The Kokatha, also known as the Kokatha Mula,[a] are an Aboriginal Australian people of the state of South Australia. They speak the Kokatha language, close to or a dialect of the Western Desert language.


Traditional Kokatha lands extend over some 140,000 km2 (54,000 sq mi) according to the estimation of Norman Tindale, stretching over some of the harshest, waterless land on the Australian continent. They include Tarcoola, Kingoonyah, Pimba and the McDouall Peak as well as modern townships of Roxby Downs and Woomera. The lands extend west as far as Ooldea and the Ooldea Range while the northern frontier runs up to the Stuart Range and Lake Phillipson. Their boundary with Barngarla lands is marked by an ecological transition from their plateau to the lower hilly acacia scrubland and salt lake zones running south to the coast.[1]

The tribes bordering on Kokatha lands were, running north clockwise, the Pitjantjara, the Yankuntjatjarra, the Antakirinja, the Arabana and Kuyani to their east, the Barngarla on the southeastern flank, the Wirangu directly south, the Mirning southwest, and the Ngalia to their west.[2]

According to the Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation (as of October 2020):[3]

The Kokatha People are the Traditional Owners of a large area of land in the northern region of South Australia, estimated to extend over some 140,000 km2 (54,000 sq mi). Traditionally the Kokatha people have been associated with the land that is to the north of Port Augusta, stretching from Lake Torrens in the east to the Gawler Ranges in the West. This includes the land surrounding BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam Mine Project located at Roxby Downs and Oz Mineral's new copper-gold project at Carrapateena.

History of contact

The Kokatha were engaged in migration towards to southeast before the 1850s, when whites began to make their presence felt. Their hold on Ooldea area was relinquished around 1917 when they yielded before the pressure from the northern Yankuntjatjarra migrating there.[1]

Native title

Further information: Native title in Australia

The Kokatha Aboriginal Corporation is the Registered Native Title Body Corporate (RNTBC) which covers areas determined to belong to the Kokatha people by the Native Title Act 1993, and represents the interests of the Kokatha people.[3]As of 2020, there have been three native title determinations relating to the Kokatha in South Australia:[4][5]

An ILUA covers the precise description of the area of land,[11] which is described as "about 30,372 km2 (11,727 sq mi) extending approx. 129 kilometres (80 mi) west of Lake Torrens".[12] Large areas within the Woomera Prohibited Area of the RAAF Woomera Range Complex overlap with the native title area.[13]

Significant sites

The dunes and trees of the area within Woomera are considered sacred to the Kokatha people, being linked to their Tjukurpa (Dreaming) stories, in particular that of the Seven Sisters creation story. In particular, the black oak trees are relate to male Kokatha connections to this storyline. The area is supposed to be cleaned by the Department of Defence and the trees protected when weapons testing is under way. However, debris has been found around the site.[13]

There are also a number of significant and rare archaeological sites which are remnants of previous Kokatha habitation within the weapons testing range, which are described in a 2020 heritage management plan prepared for the Department of Defence by GML Heritage Consultants.There are at least 14 separate stone foundations at Lake Hart North (which is not used by the department), which the archaeologists surmised were either "habitation structures" or "low-walled hunting hides".[14]

At another location, Wild Dog Creek, there are a number of rock engravings in the Panaramitee Style (generally dated to the Pleistocene, 10,000 years ago), created by chipping away the rock with sharp tools. Other Aboriginal Australian rock art exists throughout the area, including at Lake Hart, portraying, among other things, footprints which match the Genyornis, a giant bird that went extinct thousands of years ago.[14]

The report states that the location was likely "inhabited and used for many thousands of years", informally dated to up to 50,000 years ago (similar to human habitation in the nearby Flinders Ranges), and the sites could provide hitherto unknown cultural information about the Australian desert area.[14]

Alternative names

Source: Tindale 1974, p. 213

Notable people


  1. ^ The variation between these ethnonyms, Kukata/Kokata and Kokatha, may represent an original difference between two distinct Western desert dialects, one retaining a voiceless alveolar stop (t), the other a dental stop (th) (Platt 1972, pp. 3–4; Clendon 2015, p. 27)


  1. ^ a b Tindale 1974, p. 213.
  2. ^ MapASA.
  3. ^ a b Kokatha: home 2020.
  4. ^ NNTT: Indigenous Register.
  5. ^ NNTT: National Register.
  6. ^ NNTT: Land Use Agreements.
  7. ^ FWCAC: Home.
  8. ^ NNTT: Far West (1).
  9. ^ NNTT: Far West (2).
  10. ^ NNTT: Kokatha (A).
  11. ^ NNTT: SI2014/011.
  12. ^ NNTT: Register extract 2014.
  13. ^ a b Trask, Steven (22 June 2022). "Why were missiles being tested 50 metres from trees sacred to Aboriginal people?". SBS News. Retrieved 10 July 2022.
  14. ^ a b c Trask, Steven (23 June 2022). "The significance of these very rare Aboriginal shelters has been revealed". SBS News. Retrieved 4 July 2022.
  15. ^ Ralph 2010.


Further reading