage, in keeping with the mutually supportive vision for the site as pictured by Richer Hunter. Key to the success of the project was the presentation of the Indigenous significance of the site along wtih the archaeological evidence, all in a format easily accessible to the public. Through a combination of field research and Indigenous community consultation, Campbell and Roberts artfully weave both the tangible and intangible values of the Ngaut Ngaut complex into a comprehensive and inclusive interpretation of the site. The Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Guide promotes cross-cultural understanding in an easily accessible online format.
Photo from the Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Guide (courtesy of MACAI, used with permission). The guide is available on the IPinCH website and on South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources website.
Ciccarello, V. 2013. “Indigenous Project a New Approach to Cultural Heritage,” IN DAILY: Adelaide Independent News.
Roberts, A., and I. Campbell. 2012. Ngaut Ngaut Interpretive Project: Collaboration and Mutually Beneficial Outcomes.The SAA Archaeological Record 12(4):33-35.
Julie Mitchell is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Archaeology at Flinders University (Australia), and an IPinCH Fellow. This article first appeared in the IPinCH Newsletter, Vol. 6 (Fall 2014).