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Ivaritji (c. 1849–1929)

by Tom Gara

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Ivaritji, by Herbert Basedow, 1920s

Ivaritji, by Herbert Basedow, 1920s

National Museum of Australia

Ivaritji (Iparrityi) (c. 1849–1929), respected Kaurna elder, Kaurna language speaker, and weaver, also known as Everity and Amelia Taylor/Savage, was born in the late 1840s at Port Adelaide. She was the younger daughter of Ityamaiitpinna, one of the ‘chiefs’ or leading men of the Adelaide tribe, and his wife Tankaira, from the Clare district, South Australia. Ivaritji had a younger brother, Wima, who died when he was a young man; an older brother, James, later known as James Phillips; and several siblings who died when young.

By the 1850s many Kaurna people had left the Adelaide area after an influx of European settlers. Ivaritji’s parents became well known in the Clarendon and McLaren Vale area south of Adelaide, also Kaurna country, where they were referred to as ‘King Rodney’ and ‘Queen Charlotte’ (Chronicle 1933, 44). When they died in the early 1860s, Ivaritji (‘Princess Amelia’) was adopted into the family of Thomas Dailey, schoolteacher and local issuer of rations to Aboriginal people. Dailey had also adopted Ivaritji’s cousin, Selina, and he taught both girls alongside local white children at his school at Clarendon. Later Ivaritji moved to Point McLeay Mission, known as Raukkan to the Ngarrindjeri, where she worked as a cook for Rev. George Taplin. At some point (probably in the 1880s) she married George Taylor, an Aboriginal man from Kingston in the south-east, but they did not remain together long.

During the 1890s Ivaritji moved to Adelaide, where she worked as a domestic servant at Norwood, and then to Point Pearce Mission, Yorke Peninsula. The residents at Point Pearce were mainly local Narungga people, but the mission population also included some Barngarla (Parnkalla) and Nauo/Nawu people from Eyre Peninsula, and a few Kaurna and Murray River people who had been transferred there when the Native Training Institution at Poonindie, near Port Lincoln, was closed in 1894. The mission was also home to some Ngarrindjeri people from the Coorong area, and Ngadjuri and Nukunu people from the mid-north. Ivaritji’s brother, James, had moved from Poonindie to Wallaroo, near Point Pearce, in about 1890; he died in 1897. Maria Welch, her paternal aunt, had also moved from Poonindie to Point Pearce in the 1890s. Welch’s death in 1909 almost certainly left Ivaritji as the last known speaker of Kaurna. Ivaritji’s former husband, George, was also at Point Pearce and ‘Granny Amelia’ (as she was known to the other residents) helped to raise his two grandsons.

When Daisy Bates visited Point Pearce in 1915, Ivaritji provided the self-taught anthropologist and linguist with a list of Kaurna kinship terms and place names. Bates urged Sir Edward Stirling, director of the South Australian Museum, to arrange for a more detailed vocabulary to be recorded from Ivaritji, but to no avail. In 1919 John McConnell Black, a botanist and amateur linguist, visited Ivaritji, probably at Bates’s suggestion. Ivaritji gave him seventy Kaurna words and information on Aboriginal place names in the Adelaide area.

On 20 December 1920, at the Holy Trinity Church, North Terrace, Adelaide, Ivaritji married Charles Savage (1853–1932), an Adelaide-born man of African-American descent. As Charles was not Aboriginal he was not permitted to live with his wife at Point Pearce, so the couple moved to Moonta, where the chief protector allowed them to occupy an old stone cottage on the Aboriginal reserve just outside the township. The diminutive and elderly Aboriginal woman with snowy white hair became a familiar sight on the streets of the town as she hawked her hand-woven baskets and mats to residents and tourists. She preferred to make her wares from reeds that grew only at certain spots; when she became too old to walk to those locations, she collected discarded baling twine from the paddocks around Moonta and used it instead.

Herbert Hale, a curator at the South Australian Museum, and his assistant, John Hosking, visited Ivaritji at Moonta in November 1927. She provided them with around one hundred Kaurna words and accepted their invitation to visit Adelaide for a further interview the following year. Norman Tindale, a young assistant ethnologist at the museum, interviewed Ivaritji during that visit. She shared genealogical details and information about Kaurna history and traditional ways of life, and asked to be photographed wearing the museum’s treasured wallaby-skin cloak. A month later, T. D. Campbell, a dentist and physical anthropologist from the University of Adelaide, went to Yorke Peninsula to photograph and measure Ivaritji at Moonta. She evidently submitted to Campbell’s investigations willingly and with good humour, as she had done with all her previous visitors.

In May the following year, the Moonta town clerk, at the request of the Adelaide City Council, obtained information from Ivaritji about the Kaurna and the early days of the city. By that time, Ivaritji was finding it difficult to support herself. She sought help from the police and the Moonta Council to obtain an old age pension but was advised that, as a ‘full-blooded’ Aboriginal person, she was not eligible. Next she sought permission from the chief protector of Aborigines to be admitted to Point Pearce but was told that the reserve was already overcrowded. In September, after enlisting the support of her local member of parliament, she was allowed to move to a shared cottage on the reserve. The Adelaide City Council planned to invite Ivaritji to be a special guest at the annual Proclamation Day ceremony at Glenelg in December 1929, but she contracted pneumonia and was too ill to attend. Survived by her husband, she died at the Point Pearce hospital on Christmas Day 1929 and was buried at the mission cemetery.

Ivaritji had no direct descendants and, at the time of her death, was mistakenly regarded as ‘the last of the tribe of natives [that] formerly occupied the district where Adelaide now stands’ (Chronicle 1930, 72). This view was incorrect, as many Aboriginal people living at Point Pearce, Point McLeay, and other locations could trace their descent to Kaurna ancestors. The Kaurna language remained unspoken—not dead but sleeping—until the 1990s when it was revived, predominantly with the aid of linguistic data recorded by Christian Gottlieb Teichelmann and Clamor Wilhelm Schürmann, two Lutheran missionaries who recorded Kaurna words in Adelaide in the late 1830s and 1840s, but also with wordlists recorded by others, including the cultural information Ivaritji had shared with Bates, Black, and Tindale. To Kaurna people Ivaritji is a revered ancestor. Whitmore Square, a popular meeting place for Aboriginal people in Adelaide during the twentieth century, was officially renamed Whitmore Square/Ivaritji (later Iparrityi) in 2012 to commemorate her significance. In 2018 the Kaurna people were recognised as native title holders for lands around Adelaide.

 

Tom Gara is of Australian and Hungarian descent and has lived most of his life on Kaurna land.

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser (Adelaide). ‘The Adelaide Tribe, a Member Still Survives.’ 8 December 1927, 13
  • Black, J. M. ‘Vocabularies of Four South Australian Languages—Adelaide, Nurrunga, Kukata, and Narrinyeri—with Special Reference to Their Speech Sounds.’ Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 44 (1920): 76–93
  • Chronicle (Adelaide). ‘Last of Her Tribe: Death of Princess Amelia.’ 16 January 1930, 72
  • Chronicle (Adelaide). ‘More about Early Clarendon.’ 3 August 1933, 44
  • Gara, Tom. ‘The Life of Ivaritji (‘Princess Amelia’) of the Adelaide Tribe.’ Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia 28, nos. 1 & 2 (1990): 64–104.

Citation details

Tom Gara, 'Ivaritji (c. 1849–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/ivaritji-29705/text36777, accessed 9 August 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Ivaritji, by Herbert Basedow, 1920s

Ivaritji, by Herbert Basedow, 1920s

National Museum of Australia