Koonibba Community is made up of more than 200 descendants of the original inhabitants of a Lutheran Mission founded in 1901. Offering wages, food and housing in exchange for religious conversion and work on the land, the mission, and its facilities, drew Indigenous people from three local language groups — Wirangu, Kookatha and Mirning.
Though the intention was to ‘domesticate’ and ‘Europeanise’ the Indigenous people, there is evidence that Aboriginal people continued to practice aspects of their cultural traditions, such as speaking the languages, hunting for food and visiting nearby ceremonial grounds. Through these acts of resistance, a collective identity of a distinctive Koonibba Community emerged.
When the Lutheran Church decided to sell the station in 1931—without consultation—residents petitioned, unsuccessfully, to be able to work the land autonomously, and farming was abandoned in 1933. Although with no legal rights and recognition at that time, the Aboriginal community proved both resilient and patient, and 1988 they bought the land back off the State Government and commenced self-management, a proud tradition that continues today.
In 1963, the mission was taken over by the South Australian Government, and then in 1975 it was transferred to the Aboriginal Land Trust, which leases the site to a local Aboriginal community organisation, the Koonibba Aboriginal Community Council, Inc., which manages the community.