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Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Encounters

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Canberra

Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri country

A photo of rolling hills covered with mostly gumtrees. In the foreground are tufts of vibrant green grass with several grey coloured rocks of various sizes.
Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri country, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. © Steve Bittinger.

We leave them where they lie

Canberra is the host city for the Encounters exhibition. It is also country that has been home to Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples for more than 20,000 years. Some of their stone tools from Canberra’s Mount Ainslie are now in the collection of the British Museum. The stone scraper (below) travelled from Mount Ainslie to London and back for the exhibition – a long journey, through time and space. The custodians of this place reflect on the meaning of country today.

Stone tools are all over the Canberra regions. They are pieces of country. We leave them where they lie so they will continue to be part of Ngunnawal country.

Adrian Brown, Ngunnawal, 2014

Our culture is a living culture that’s still developing and growing within itself. We’re learning every day still. As time progresses things are changing. We’re always learning to be adaptable to those changes ... Aboriginal culture is not stagnant like most people think it is.

Wally Bell, Ngunawal Elder, 2015

I don’t know why it surprises people to find Ngambri artefacts in the city and suburbs – the old campsites were the best spots to live. They still are.

Paul House, Ngambri, 2015

Old objects

scraper made of stone, a sandstone colour
Stone scraper, Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, collected from Mount Ainslie, Canberra, by William Kinsela in 1932–33, 4.6 cm long. British Museum Oc1933,1115.58.

William Kinsela collected this stone scraper during a visit to Canberra in the 1930s. He described his search for artefacts in an article in the journal Mankind, in 1934: ‘[I] had to search diligently to locate the site of any old camp or ‘workshop’ ... either close to creeks and rivers or in the sheltered parts of the hills’. This scraper is among a few flaked implements he found near Mount Ainslie, ‘showing careful workmanship of secondary finish. Several “crescents”, “thumb nails”, plain scrapers and scarifiers or “points” were interesting types, but they needed tedious searching to locate’.

He sent the scraper, with some other objects, to the British Museum in 1934, with a request that they be exchanged for ‘several small type specimens of English or Continental stone implements of paleolithic man’.

New objects

My Country, Ngunnawal Country 2015

A painting features a horizontal wavy black line across the centre and two large orange dots to the left side of it. In the top section there are four coloured sections of different shapes in the order of orange, white, yellow and orange. Each colour is divided by a black line. Across the bottom, the coloured sections are yellow, orange, white and yellow which are also divided by a black line.
My Country, Ngunnawal Country 2015, painting and clapsticks by Adrian Brown, Ngunnawal people, Canberra, 45 x 91.5 cm (painting); 29 x 3.5 cm (each clapstick). National Museum of Australia.

These are the colours of my country. Every stroke in the painting has meaning and connects to that part of my country. The clapsticks are significant because that sound resonates out, calling people, connecting my spirit to country and to ancestors.

Adrian Brown, Ngunnawal, 2015

Adrian Brown
Adrian Brown, Ngunnawal, talking about his life on country, Mt Ainslie, Canberra. National Museum of Australia.
A painting on canvas depicting a platypus outlined in beige against a brown background. The platypus has a yellow beak and tail and brown eyes, arms and legs. The middle part of the body has various dots and patterns, which are brown, yellow, beige and black in colour.
Mulanggang (Platypus), 2015, painting by Wally Bell, Ngunawal people, Canberra, 40 x 30 cm. National Museum of Australia.

Mulanggang (Platypus) 2015

Our culture is a living culture that's still developing and growing within itself.

We're learning every day still. As time progresses things are changing.

We're always learning to be adaptable to those changes ... Aboriginal culture is not stagnant like most people think it is.

Wally Bell, Ngunawal Elder, 2015

Wally Bell
Wally Bell, Ngunawa Elderl, talking about the history of Black Mountain in Canberra. National Museum of Australia.
 A painting featuring a central circular dotted shape, surrounded by brown bogong moths. Many hands are painted as well as three figures in black and seven white figures are painted at the upper left corner and centre top.
Kicked out of Parliament, 2003, painting by Jim ‘Boza’ Williams, Ngambri people, Canberra, 120 x 100 cm. National Museum of Australia.

Kicked out of Parliament 2003

For thousands of years, Ngambri people have gathered in the high country near Canberra each summer to celebrate the arrival of the bogong moths on their migration south.

Attracted by the cool of the mountain climate, moths in their millions seek shelter in rocky crevices and overhangs. Providing an important seasonal food for the Ngambri and other peoples, they were collected in nets and roasted on fires.

Despite graziers and settlements impeding the movement of Ngambri people across the region, thousands continued to gather in the high country during the bogong season.

Paul House
Paul House, Ngambri, talking about traditional artefacts in Red Hill, Canberra. National Museum of Australia.