Kondoli: the woven whale

An impressive four metre long whale sculpture designed and created by Ngarrindjeri elder, Aunty Ellen Trevorrow and her family has been installed at the South Australian Maritime Museum as part of Leviathan: An Astonishing History of Whales. 

Between 1801 and 1803, the expedition of French navigator Nicolas Baudin charted Australia’s coastline and the territories of the Ngarrindjeri. On the journey, French explorers marveled at the beauty of breaching whales and grasped their economic potential. But where Europeans saw a resource, Ngarrindjeri saw Kondoli, a Ngatji (totem).

Kondoli was a strong man who could make fire before others knew how. At a dance, jealous men speared Kondoli in the neck and fire came out. He then leapt into the water where he became a whale, his wound visible today in the whale’s spout.

Centuries later, the Museum of Natural History in Le Havre, France, reached out to the Ngarrindjeri and forged a cultural exchange which culminated in the Kondoli project.

Kondoli is seen to symbolise the relationship between Ngarrindjeri and the French, with plans for the woven whale to voyage to France.