Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albert Karloan (1864–1943)

by Catherine Berndt

This article was published:

Albert Karloan (1864-1943), Aboriginal doctor (putari), was born in July 1864 on the shore of Lake Albert, near Point McLeay (Raukkan) mission, South Australia, son of Taramindjeri (d.1894), 'spiritman' and council-member of the Manangki clan, Yaraldi tribe, Ngarrindjeri people, and Paleliwal (Nelly Muldugine), of the Muldjonggurindjeri clan, Tanggani tribe. Milerum was his cousin. Kaloni's mother abandoned him as a baby, but he was nurtured by his aunt, a noted sorceress, who showed him her paraphernalia and taught him her techniques. Djinbatinyeri was his child name and rekali, the water rat, his totem. He attended the mission school when George Taplin was superintendent; by the age of 6, Karloan was raising stones and burning lime to build the church and cottages. The most significant figure in his life was his father. Taramindjeri had a comprehensive knowledge of traditional rules and practices; his healing combined magic with medicinal treatments. In 1882 Karloan was one of the last three youths to undergo full initiation rites in the lower River Murray region. Four years later he began an apprenticeship to his father.

At the mission church, Port McLeay, on 13 March 1884 Karloan had married with Congregational forms Flora Kropinyeri (d.1926), a servant; they were to have two sons and six daughters—five of whom died in infancy. A small, nuggety man, he played for the local football team. In 1888 he was ill with phthisis. He worked as a shearer, fisherman and mechanic. On 19 March 1889 he was one of a delegation of Ngarrindjeri churchmen who visited Adelaide and petitioned the Aborigines' Friends' Association to remove Frederick Taplin as mission superintendent because of alleged sexual misconduct. In 1894 Karloan and other mission Aborigines constructed their first European boat, a 15-ft (4.5 m) pram, clinker built, ribbed and fastened with copper rivets. Next year they won a government contract to build seven more; the contract was renewed in 1898. Karloan had sung with the mission's Glee Club at Government House, Adelaide, in December 1895 to welcome the governor Sir Thomas Buxton, a member of the British and Foreign Aborigines Protection Society.

The 1911 Act for the protection and control of the State's Aborigines allowed land, stock and implements to be allotted to them for farming. Superintendent David Roper thought that Karloan 'would make a successful settler', but his application of 16 March 1912 received no reply from the chief protector's office. Again backed by the superintendent, in 1916 Karloan requested £150 to buy a cinematograph 'to travel . . . with my Son Clement giving entertainments of illustrated Songs and Recitation by Slide pictures as well as Film'. Chief Protector William South rejected his 'ridiculous request'. When Karloan later asked South for extra rations for his sick wife, this request was also refused. Following Flora's death, Karloan married a widow, Eva Dat, a Wutaltinyeri. In 1930 he moved to Wellington East.

From the time of his father's death, Karloan had determined to preserve the culture of his people. He did so in a period when Aborigines were being actively discouraged from identifying with their Aboriginal past and urged to behave like European-Australians. Later, his curiosity and memory proved invaluable to many anthropologists, including Norman Tindale. At the South Australian Museum, Ronald Berndt recorded Karloan's recollections in 1939-40; with Catherine Berndt, he continued the interviews in 1942-43. His descriptions covered incidents, beliefs and customs, together with other territorial, linguistic and clan matters, as well as the interaction between Aborigines of the lower Murray River and lakes region, and he illustrated his information with numerous pencil sketches.

Karloan declared that only death would part him from his home, a neat shack of hessian and flattened kerosene tins, located near the river at Murray Bridge. Part of a small Aboriginal community, it was situated on land owned by the Hume Pipe Co. In 1942 he learned that the area was to be 'cleared' of Aborigines. Despite the Berndts' intervention, he and his neighbours received eviction notices. He came to Adelaide and unsuccessfully endeavoured to have the order overturned before returning in despair. Survived by one of his sons, he died on 2 February 1943 at Murray Bridge and was buried in the paupers' section of the local cemetery. The Manangki dialect died with him. The Berndts fulfilled their promise to him and the Ngarrindjeri by publishing A World That Was (Melbourne, 1993).

Select Bibliography

  • G. Jenkin, Conquest of the Ngarrindjeri (Adel, 1979)
  • C. Mattingley and K. Hampton (eds), Survival in Our Own Land (Syd, 1992)
  • G. Taplin, journal/diary, 5 vols (typescript, State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Catherine Berndt, 'Karloan, Albert (1864–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kaloni, Albert

July, 1864
Point McLeay, South Australia, Australia


2 February, 1943 (aged 78)
Murray Bridge, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.