Learn about the history of Canberra - before it was Canberra
For visitors and locals of Canberra, there is a depth of indigenous history in the region to learn about and explore. Before any event, ceremony or festival in Canberra, it is customary to pay tribute to the local Ngunnawal people in a ceremony called Welcome to Country. This acknowledgement shows respect for the people who lived here for thousands of years before us and asks their permission to walk on their land. As indigenous groups were nomadic, the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri people all used this region in the last 20,000 years.
If you would like to know more about the indigenous history of the Canberra region, there are many places to visit and immerse yourself in their history and culture. One of the best places to start is at the National Museum of Australia, in the Gallery of First Australians. It is here that you see the artefacts, stories and history, brought to life in one exhibition space. When you first walk in, ensure you stop and listen to the "Welcome to Country" from traditional elders of all the indigenous groups. It is a moving insight of how sacred this land is to all of them.
Stop and receive the Welcome to Country (see video below, courtesy of You Tube)
1/ The Gallery of First Australians at the National Museum of Australia is a permanent exhibition which tells the story of thousands of years of indigenous history. Walk around the displays and view items from indigenous groups from every corner of the country, showing traditions that have been handed down through the generations. It also explains how their lives changed forever with the arrival of the British onto the land - as well as the lives of indigenous people today. See here for details and here for a full article.
2/ Reconciliation Place is a walkway of sculptures which begins opposite the National Library of Australia. It was created in 2001 as a monument to the reconciliation between Australia's indigenous people and the settler population. Each sculpture represents a story about indigenous culture which draws attention to issues such as the reconciliation process, indigenous people during wartime, the stolen generation and the referendum for indigenous people to vote. See here for details and here for a full article.
Reconciliation Place starts from opposite the National Library of Australia
Walk along and see modern indigenous art, alongside traditional images
3/ Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is located 45 minutes from Canberra's city centre. According to the Tidbinbilla website, the name Tidbinbilla is derived from the Ngunnawal word Jedbinbilla - meaning a place where boys were made men. There are two walks at the reserve that lead to rock shelters that were used by various indigenous groups as they made their way through the valley. The Hanging Rock Walking Trail leads up to a granite rock shelter that was used up to 400 years ago by the Ngunnawal and Wolgalu people. There is also the longer Birrigai Time Trail, which has a rock shelter that has been dated back to over 16,000 years ago, during the last ice age. Entry to the reserve costs $13 per car to get in. See here for details.
Take a short walk to visit Hanging Rock, at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve
4/ Namadgi National Park is located 35 minutes south of Canberra's city centre. Within the park, there is a walk called the Yankee Hat Walk which takes visitors on a 6-kilometre return walk to view another rock shelter that was used by local indigenous groups, more than 800 years ago. There is also evidence from nearby historical sites that suggests to scientists that people were camping in the area as long as 3,700 years ago. Inside the rock shelter, there are artworks drawn onto the rock surface with clay, which are thought to be painted over a period of hundreds or even thousands of years. See here for details.
Yankee Hat Artwork featuring a Kangaroo, Dingos, Emus, Humans and an Echidna or Turtle. Image: Wikapedia (photo credit: By Martyman at the English Wikipedia)
5/ Burrunju Art Gallery is located on Lady Denman Drive, along the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It is a fascinating gallery to walk around, with art on display from local artists of the region. Visitors are able to purchase the artworks and support local indigenous artists. See here for details and here for a full article. The Burrunju Art Gallery is also part of the self-guided driving tour called Canberra Tracks, which stops at various indigenous landmarks.
These are just 5 places to experience indigenous history and culture in Canberra, however there are many other venues around the city to appreciate the history of the region. For example, you can view indigenous art from around the country at the National Art Gallery, go on a bush tucker tour at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, or take a tour with Dharwra Tours and hear stories about the land from Ngunawal guides.
After learning about the mountains, rivers and landscape of the Canberra region, it makes exploring this unique, sacred land, even more beautiful.