Mununja the Butterfly Garden


Mununja Garden openingMununja the Butterfly Garden depicts a dreamtime story of the Ngunawal people, the custodians of the land that includes Canberra and the site of the National Arboretum.

The story of Mununja the Butterfly, as told by Ngunawal elder Don Bell, has been provided by Tyronne Bell. Other traditional custodians have also been consulted to ensure appropriate depiction of cultural intellectual property, via Charles Solomon at Garawana Creative. Plants have been selected for cultural significance and for their relevance in providing habitat or food source for butterflies. There is an emphasis on plants that grow naturally in the ACT area and surrounds.

Generously donated by the Mackay and Waldren Families.

Designed by Jim Fogarty for Garawana Creative. Garawana Creative aims is to create modern landscape spaces with indigenous cultural identity.Constructed by Able Landscaping Pty Ltd in 2017. Opened 2 April 2017.

Mununja Garden when looking north


The layout, colour and shapes of the  garden reference the geometric scales on butterfly wings, in particular the  Orchard swallowtail butterfly (Papilio aegeus), and the Common crow butterfly  (Euploea core), both found along the east coast of Australia.

As well as  providing private contemplative spaces and public space for functions, the  garden provides opportunities for cultural dialogue, education, indigenous  engagement and inspiration.

Mununja the Butterfly is the story  of a young Aboriginal girl who was changed into a butterfly so that she could  avoid marrying the evil Gunga. Gunga possessed great powers and would always  prevent Mununja from marrying the boy she loved. With the help of Narja, the  good spirit butterfly, Mununja was able to remain near her family and her  country forever, as a beautiful butterfly.

Set on the banks  of the Burrinjuck River, the characters and landscape celebrate the diversity  of plant and animal species in the environment before non-indigenous people  settled there. The story of Mununja has been told for generations and will  probably be told for many more.

Landscape features

Paths are constructed using a technique that involves a base  layer of exposed aggregate with a top layer of hand-seeded pebble in a  scheme that depicts the limestone plains of the Canberra surrounds. These limestone  plains are made of sedimentary rocks (sandstone, limestone, siltstone and  shale), laid down 460 million years ago when the region was under the sea.

The central lawn allows for open space and the dimensions of  a 10m x6m marquee. The side lawns are mounded to add three‐dimension to the  shapes and to provide casual space to sit. Two Casuarina trees are planted into  raised steel planters that also provide casual seating. The raised planters are  mulched with local stone beaching, providing architectural texture and  resolving the difficulty of under planting Casuarina trees.

The shade structure is built using  solid timber posts and beams, referencing the body of a butterfly as well as  providing a place to sit out of the sun. Two floating butterfly seats have  steel rims painted in a colour matched to the soft blue scales on the common  crow butterfly wings.

Plant selection criteria

Plants have been selected to provide habitat  and food for butterflies, and for their cultural significance, with an emphasis  on plants that grow naturally in the ACT and surrounds.

All plants chosen are frost hardy and able to  survive well in Canberra conditions.

Species list


Botanical nameCommon nameCultural notesRelevance to butterflies
Acacia dealbataSilver wattleGum is dissolved in water to make a sweet drink or mixed with ash to make a resin. Wood used to make stone axe handles and digging sticks. Bark makes course rope and string. Seeds ground for flour.Nectar attracts butterflies.
Allocasuarina verticillataDrooping she-oakWood used to make boomerangs and other implements like axe handles. Young shoots and cones chewed to induce salvia when low on water. Cones used as children's toys.Habitat.


Botanical nameCommon nameCultural notesRelevance to butterflies
Bursaria spinosaSweet bursariaContains esculin. The esculin can be extracted and used as an ultraviolet screen in suntan lotions.Flowers are an important source of nectar for butterflies.
Callistemon sieberiRiver bottlebrushCallistemon species had roles as traditional bush medicines including uses as antiseptic agents. Flowers can be soaked in water for sweet drink. Attracts birds that can be hunted.Flowers attract butterflies.
Grevillea arenariaNepean spider flowerLarger Grevillea flowers were sucked for nectar .Nectar attracts butterflies.
Indigofera australisAustral indigoLeaves were crushed and added to water to kill or stun fish and eels. Pink flowers used to make dye.Flowers attract butterflies.
Philotheca myoporoidesLong leaf wax flowerOccurs naturally in the ACT area.Flowers attract butterflies.
Westringia fruticosaJervis gem coastal rosemaryHybrid of W. fruticosa that occurs on the east coast.Flowers attract butterflies.

Accent, ground covers and climbers

Botanical nameCommon nameCultural notes Relevance to butterflies
Dianella revolutaBlue flax lilyLeaves were used to weave baskets, eel traps and string. Fruit when blue and ripe can be eaten and sweet to taste. Leaves esp D. caerulea used as a whistle to mimic sick birds that attract snakes that are eaten.Clumping plants attract butterflies and some species of moth larvae feed on roots.
Gahnia siberianaCape jessamineThe seeds were ground into a paste to make a simple bread. Leaves were dried and used for basket weaving.Important, sometimes exclusive, food plants for caterpillars of several butterflies.
Grevillea lanigeraProstrate woolly grevilleaFlowers were sucked for nectar.Nectar attracts butterflies.
Hardenbergia violaceaNative sarsparillaThe leaves were boiled by Aboriginal people to obtain a sweet tea or drink. Also used as mouthwash for ulcers and to treat chest infections. Flowers used to make dye and eaten to treat liver and kidney complaints.Flowers attract butterflies and other small insects.
Lomandra longifoliaMat rushLeaves were used to weave baskets, eel traps and string. Also the white stem was chewed for its hydration. Roots used to treat bites and stings. Seeds ground to make flour or mixed with honey for protein food.Clumping plants attract butterflies and some species of moth larvae feed on roots.
Myoporum parvifoliumCreeping boobiallaNot known. Provides habitat and flowers attract butterflies.
Wahlenbergia gloriosaRoyal bluebellThe petals of the small flowers are edible but not particularly tasty.Provides habitat and flowers attract butterflies.