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The Wiradjuri people (Wiradjuri northern dialect pronunciation [wiraːjd̪uːraj]; Wiradjuri southern dialect pronunciation [wiraːjɟuːraj]) are a group of Indigenous Australian Aboriginal people that were united by a common language, strong ties of kinship and survived as skilled hunter–fisher–gatherers in family groups or clans scattered throughout central New South Wales.

Wiradjuri people
Language family:Pama–Nyungan
Language branch:Yuin–Kuric
Language group:Wiradhuric
Group dialects:Wiradjuri
Area (approx. 97,100 square kilometres (37,500 sq mi))
Bioregion:Central New South Wales
Location:Central New South Wales
Coordinates:33°50′S 147°30′E / 33.833°S 147.500°E / -33.833; 147.500Coordinates: 33°50′S 147°30′E / 33.833°S 147.500°E / -33.833; 147.500[1]
RiversLachlan (Kalare), Macquarie (Wambool)
Notable individuals
Windradyne, Linda Burney

In the 21st century, major Wiradjuri groups live in Condobolin, Peak Hill, Narrandera and Griffith. There are significant populations at Wagga Wagga and Leeton and smaller groups at West Wyalong, Parkes, Dubbo, Forbes, Cootamundra, Cowra and Young.


A Wiradjuri warrior, thought to be Windradyne[2]

The Wiradjuri autonym is derived from wirraay, meaning "no" or "not", with the suffix -dhuurray or -juuray meaning "having". That the Wiradjuri said wirraay, as opposed to some other word for "no", was seen as a distinctive feature of their speech, and several other tribes in New South Wales, to the west of the Great Dividing Range, are similarly named after their own words for "no".[3] Some historians counter that the name "Wiradjuri" does not derive from Aboriginal culture, but is instead a term invented by the anthropologist John Fraser in the 1890s as an artificial, collective name for his "Great Tribes" of New South Wales.[4]

Wiradjuri languageEdit

Wiradjuri is a Pama–Nyungan family and classified as a member of the small Wiradhuric branch of Australian languages of Central New South Wales.[5]

The Wiradjuri language is effectively extinct, but attempts are underway to revive it, with a reconstructed grammar, based on earlier ethnographic materials and wordlists and the memories of Wiradjuri families, which is now used to teach the language in schools.[6] This reclamation work was originally propelled by elder Stan Grant and John Rudder who had previously studied Australian Aboriginal languages in Arnhem Land.[7][8]


The Wiradjuri are the largest Aboriginal group in New South Wales. They once occupied a vast area in central New South Wales, on the plains running north and south to the west of the Blue Mountains. The area was known as "the land of the three rivers",[9] the Wambool later known as the Macquarie, the Kalare later known as the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee, or Murrumbidjeri.[10]

Norman Tindale estimated the territorial range of the Wiradjuri tribal lands at 127,000 km2 (49,000 sq mi). Their eastern borders ran from north to south from above Mudgee, through Orange, New South Wales to the vicinity of Bathurst, and east of Cowra, Young and Tumut and south to the upper Murray at Albury and east to about Tumbarumba. The southern border ran to Howlong. Its western reaches went along Billabong Creek to beyond Mossgiel. They extended southwest to the vicinity of Hay and Narrandera. Condobolin southwards to Booligal, Carrathool, Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra, Parkes, Trundle; Gundagai, Boorowa, and Rylstone, Wellington, and Carcoar all lay within Wiradjuri territory.[1]

The Murray River forms the Wiradjuri's southern boundary and the change from woodland to open grassland marks their eastern boundary.[citation needed]

Social organisationEdit

The Wiradjuri were organised into bands or, what ethnographers traditionally called hordes. Norman Tindale quotes Alfred Howitt as mentioning several of these local groups of the tribe:

  • Narrandera (prickly lizard)
  • Cootamundra (kuta-mundra, kutamun turtle)
  • Murranbulla (maring-bula, two bark canoes).[1]

Burial riteEdit

The Wiradjuri, together with the Gamilaraay (who however used them in bora ceremonies), were particularly known for their use of carved trees which functioned as taphoglyphs,[11] marking the burial site of a notable medicine-man, ceremonial leader, warrior or orator of a tribe. On the death of a distinguished Wiradjuri, initiated men would strip the bark off a tree to allow them to incise symbols on the side of the trunk which faced the burial mound. The craftsmanship on remaining examples of this funeral artwork displays notable artistic power. Four still stand at Molong.

They are generally to be found near rivers where the softer earth allowed easier burial.[12] A. W. Howitt remarked that these trees incised with taphoglyphs served both as transit points to allow mythological cultural heroes to ascend to, and descend from, the firmament as well as a means for the deceased to return to the sky.[11]


The Wiradjuri diet included yabbies and fish such as Murray cod from the rivers. In dry seasons, they ate kangaroos, emus and food gathered from the land, including fruit, nuts, yam daisies (Microseris lanceolata), wattle seeds, and orchid tubers. The Wiradjuri travelled into Alpine areas in the summer to feast on Bogong moths.[citation needed]

The Wiradjuri were also known for their handsome possum-skin cloaks stitched together from several possum furs. Governor Macquarie was presented with one of these cloaks by a Wiradjuri man when he visited Bathurst in 1815.[2]

European penetrationEdit

Wiradjuri territory was first penetrated by European colonists in 1813.[9] In 1822 George Suttor took up an extensive lot of land, later known as Brucedale Station, after Wiradjuri guides showed him an area with ample water sources. Suttor learnt their language, and befriended Windradyne, nicknamed "Saturday", and attributed conflict to the harshness of white behavior, since the Wiradjuri were in his view, fond of white people.[13] Clashes between European settlers however multiplied as the influx of whites increased, and became known as the Bathurst Wars. The occupation of their lands and their cultivation began to cause famine among the Wiradjuri, who had a different notion of what constituted property.[a] In the 1850s there were still corroborees around Mudgee but there were fewer clashes.

Notable peopleEdit


  • Alec "Tracker" Riley
  • Yuranigh, a much prized guide for the explorer Thomas Mitchell, especially during his expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1845-1846. On hearing of Yuranigh's passing in 1852, Mitchell ponied up £200 to have his gravesite marked tombstone.[15]
  • Windradyne, important Aboriginal leader during the Bathurst War.


Music / The ArtsEdit


Rugby LeagueEdit


Places of significanceEdit

Wiradjuri culture in fictionEdit

The short story Death in the Dawntime, originally published in The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives (Mike Ashley, editor; 1995), is a murder mystery that takes place entirely among the Wiradjuri people before the arrival of Europeans in Australia.[20]

In Bryce Courtenay's novel Jessica, the plot is centred in Wiradjuri region. Jessica's best friend (Mary Simpson) was from Wiradjuri.[21]

Noel Beddoe's novel The Yalda Crossing[22] also explores Wiradjuri history from an early settler perspective, bringing to life a little-known massacre that occurred in the 1830s.[23] Andy Kissane's poem, "The Station Owner's Daughter, Narrandera" tells a story about the aftermath of that same massacre,[24] and was the inspiration for Alex Ryan's short film, Ngurrumbang.[25]

Alternative namesEdit

The variety of spellings for the name Wiradjuri is extensive, with over 60 ways of transcribing the word registered.[26]

Some wordsEdit

  • guwandhaang = native peach. The English word for this in Australia, quandong, is thought to derive from the Wirandjuri term.[27]
  • wagga = crow. The Wiradjeri term perhaps lies behind the toponym for the town of Wagga Wagga. The reduplication may be a pluralizer suggesting the idea of "(place of) many crows". This has recently been questioned by Wiradjuri elder Stan Grant, and an academic graduate of Wiradjuri studies. The word behind the toponym is, they claim, waga, meaning "dance", and the reduplicative would mean "many dances/much dancing".[28]


  1. ^ Suttor wrote: "These natives have some imperfect ideas of property, and the right of possession. They say all wild animals are theirs - the tame or cultivated ones are ours. Whatever springs spontaneously from the earth or without labour is theirs also. Things produced by art and labour, are the white fellows' as they call us."[14]


  1. ^ a b c Tindale 1974, p. 201.
  2. ^ a b Langton 2010, p. 33.
  3. ^ Thieberger & McGregor 1994, pp. 79–80.
  4. ^ Norman Tindale's The Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974) p 156
  5. ^ Dixon 2002, p. xxxiv.
  6. ^ McNaboe & Poetsch 2010, pp. 216–224.
  7. ^ Rudder & Grant 2005.
  8. ^ Rudder & Grant 2010.
  9. ^ a b Langton 2010, p. 32.
  10. ^ Bamblett 2013, p. 40.
  11. ^ a b McCarthy 1940, pp. 161–166.
  12. ^ McCarthy 1940, p. 161.
  13. ^ Langton 2010, pp. 35–36.
  14. ^ Langton 2010, p. 37.
  15. ^ Pearce 2016.
  16. ^ Innes 2016.
  17. ^ GoNSW 1996a.
  18. ^ Office of Environment and Heritage.
  19. ^ a b GoNSW 1996b.
  20. ^ MacIntyre 2001, p. 139.
  21. ^ Courtenay 2000.
  22. ^ Beddoe 2012.
  23. ^ Wilson 2012.
  24. ^ Kissane 1999, pp. 42–43.
  25. ^ Ngurrumbang 2013.
  26. ^ Thieberger & McGregor 1994, p. 80.
  27. ^ Clarke 2008, p. 53.
  28. ^ Owen 2016.