Murrumbidgee - Ginninderra Gorges National Park

Aboriginal heritage

David Meyers

Abstracts from the 2010 book - Lairds, Lags and Larrikins: An Early History of the Limestone Plains

Historical background

David Meyers gives the following summary of the interaction of aboriginal families in the Limestone Plains region and white settlers in the early half of the 19th century.

“Two things become evident when looking at early relations with the Aboriginal people in the colony. Firstly, the colonial governments of the day had no concept of the seasonal, cyclic and episodic movement of aboriginal people to seek out food and fibre sources, and for the purposes of ceremony and trade, nor did they have any idea of the unique relationship the aborigines had with the land.

For their part, the aborigines soon found that the Europeans were determined to stay on the land and own the soil. Their first experiences had been with the explorers who came and went much in the way that the aborigines would have expected. As the Europeans began methodically occupying all of the best open pastures and monopolizing the surface water, it became apparent to the aborigines that their traditional hunting grounds were disappearing to the point that they would have to fight for them or move on to other land. This other land could be the territory of other tribal groups. Put simply, patterns of seasonal migration broke down, areas remaining free of Europeans were over-utilized and eventually depleted of flora and fauna. The Europeans’ stock started to become a necessary food source.

The Limestone Plains had been home to the Aboriginal people for thousands of years. Carbon dating of stone and charcoal remnants at the Birrigai Rock Shelter west of the Murrumbidgee River concluded that aboriginal people had lived in the region for about 21,000 years. Lyall Gillespie noted that numerous implements and flakes had been found at Pialligo, Black Mountain Peninsula and on the slopes of Mount Ainslie. He also recorded the finding of 7000 implements and flakes including axes, choppers and scrapers on “Reisdale”, his mother's farm, situated between Ginninderra and the Gundaroo Road. Those were dated at between 2000 and 5000 years before the present.

Various tribal groupings have been identified in the ACT and region: the Ngunnawal, the Ngarigo, the Ngambri, and the Ngurmal. Josephine Flood indicated that two distinct languages were spoken: Ngunnawal in the north and Ngarigu in the south. The various claims on “country” are still contentious. Intermarriage has complicated the issues involved and a vigorous debate continues. The nomadic lifestyle of aboriginal families makes historical research difficult.

The seasonal nature of their lifestyle meant that at particular times of the year they (the aboriginal families) would be elsewhere. It should be remembered that the aborigines had no way of storing food and had to search out food for the family group on a daily basis. The local aboriginal communities around the Limestone Plains only came together for corroborees and ceremonial gatherings. Mostly they lived in small family groups of 10-20 people, which were self sufficient and highly mobile when the need for a fresh source of food arose.

One of the aboriginal campsites in the Brindabella foothills closest to the Limestone Plains was on John McDonald’s “Uriarra” station (at intersection of Uriarra Road and Cotter Road). John's wife related the story of the local moth harvest to John Gale. She said that large numbers of aborigines gathered to feast on a big flat rock near the stables, which was called “Uryarra” meaning “running, to the feast”. The aborigines collected moths on the high hills west of “Uriarra” and brought them back to the camp.”

Archaeology

The following is a summary of a field investigation by sixteen members of the Canberra Archaeological Society at sites of interest within the Ginninderra Falls Park on 31 July, 1988, and reported by Tessa Raath, Department of Botany, Australian National University. A copy of the report is available through the ACT Library Service - accession number C1021503398. Sally Brockwell and Helen Cooke, current members of the Canberra Archaeological Society are thanked for their advice and assistance in collecting relevant aboriginal heritage information.

Earlier casual visits to the Ginninderra Falls Park had indicated that there had been use of the area by aboriginal families/groups. The purpose of the 1988 field day was to examine sites near the Murrumbidgee River not far from Cusacks Crossing and where there had been sand and gravel mining as well as recreational camping by tourists. The field day was greatly assisted by Mr. J. H. Hyles, proprietor of the Ginninderra Falls Park.

The sites investigated revealed a number of surface scatters of stone implements as well as isolated flaked stone artefacts. In other cases heavy duty stone implements were found exposed on the eroded surface of the sand and gravel mine. Artefacts were also present on the surface of the unsealed road which leads to the sand mine and the picnic place nearby on the Murrumbidgee River bank.

It was considered that all of the sites were of general interest to the study of aboriginal occupation in the Southern Tablelands, and in the case of the sand mine site, of particular interest to the study of aboriginal exploitation of riverine environments.

There was extensive disturbance of the site because of sand and gravel mining and associated earthworks. A systematic survey was conducted across three areas. The principal items identified across the sites were stone artefacts and manuports (stone arrangements for camping/ceremonies). Seventy three (73) artefacts were identified at one site, forty eight (48) at another, and thirty seven (37) in the third. These comprised flakes flaked pieces, blades, pebble tools, cores and backed blades. Artefacts ranged in size up to twelve (12) centimetres.

Artifacts

Aboriginal stone artefacts displayed at the Regatta Point exhibition.

Rock types of the artefacts include silcrete/quartzite, chert, quartz and volcanic rocks, most likely sourced from the nearby river bed. Based on the data available, there was no archaeological evidence to enable a specific function of sites to be attributed.

The 1988 report indicated that “Ginninderra Falls Park is an asset to the community. . . . . ” and that “the archaeological sites are viewed as enhancing the natural resources. . . ” (Sally Brockwell and Helen Cooke, 2011)


European heritage

Drainage and river flow


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