Ngunawal Stories of Lake George

A vision splendid, a place filled with trees and koalas, while the rivers teamed with fish and platypus. From the historical records this is what Bungendore would have looked like to the early European settlers who arrived in 1820. It was the country of the Ngunawal people and to this day a culturally significant place for their descendants.

This workshop was about stories of past times, honouring Aboriginal and early European history, while learning the importance of the fragmented vegetation that remains. The guest speakers were Wally Bell, Karen Williams and Jasmyn Lynch.

Wally Bell is a Ngunawal man from the Yharr clan group and a Traditional Custodian of the Ngunawal. Wally welcomed us to his country and called upon the spirits to guide and protect us during our visit to Day’s Hill Reserve in Bungendore. Wally’s story telling about the local area was moving. He talked about Budjabulya the creator and water spirit who lives in Lake Ngungara (renamed Lake George). Ngunawal people believe that since the beginning of time this spirit has nurtured the Ngunawal people and created the lakes, rivers, valleys, people, animal and plants.

Wally talked about the importance of Mother Earth to him and how we can all play an important role in restoring and healing the land. Wally’s advice is to sit, observe and listen to the land on which you live. Respect it and look after it because land is a gift.

Wally also emphasised the importance of scar trees and how they were used as directional markers. Often they were located up high so people could see them from a distance.

We looked at some Aboriginal stone artifacts and asked a lot of questions about what to look out for on our own properties. Wally told us that Aboriginal artifacts retain the spirit of the person who made them and must be left in the location where they are found.

Karen Williams shared her knowledge of the early European history of the area, including a story about the first explorer in 1820, Joseph Wild. Jasmyn Lynch talked about the fragmented native vegetation that remains, including nationally threatened ecosystems such as the Temperate Grassland of the Southern Highlands, White Box, Yellow Box and Blakely’s Red Gum Woodland.

You can download a copy of the handout prepared by the speakers below. The notes include a comprehensive list of online resources.

The following links contain more information about the Aboriginal history and culture of the Canberra Region.

Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation

Thunderstone Aboriginal Corporation

Ngunawal Cultural Walk and Talk Workshop Summary

This project was made possible with funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program.

Ngunawal Cultural Walk and Talk

Plant identification during the walk and talk lead by Traditional Custodian Tyronne Bell

About the walk and talk

This session was about building connections with people and the land: an opportunity to learn more about diversity, indigenous culture and the local area. The walk and talk was led by Tyronne Bell from Thunderstone Aboriginal Cultural and Land Management Services. Tyronne talked about his culture and traditional Ngunawal uses of plants and animals found at the site.

Key points from the workshop
  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a spiritual connection with the land, that can be expressed in some part through stories about plants, insects and animals in a particular location.
  2. By studying the behaviour of different species of insects, Aboriginal people used their traits to help them in their every day lives.  For example, Tyronne told us about the ability of ants to regulate the temperature of their nest by bring different coloured gravel to the surface of the nest. White in summer and black in winter. Meat ants were used by some Aboriginal people to clean the carcasses of fish so the bones could be used as needles.
  3. If you find Aboriginal artifacts, scar trees or other relics it is important to leave them intact and where you found them. These items hold great significance for Aboriginal people and are protected under NSW law. You can find out more information at the Office of Environment and Heritage website.
  4. Preserving Nungawal language is very important to local Aboriginal people. The language can be spoken by everyone and children especially should be encouraged to use it. Tyronne taught us how to say thank you in the Ngunawal language ‘djan yimaba’. You can find more information about Ngunawal language in the links section below.
  5. Some Aboriginal people used to bend over and weigh down trees in order to use the trunk as a structure to build a shelter on. In winter more permanent structures and caves were used as housing and remains of stone structures built by Aboriginal people have been found in our region.

Tyronne explaining how tree trunks were bent to make a support for a bark shelter.

5. Plant species commonly found in the Bungendore area had special uses for Aboriginal people. For example, the Cherry Ballart (Exocarpus cupressiformis) looks like a small cypress tree and the sweet, juicy fruit provide a spring time snack, the sap can be used for snake bite, the fresh leaves are used for headaches, the roots as clap sticks and it can also be used as a shade tree to camp under. The plant was is used as an indicator species for the coming season.

Hardenbergia violacea used as a tea and for rope.

Other plants that we learnt more about on the walk and talk were Hardenbergia violacea, Indigofera australis, Diannella species, Lomandra species, Acacia species, Cassinia quinquefaria, Microseris lanceolata and Bulbine bulbosa. Tyronne told us about  uses of these plants for food basket weaving and stunning fish. Some of them are poisonous and should not be eaten. Find out more about these plants and their uses by following the links below.

 

Australian National Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Trail

PDF Information Resources Aboriginal Plant Uses – Australian National Botanic Gardens

6. According to local Aboriginal culture there are six seasons in a calendar year and no autumn. The calendar includes two summers, two winters and two springs, each with their signature weather pattern and special traditions.

Other useful information and contacts

Protect and manage objects – Office of Environment and Heritage

Aboriginal Plant Uses in Southern Australia

https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/exocarpus-cupressiformis.html

ACT Environment and Planning Website for indigenous NRM

Plant Net Flora online – http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage ACT pdf brochure – includes pictures of plants

Ngunnawal Plant Use book

Ngunnawal language – simple list of words

Language revival project – https://aiatsis.gov.au/research/research-themes/ngunawal-language-revival-project

Indigenous Weather Calendar BOM

http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/calendars/gariwerd.shtml

Indigenous weather knowledge

http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/calendars/gariwerd.shtml