The Mirning, also known as the Ngandatha, are an Aboriginal Australian people whose traditional lands lay on the coastal region of the Great Australian Bight extending from Western Australia into south-west South Australia.


Mirniŋ was their name for 'man'.[1]


Main article: Mirning language

Mirning was, properly speaking, a language known as Ngandatha, bearing the sense of "What is it?".[1]


The Mirning's traditional lands covered, according to Norman Tindale, roughly 39,000 square miles (100,000 km2) of territory, reaching from Point Culver[a] eastwards across to White Well in South Australia. Their northern limit was generally the ecological line separating them from the beginning of the karst plateau of the Nullarbor Plain, though good rains would see them penetrating further north. In Norman Tindale's estimation their tribal territory encompassed roughly 39,000 square miles (100,000 km2).[1]

People and history of contact

The Mirning were, according to measurements made of old people from a remnant of the tribe in 1939, relatively short in stature and practice rites of circumcision and subincision.[1][b]

The Jirkala-mirning were first contacted by whites in 1872, when their numbers were estimated to be 30, consisting of 11 men, 8 women, 5 adolescents, and 6 children.[3] It was estimated by the first whites who settled in Wonunda-mirnung territory in 1877 that they numbered no more than 80 persons, 15 men, 15 women, 10 adolescents, and some 40 children.[4] Writing in 1931, A. P. Elkin stated: 'The Wanbiri-speaking tribe, referred to as the Yerkla-mining (that is, the men at Yerkla or Irgala) is now extinct.'[5]

Social organisation

The Mirning were organised into groups of which two at least are known.

For ceremonial rites, involving the tribe's adoption of circumcision and subincision, the Wonunda-mirnung and Jirkala-mirning would gather at Jadjuuna, just south of Cocklebiddy.[1]

Their kinship system has four classes:- Būdera (root), Būdū (digger), Kūra, (dingo) and Wenŭng (wombat).[6][d]

Alfred William Howitt describes the tribe's marriage system as "very peculiar", in which two classes (Būdera and Kūra) have a privileged position as follows:[6]

Male Marries Children are
(M) Būdera (F) Kūra (M) Būdera, (F) Kūra
(F) Wenŭng (M) and (F) Būdera
(M) Kūra (F) Būdera (M) Kūra, (F) Būdera
(F) Būdū (M) and (F) Kūra
(M) Būdū (F) Wenŭng (M) Būdū, (F) Wenŭng
(M) Wenŭng (F) Būdū (M) Wenŭng, (F) Būdū

In film

In April 1994 Julian Lennon proposed making a documentary film with the provisional title Eyes of the Soul – Legends of Whales, Dolphins and Tribes, which would have touched on the Mirnung's cultural relationship to whales.[7][8]

A documentary called Whaledreamers – the Gathering, which includes mention of the Mirning, was made in 2006.[9]

Alternative names

Some words


  1. ^ Tindale states 'Port Culver' which appears to be an error or misprint, otherwise unattested, for Matthew Flinders's Point Culver. Tindale's coordinates for the area coincide with those of Point Culver according to the ('Point Culver (32°54'S., 124°42'E.'), and secondly Point Culver is given by W. Graham[2] (NGIA 2004, p. 158)
  2. ^ "The Wonunda speak of the tribes to the north of them as Katabungata and Mooroon, which last word means fat or stout, and of those to the west as Kooraradee, or tall. The reason of this, no doubt, is that the country of the Wonunda Meening is little better than a waterless desert, and its inhabitants, in comparison with their neighbours, half-starved, spare in person, low in stature, who use weapons and implements of an inferior sort". (Graham 1886, p. 394)
  3. ^ Williams however writes:'Euclsa, I learn, is a corruption of the aboriginal name of a favourite camping-place called Yircla or Yirgella, a term which signifies morning star, the morning star as it rises over the sandhills being a noticeable object, at the spot, as the Blacks say'. (Williams 1886, p. 400)
  4. ^ D. E. Roe of Euclas in Fison and Howitt, 1880 (Fison & Howitt 1880, p. 345)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Tindale 1974, p. 248.
  2. ^ Graham 1886, p. 394.
  3. ^ Williams 1886, p. 401.
  4. ^ Graham 1886, p. 395.
  5. ^ Elkin 1931, p. 62.
  6. ^ a b c Howitt 1883, pp. 508–509.
  7. ^ Maddox 2007.
  8. ^ HJC.
  9. ^ Seiler 2012, p. 56.
  10. ^ Fison & Howitt 1880, p. 345.
  11. ^ Graham 1886, p. 398.
  12. ^ Williams 1886, p. 404.