Ivaritji was a very important person. She is one of only two key Kaurna informants. She named Tandanya and Tamdanyangga and the post office. She identified the lake in the Botanic Gardens as an important site. She provided very important information to anthropologists about Kaurna ways and cultures. She was a truly independent woman. She wanted to be economically self-sufficient. She was a master weaver. In terms of her loving her neighbours, she was childless but she was known as Tuku Ngangki, which means “mother” to many. There was talk of her as this little dark, snow-haired woman, carrying around her reeds to weave her mats and always being there to help deliver babies.
Ivaritji was born in Port Adelaide, probably in the mid 1840s. Her Kaurna name means a “gentle, misty rain. She is regarded as the last surviving person of full Kaurna descent. Her mother was Tankaira or “Charlotte” and her father was known to the early settlers as “Rodney: or “King Rodney”. He was one of the leading men or ‘chiefs’ of the Adelaide tribe.
Nothing is known of Ivaritji’s early life. She is first mentioned in historical documents when she lived in Clarendon in the 1850s and 1860s. Ivaritiji stated in a 1927 newspaper interview that she and her family, along with the rest of the Kaurna people, moved to the Clarendon district when Adelaide became too populated. According to the newspaper interview, Ivaritji said that both her parents died within a short space of time while they were living in Clarendon and she was then adopted by the Daily family. Thomas Daily was the local schoolmaster and also was in charge of distributing rations, including flour, rice, sugar, tea, and tobacco to aged, infirmed or destitute Aborigines. It is assumed that Ivaritji was adopted by the Dailys in the early 1860s and then stayed with them for a few years. During that time she learned to read and write. She then rejoined the Kaurna people.
She lived in Point McLeay Mission. She married Charles Savage, who was of Negro descent and was born in Adelaide around 1852. They were married in December 1920 at the Holy Trinity Church in Adelaide. There are no records of Ivaritji having children of her own. But according to some oral reports, she raised two boys as her own, who were possibly orphaned or abandoned.
In 1919, Daisy Bates, the noted scholar of Aboriginal culture, visited Point Pearce to talk to Ivaritji. She provided Mrs. Bates with a list of Kaurna relationship terms and some place names and other information. She said that her father’s principal waterhole was the lake in the Botanic Gardens, called Kainka wira. She also gave the name Dharnda anya (Tandanya) as a place name in Adelaide and Nagamadji as the area where the post office now stands.
John McConnell Black, the botanist, also visited Ivaritji in October 1919. He obtained a vocabulary of about 70 Kaurna words from her. They were subsequently published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of SA.
In 1920, Ivaritji married Charles Savage. Since he was not of Aboriginal descent, he was not permitted to live with his wife at Point Pearce.
The couple then moved to Moonta. At this time, Harry Taylor held to the license to a reserve of 18 acres, which was known as “the Crossroads.” However, following local residents’ complaints of unruly behaviour by Aborigines, Taylor’s license was cancelled. The Protector, W.G. South recommended that the license be transferred to Amelia (Ivaritji) Savage. However, a few weeks later, South changed his mind and gave the lease to Stacey, a white farmer. South, however, allowed the Savages to stay in a small cottage on the land and farm one acre, which surrounded it.
Charles Savage wrote a letter to the Commissioner for Crown Lands, complaining about the Protector’s actions. When Stacey’s lease expired, the Savages were allowed to stay in the cottage. But by that time they were too old to farm, so another white farmer, W. Milford, was allowed to crop the land and pay Ivaritji 1 pound per month for land rental.
In 1927, John Hosking and H. M. Hale, then a Curator at the SA Museum, visited Ivaritji at her home. They recorded about 100 Kaurna words and obtained other information from Ivaritiji. They also invited her to come to Adelaide for a further interview and Ivaritiji replied that she would be pleased to visit the city.
At that time, she was also supplementing her husband’s small pension by making
mats to sell to the townspeople in Moonta. Her mats, which were woven from reeds, were highly prized in the neighbourhood.
In April 1928, Herbert Hale gave a short talk on Ivaritji at the monthly meeting of the Anthropological Society of South Australia. A few months later, the Society paid Ivaritji’s fare for a short visit to Adelaide. While she was in the city she was interviewed by Norman Tindale, who questioned her about aspects of Kaurna culture, tribal boundaries and resource-exploitation. He later published several articles based on those interviews. Tindale also took several photographs of Ivaritji, dressed in a wallaby-skin cloak, which belonged to the Museum collection.
In 1929, the Adelaide City Council became interested in Ivaritji’s story and wrote to the Town Clerk in Moonta, Mr. Couch, asking him to interview her and gain some information about early Adelaide. Mr. Couch interviewed Ivaritji at her home.
After giving the interview, Ivaritji visited Couch in his office on several occasions and asked for his help in obtaining a pension. Couch referred the matter to the Adelaide City Council. They consulted the Aborigines Department, who stated that Aborigines weren’t eligible for the age pension as they were legally wards of that state. On that basis, they could only apply for rations and clothing, if required.
However, the Adelaide City Council, wanted to honour Ivaritji in some way. They decided to invite her to the next Proclamation Day ceremony at Glenelg. But it is unknown whether or not the invitation was ever sent. In early December, Ivaritji fell ill with pneumonia. She left her husband at their home in Moonta and stayed at Point Pearce. She died in hospital on Christmas Day and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Mission cemetery.
Tom Gara, who wrote an in depth article about Ivaritji, gave the following overview of her life, “Described by all who knew her as a law-abiding, friendly woman, who was always cheerful and courteous to everyone, she seemed to bear no ill-feelings towards white people and was always keen to cooperate with anthropologists and other researchers.”
Gara added, that although she lived in poverty and isolation, she led a long and satisfying life.
He concluded, “In this Ivaritji perhaps typifies the strength and resilience of Aboriginal culture and the Aboriginal people’s ability to survive the most adverse circumstances.”
Ivaritji was a little powerhouse and she really is a role model to all Kaurna women. Not only Kaurna women but all women. She is an ancient goddess.