A family friendly walk to an indigenous rock shelter
Hanging Rock is a historical aboriginal rock shelter, located within Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 40 minutes south west of the city. It has a 500 metre walking trail which loops around the shelter and series of granite boulders that surround it. It is important for visitors to treat this site with respect and leave it just as you find it, as it was used for centuries by the Ngunnawal people, who are the traditional custodians of the land. There is also another impressive rock shelter on the 3km Birrigai Time Trail, at the entrance to the reserve.
The word 'Tidbinbilla' is derived from the word Jedbinbilla – which means 'a place where boys become men'. Young boys were brought to Tidbinbilla to learn the three stages of becoming a man - how to become a gatherer (taught by the women), a hunter (taught by the men) and the last stage of becoming a man would occur after they had gone through Aboriginal Law. The Hanging Rock trail is a fascinating place to learn about their indigenous culture, which dates back over 21,000 years in the region. The walk doesn't take long, but it is an insight into the lives of the indigenous people who camped here, over thousands of years.
Hanging Rock, which has an obvious lean and appears to be hanging
To enter Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, you first need to go into the Visitors Centre at the entrance and buy a day ticket - which costs $12 for a standard car, or you can pay $35 for an annual pass. You then receive a map and guidance from the rangers inside, before going on your way through the boom gate and beyond. The map is easy to follow and the road follows a loop, with well sign-posted indicators at each walk or place to stop.
As you drive along the loop road, look out for the sign (at number 10 on your map) for Hanging Rock. There is plenty of car parking and signage to show where to find the entrance. The walk begins over a small bridge and then along to a matting, non-slip walkway with two options to take - straight ahead or turn right. Our family walked straight ahead, which lead around to the official signage and also provides a scenic and suspenseful lead up to the shelter.
The signage explains that over 400 years ago, this granite stone shelter was frequently used by the Ngunnawal and Wolgalu people, who stayed as small family groups, male hunting parties or came together to meet and exchange stories. Due to its location near water and food, it was a good place to stop when travelling up to the surrounding mountains to gather food in spring and Bogong moths in summer.
As you walk inside the shelter, the first thing you notice is how cool it is. The granite rock feels cold to the touch, there is a large amount of shade and you can imagine families congregating here in the summer months, enjoying the cool respite from the heat. It is a place which uses the imagination and brings up questions. If you stayed here, where would you sleep? Where would you prepare the food? Where would you put the fire? In today's times it may be hard to imagine, however 400 years ago it was everyday life and Hanging Rock was an ideal spot to stay for the night, for as long, or little, as they needed.
The sheer size of the rock provides shelter and shade
The walk to Hanging Rock is just one of the many short walks within Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, which are less than 3km. They are perfect for all ages to explore, particularly if you have kids, as they aren't too long and each walk teaches something about indigenous culture, the flora, fauna or the scientific history of the land. Early settlers also arrived in the area in the late 1800's, so some walks have references to how they lived and there are also remnants of buildings that still remain. See here for the full list of walking trails.
It doesn't matter how you explore Tidbinbilla, you will be rewarded with a day out in nature and a chance to learn about the indigenous history of the land and the stories behind it.