The Mirning People of the Nullarbor and Great Australian Bight
Wenyo, in our language this means welcome, greetings and hello.
As Mirning, we are among the world’s oldest peoples with a lineage passing through generations for over 60,000 years. Our distinctive sculptural art from the Koonalda cave has been dated to 22,000 years ago and continues in our art today. The name “Mirning” means “listen, learn, observe and understand for wisdom and knowledge”.
The Yinyila Nation of Mirning clans encompasses the ancient coastal seabed of the Nullarbor Plain Ngargangooridri, the spectacular limestone Bunda Cliffs and the pristine waters of the Great Australian Bight. Our stories recall the vast plain below the water that was our land home before the last sea-level rise. This is the place of the great white Dreamtime whale Jeedara and is still the greatest whale nursery and sanctuary on this planet.
Mirning Country is the sacred place of the Mirning People from time immemorial. The Yinyila Nation of Mirning clans forms a huge yerrambai, rainbow arch from Point Culver in Western Australia to near Streaky Bay in South Australia, with submerged country roughly along the 33rd parallel south. There is shared country to Point Malcolm in the West and Venus Bay in the East.
We still share our stories from long before the last great sea-level rise, stories of our land country that is now under the Great Australian Bight. When the Dutch sailed along our coast in 1627, they called our country Landt van Pieter Nuyts. Our Elders share memories of how our ancestors met early explorers who came ashore and how they could read their thirst and hunger and so shared water and food in our goonminyera, friendly way.
The Yinyila clans arc around the Nullarbor Plain and the Great Australian Bight. Along the coast west to east from near Point Culver (WA) to near Streaky Bay (SA) are the main clans: Wonunda (WA), Yirkla (WA and SA), Yoolbara as a general name for coastal clans (SA) and Cooeyana (SA).
When in-land people came onto our country after colonisation and pre-1900, the names started to change, as they used Wanbari for our Yirkla country and Wirangu for some of our Yoolbara and Cooeyana country in the east. The anthropologist Norman Tindale in 1927 recorded that the inland Kokatha who had then recently migrated to the coast used the term Wirrangu, which is how this inland name came to be placed on our coastal country.
The great arching bridge of the ngargaum Bunda Cliffs holds up Australia. Our lands include the Nullarbor Plain and the seas of the Great Australian Bight. Over millennia, our isolated landscape has been reflected in our unique culture, the connection with coastal country blending land and sea through the largest network of underground limestone caves in the world. The sea caters for the great Eucla Basin, wilbiyirrinyie, through underground rivers and channels.
Our Mirning ancestors protected this coastal land and sea since the Dreamtime. That is why this country is still beautiful, full of life and pristine today. The Great Australian Bight is one of the world’s greatest marine centers of biodiversity, full of deep-water nutrients.
The word Mirning means listen, learn, understand and observe for wisdom and knowledge. This place is our museum, our university and education. This is the place where the southern right whales tend the calves and teach them and it is a sanctuary where the whales rest and find refuge. For our Mirning families, who have the whales as our totem, the whales are our family – our brothers, our sisters. The annual returning of the whale is always a celebration for our people; reuniting family.
Today our Elders and People continue to protect the whales. The special connection with the whale inspired Julian Lennon to produce a film called Whaledreamers and Senior Mirning Elder, Aunty Iris Burgoyne, titled her autobiographical book “Mirning, We are the Whales”. Aunty Iris wrote in her book:
“My people, the Mirning, told me about the way our ancestors lived and that we must follow the same path on the tradition. You respected your elders and forgave people before the sun went down and the light died on that day.”
“People wondered why Aboriginal people cried out for land rights. Our loved ones slept out there with our beautiful brown mother and she was disturbed. Our ancient spiritual history said that the Mirning believed in our ancestral spirits and in the land. The land and sea are unique and special to the Mirning.”
Along the Nullarbor cliffs the many subterranean channels, karsts and caves can be seen. Years ago, on full tide, the whales used to travel through these channels. Our people used to look after the whales and treat them when they were not singing.
Our Country is full of energy, full of life and healing. This is medicine to the whales and medicine to us Mirning. This is a very spiritual place, a place where, as Mirning People, we honour tradition and custom. We honour the Dreaming.
It is our duty and responsibility to teach how we connect with the land and sea and live with Mother Nature. We are the natural custodians and protectors of land, sea and nature.
Yinyila Nation & Elders
We are the people of the Yinyila Nation, the great rainbow arc of country on the south coast of Australia. Since the Dreamtime and continuously for over 3,000 generations this has been our womwoum, our home and belonging.
We were also known as the goonminyera, friendly people and renowned for our mabarn bai, great medicine men and women. Yinyila is the sea country with big white sand dunes and water holes, soaks and springs along the coast and cliffs. Our yoola, land is our Mother and our the billia, sea is our Father. Our clans include the Yirgala Mirning, billiaum, sea people, and the whale dreaming families. If you are interested in reading historical records about the Yinyila Nation, there are examples in the rare book and manuscript collection at the Barr Smith Library.
The Mirning Council of Elders is the traditional voice for our Mirning People, which still today protects and enforces our traditional Mirning laws and customs. The spirit of our law is goonminyera, friendly attitude, which is the same nature as the whale.
In the days of the Mission Stations, our old Elders refused to give up the traditional ways. In secret, the Elders shared their spiritual knowledge, practical wisdom, rituals and Mirning law. They protected our culture and shared the Dreamtime stories and wisdom of our ancestors. They were the custodians of Mirning identity that has been passed down to our generations. We are so fortunate that these great gifts are still held by our Mirning Elders.
This is our parents’, our grandparents’ and ancestors’ land and sea. The laws and customs that they practiced, we keep today. As Mirning People, our responsibility and duty is to follow the path that our ancestors started, to carry on the traditions and be keepers and custodians of our Mirning laws and customs. What was theirs is now ours.
Please enjoy these short film clips with our Elders and family.
Senior Elder and Whale Songman Bunna Lawrie calling the whales. Two whales, a mother and calf, came and danced, revealing sacred Mirning symbols.
Connect & Support
Protecting our Traditional Mirning Coastal and Sea Country
The Mirning Elders are working to have our traditional custodianship acknowledged in Australian law.
We need all the support that you can offer. Please visit our Grassrootz page and Be a Caretaker for the Bight!