National Arboretum Canberra


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Aboriginal involvement and heritage

From the outset, Aboriginal people have contributed signi´Čücantly to events at the Arboretum. A 'Welcome to Country' speech by a local Traditional Custodian has been included in the opening ceremonies of the Festival of the Forests over successive years. The custodians have also participated in the festivals and school holiday activities, along with other local Aboriginal performers.

A message stick and coolamon made by a local Ngunawal man are on display near the main entry to the Village Centre and plans are underway to develop an Aboriginal-themed garden at the Arboretum.

At the Arboretum's opening ceremony on 1 February 2013, Adrian Brown, Ngunawal Traditional Custodian, conducted a Smoking Ceremony to cleanse the site, and Wally Bell, Chair of Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation, and Traditional Custodian, gave the 'Welcome to Country' speech.

Aboriginal heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in the Canberra region for at least 25,000 years. Their descendants continue to live in the region today.

The land that the Arboretum sits on is traditionally Ngunawal country. Ngarigo, Wolgalu, Gundungurra, Yuin and Wiradjuri people lived close by and also gathered together on this country for ceremonies, celebrations and other social events; marriage; trade; seasonal foods and practise of the law.

These gatherings were an essential part of Aboriginal life as they enable the exchange of knowledge and the maintenance of spiritual, social and environmental connections between traditional caretakers.

The ACT Government acknowledges the Ngunawal people as the traditional custodians of the Canberra region, and respects their continuing sense of responsibility to preserve the spirit and stories of their ancestors throughout the landscape.

Aboriginal people are the traditional custodians and caretakers of the land in Australia. Traditionally, Aboriginal people shared responsibility to manage the land according to lore and the inter-connectedness between species.

Caring for country includes looking after the places, stories of their ancestors, values, people, land, water, animals, plants, food, other resources and cultural obligations of an area.

Looking after country includes nurturing and managing the area as well as the cultural responsibility to maintain the natural resources of an area; keep the law; strengthen and renew the connection with ancestors, dreaming and spiritual dimensions, protect the sites, values, stories, and ancestral obligations of that country.

Country refers to an area with which Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people have a history and relationship, including all the features and resources in that area, stories and persona of that landscape. People visit country, worry about and long for country.

Significant Aboriginal sites and places

When the Arboretum site was surveyed, a small number of aboriginal artefact fragments were found scattered on the site, and removed for protection for safe keeping in consultation with local Traditional Custodians. Nearby Tidbinbilla Mountain was an initiation site for young men and Acton Peninsula was a ceremonial ground.

The traditional Aboriginal way of life

With its panoramic views, nearby rivers and sheltered hollows, the Arboretum site and adjacent areas were well-used by Aboriginal people.

The Molonglo River valley was a prime source of water and food, and provided local and visiting Aboriginal groups with access to the Limestone Plains.

Early European settlers reported seeing 'Corroborees' and large groups of Aboriginal people camped there and numerous Aboriginal sites have been recorded on the nearby Black Mountain and Acton Peninsula. Gibraltar Rocks, located at the foothills of the mountain range to the south of Canberra, is clearly visible from Dairy Farmers Hill and served as a beacon for people entering Ngunawal country on their journey to the mountains.

Aboriginal people moved through the land making use of seasonal food sources. Campsites were well protected, avoided frosts and were not far from water. Sources of stone for making tools and weapons were well known and stone was traded between groups.

Animals and plant resources were abundant and provided a sustainable source of food, medicines and supplies. Plants were a vital part of survival. Different ecosystems - grasslands, rivers and lakes, wet and dry forests, swamps and woodlands—provided different types of food, medicines and materials.

The seasons also offered their own range of plants to eat. During summer, the small sweet fruits of the Cherry Ballart were eaten. In spring, young fern fronds grew and were eaten.

The area around Tidbinbilla was highly prized for its supply of the delicious and nutritious bogon moth, which were gathered and roasted. 

Aboriginal guided activities

Interpretation of local Aboriginal culture, such as the use of plants, tools and weapons, gives an insight into traditional ways of life and builds respect for Aboriginal sites and custodians of the land. For more information phone Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

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