As many other Aboriginal tribal groups before the arrival of Europeans, Kungarakan culture was ancient and pure; un-weakened by invasion and dispossession.
Kungarakan language, song, dance and social structures were distinctive and strong. For the Kungarakan people long life, health and well-being was assured by the fresh waters of the Nungalakoo (Finniss River) and its multiple estuaries and pools. Kungarakan shared life with tribal allies in the region with whom were shared marriage, hunting and ceremony rites.

Kungarakan have not forgotten culture and still practice culture through juluk (ceremony), passing on language and naming our children in the tradition of our ancestors. The Paperbark People have traditionally been powerful and well respected with access to plentiful supplies of fresh water wildlife and bush foods to sustain them and share with neighbours.

Joe McGinness in his book recalls his days as a young man gathering bush tucker at the tin mine homestead named the ‘Lucy Claim’ after his mother Alyandabu:

“In the surrounding bushland of the claim there was daily hunting and foraging by Mother and other women relatives for bush tucker, such as yams, mussels, yabbies, goanna, bandicoots, possums, etc. “

“Wild honey….comes in several varieties…tul-pooee- found in tree stumps and antbeds, dark honey almost the colour of treacle; yuka-pin- found in growing trees…. And palark-pah- also a tree-variety of honey” [1]


Wetji is the Kungarakan name for White Egret. Wetji is also used as term of endearment and respect for a female grandparent (who usually possesses a head of white hair.)

Wetji - White Egret

Wetji – White Egret

Tjimin – the Kungarakan word for dragonfly- is also a title we give to our grandfathers and male elders.

Tjimin - Dragonfly

Tjimin – Dragonfly


The tjoodah (paperbark tree) is an important element in our environment. It’s trunk can store water for times of drought; it’s leaves and oils are medicinal; its bark is used for everything from cooking to cultural ceremonies. The tjoodah, amongst other things, represents the Kungarakan people: straight, strong, standing tall and grounded in land.




This photo was taken on Kungarakan land. It is typical of the kind of water ways on our country with hot springs and fresh water coming together in pools. Translated Jonorr pirrmun means “where the bubbling water comes down”

Jonorr Pirrmun

Jonorr Pirrmun

This photo is of Nungalakoo kiwek the lower Finniss River, Batchelor, NT

Nungalakoo kiwek

Nungalakoo kiwek


Fire signifies the camp and is the centre of communal life. Fire like water remains a vital element in Kungarakan life and environment. Fire has been used for many purposes amongst these cooking, tool-making and ceremonial cleansing.

Pongoh - Fire

Pongoh – Fire


“Aborigines identify themselves by the language they speak and this gives them certain dignity and significance as a special group of people. As for us, it settles the matter of who we are, then we should move on to what we can do in the future”.[2]

In the 1970s Ida Koormundum Bishop as granddaughter and one of many descendants of the Kungarakan matriarch Lucy Alyandabu McGinness, started documenting the Kungarakan language. Using her own phonetic alphabet and after 30 years of research, Ida published a lexicon in 2000.

Tribal relationships

Kungarakan descendants now number in the hundreds despite a tragic incident early last century at a campsite just South of Darwin which claimed scores of Kungarakan lives on a single day. Oral histories of this catastrophic event in our history have been recalled by Kungarakan Elders through the generations, one of these, Joe McGinness (dec.) who was told about it first hand by his mother, Alyandabu who survived that terrible day:

“The group was, at the time of the tragedy, camped at a railway siding known as Stapleton about fifty miles south of Darwin….Those who ate the poisoned damper became violently ill before their death. As a result of this incident, practically the whole Kungarakan tribe was wiped out” [3]

  1. McGinness, J. (1991). Joe McGinness: Son of Alyandabu. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press
  2. Bishop, I. M. (2000). Ngun Koongurrukun: Speak Koongurrukun
  3. Ibid