Was Kangaroo Island Ever Populated?

It has generally been an accepted theory in Australian scientific circles (writes the Register) that Kangaroo Island was never inhabited by man. Many scientists, including Flinders and Peron, brought forward what they considered conclusive evidence against the island having been occupied by an aboriginal population, but during late years there has been a divergence of opinion owing to the closer study of local conditions.

Last week Mr. Howchin, F.G.S., put before his fellow-scientists of tbe Royal Society some interesting data, which he had gathered on a recent trip to Kangaroo Island, in support of the contention that a human population did exist on the island in the past.

He exhibited a number of round stones picked up near to Hawke's Nest which he contended bore unmistakeable signs of human workmanship, They were hollowed slightly at opposite ends for the insertion of finger and thumb and would have been employed as hammers.

In the same locality he had made other important discoveries, including some pieces of chipped quartz. In Mr. Howchin's opinion these stones were broken in a manner that pointed conclusively to the agency of human skill.

But perhaps the discovery upon which the theorist lays most stress was what is known as a nudden [sic] [midden?] kitchen. On the top of some high cliffs on the sea coast he found an extended stretch of broken shells, stones, and such debris, known by science to indicate the locality of an old native camp. Mr. Howchin is confident that further research will establish his theory that Kangaroo Island was at one time in its history inhabited by aboriginals.

WAS KANGAROO ISLAND EVER POPULATED?. (1903, April 17). The Mount Barker Courier and Onkaparinga and Gumeracha Advertiser (SA : 1880 - 1954), p. 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147770535

Science moves slowly - the next significant stage was nearly 30 years later:

Museum Record of Scientific Discoveries

The latest volume of records of the South Australian Museum ... contains the report of Mr. N. B. Tindale and Dr. Brian Maegraith on their discovery of traces of an extinct aborigine population on Kangaroo Island, with sketches of hammerstones aad trimmed flakes which they found.

Museum Record of Scientific Discoveries. (1931, July 4).Advertiser and Register (Adelaide, SA : 1931), p. 7.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74663169



Great scientific interest attaches to the fact, which has been practically established, that there was once an aboriginal population on Kangaroo Island. Whether the place was inhabited before the arrival of the white man has been a problem which has always puzzled investigators, as, up to the present. Kangaroo Island was the only large area or good land in the world which had not shown any signs of habitation by man.

Visit by Scientists Researches made within the past few days by a party of scientists, Mr. N. B. Tindale, ethnologist at the Museum, Dr. B. G. Maegraith, who was recently awarded the Rhodes' Scholarship, and Dr. W. W. Jolly, give promise of rendering a solution of the mystery.

They went to investigate some nardoo stones at Hawk's Nest, and found a large number which pratically establish the fact that there was an aboriginal population there at one time. The party, which arrived at ths island on December 13, and returned to Adelaide on December 22, first went to a spot on Timber Creek, near Murray's Lagoon, and about 30 miles south of Kingscote, at Hawk's Nest, where Professor W. Howchin, in 1903, and Mr. R. G. Thomas, recently, found nardoo stones which were taken to the museum. Many of the stones were discovered, and they had marks on them obviously made by human beings. They had been used for crashing bones, roots, and grains, and were similar to the hammer stones found in the South-East. The stones are of very hard rock of a type which is not to be found in the vicinity of Hawk's Nest, and they must have been carried there. No human remains were discovered, although it is possible that further research might reveal some.

A box of representative stones was brought back to the museum, for investigation. The expedition spent two days on the south coast, where they found more evidences of nardoo stones. Also when they returned to Kingscote they were shown other specimens which were stated to have come from near the Bay of Shoals, and heard that similar stones had been found in tbe west part of the island.

The indications therefore were fairly strong, and there were enough to convince the party that there bad been a race of people on the island.

Probable Primitive Life

In clearing up that part of the mystery, however, numerous other questions naturally arise. Nothing definite has been established regarding the length of occupation or the type of race. From what has been discovered it has been suggested that the race was very primitive, probably more so than the Australian aboriginal, and was possibly allied to the Tasmanian aboriginal. From animal remains found elsewhere it seems evident that the island and the mainland were at one time connected and there is a possibility that this race wandered, or was driven over, from the mainland.

When Flinders and Baudin visited the island in 1802, no indication of inhabitants was found, and the kangaroos were so tame that they could be knocked on the head with a stick. So apparently any native race died out long before the coming of the white man. There the problem must be left at present, but it is hoped that something more definite will be evolved from the further study and investigation, the results of which are to be made available in a report of the expedition which may be expected in about six months' time.

MYSTERY OF KANGAROO ISLAND. (1930, December 26).The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29856187

Another readable more general 1931 article can be found at

NATUREANDSCIENCE. (1931, October 17). The Australasian(Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 44. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140842289

See also

Traces of an Extinct Aboriginal Population on Kangaroo Island. (1931, August 15). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191248675