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Our Community, Our Culture

Mornington Island is a fusion of cultures. From the Lardil people, the traditional custodians, to the Yangkaal and the Kaiadilt people, the Gangalidda peoples, and the many visitors and workers, Mornington Island is very much an intercultural community.

The islands and surrounding seas are the traditional lands and waters of the Lardil, Yangkaal, Kaiadilt and Gangalidda peoples. They have successfully and sustainably managed their land and waters for millennia.

The region remains one of the most pristine anywhere; featuring internationally renowned art works, rich cultural heritage, harmonious multicultural (predominately indigenous Australian) communities and one of the best fishing destinations in Australia. The land is covered by native flora like teatree with swamp flats providing a habitat for many species of wildlife.

The Lardil, Kaiadilt, Yangkaal, and Gangalidda people manage a number of land and sea projects aimed at maintaining the unique natural environment and supporting future generations to live off the land.

Our People

Lardil are the original custodians of Mornington Island and are the largest tribal group, who formerly occupied the North Wellesley Islands (Mornington, Sydney, and Wallaby).

Yangkal tribal lands consist of the islands between Mornington and the mainland. The Kaiadilttribal group occupied the South Wellesley Islands (Bentinck and Sweers).

Over the years, following European settlement, children and people from tribes on mainland Australia and other Islands were brought here. Lardil people had little or no contact with the outside world before the early 1900s. Pre-contact, Lardil people lived in family groups of fifteen to twenty people who owned a portion of land and water.

Each Lardil group was separated into four tribal areas. These boundaries were set by the four winds according to traditional Lardil beliefs. For social and ceremonial purposes, they were divided into the Windward (south and east) and Leeward (north and west) moieties.

At the heart of everything is the land...

It is the way we think and feels about the land that makes us Aboriginal. It is the only way to keep our culture. For many, many years our ancestors worked out how we should live in this country. How we should use everything around us and what to do to keep our relationship with it strong. These are the things the Europeans don’t understand about the way the bush can help us. These things can help Europeans too when their own way of living makes their lives sad. We can teach Europeans all about these things. They are the things we have always known. Today my people can see more than one way of living. Now there are many things in our lives that were not there before.

Our lives are changing but this does not mean we should forget the things that it took us thousands of years to work out. These things keep us clear and straight and make us strong inside. They show us the proper way for Aboriginal people to live. Our bodies must keep doing the dances and living in the bush and making the artifacts that keep our skills alive. These things are what we need to keep the head and the body together until we are given back our land and the land can make us whole again.

The late, Larry Lanley
Jagarairee Mornington Shire Council.

Totems & Dreamings

All Indigenous Australian people have a totem. Totems are usually expressed in terms of natural species such as dugong, rainbow fish, shark totems, further describe tribal sub-sections. Totems are hereditary, and the killing or eating of the totem is restricted.

Thuwathu, the Rainbow Serpent, is believed to have made all landmarks and food and water sources. The Lardil received their song and dances from the Dreamtime.

Clan Groups

There are four major Lardil clan groups:

  • Barlumbenda (West)
  • Jirrkurumbenda (Leeward-North)
  • Lilumbenda (East)
  • Larlumbenda (Windward-South)

Burial Sites

Mornington Island is home to saltwater people, which means the connection to the waters is extremely important and revered. Many people when they pass away, are laid to rest within places along the foreshore of the beach.

Walking along the beaches located on Windward (Southern side) of the Island (near the Council building) is permissible, however, we ask you take care not to disturb any burial sites you may come across.


We encourage you to drop in to Mirndiyan Gununa to learn more about the history of Mornington Island, the traditional custodians of the land,and their culture that has existed for thousands of years. View their website here www.morningtonisland.com.au

Traditional Lands and Seas and Sacred Places

To help preserve our natural habitats and to respect the lands and waters of the Lardil people, we ask you to consider the following:

  • Be aware that some areas of the island are traditional homelands with several outstations owned by local families.
  • Traditional land and sea areas are located on Mornington Island throughout the Wellesley Island group. Sacred grounds such as a Bora Ground, which is a place where traditional ceremonies take place, is located just outside Gununa.
  • The Lardil, Kaiadilt, Yangkaal and Gangalidda people manage a number of land and sea projects aimed at maintaining the unique natural environment and supporting future generations to live off the land and sea.