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About the Ngunawal People

As with many other Aboriginal cultures, the Ngunawal people have passed down traditional knowledge from generation to generation through word of mouth and Dreamtime stories. Through this website, the Ngunawal people hope to tell and pass on the rich history and cultural practices of the Ngunawal people to the wider community. Through exchanging information and sharing knowledge, we can all play a part in ensuring that Ngunawal culture exists for future generations.

The meaning of Ngunawal is we the people, or us. Early surveyors and historians in the 19th century spelled it Ngunawal (one ‘n’), so did Norman Tindale in his listing of Aboriginal tribes (Tindale 1974: 198). These sources also indicate that the original spelling was in fact Ngoonawal (rhyming with soon).

The local traditional Aboriginal people, the Ngunawal, have occupied the area in the vicinity of the present town of Yass which was central to the clan boundaries of the Ngunawal people. The clan boundaries encompassed the area from Goulburn to the north, Gundagai to the west, Cooma to the south and Braidwood to the east. This also includes the entire territory of the Australian Capital Territory on which the national capital, Canberra, is situated (refer to map below).

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Ngunawal traditional area map

The Ngunawal peoples, consists of a number of different clans bounded by the broad language groups of Wiradjuri (to the west of Yass), Ngarigo (south-east of Canberra), Walgalu, Gundungurra (to the north) and Yuin (on the coast).

The Ngunawal people are identified on Tindale’s map of Aboriginal Tribes of Australia (1974). This widely recognised and authoritative languages map is a representation of the language groups, or tribes, who inhabited Australia at the time of the new settlement in 1788. 

Within the Ngunawal people there are known to be seven clans who lived in fairly specific localities. There is an obvious link between clan names and the modern names of the areas today. The Maloongoola lived in the Molongolo area, the Biyaligee, in the area of Pialligo, the Namitch or Namwitch lived in the area we know as Namadgi, the Cumbeyan lived in the Queanbeyan area, the Kanberri lived in the Belconnen area, the Toogoranoongh lived in Tuggeranong and the Yarr lived in the Yass area.

Scientific evidence proves that the Ngunawal people have lived here for more than 21,000 years, perhaps from the time when the extreme cold of the last Ice Age eased. This is arguably one of the longest periods of continual habitation anywhere on earth. The Ngunawal people have developed a way of living and managing the natural resources of the land which has enabled this phenomenon.

The meaning of Canberra (original spelling Koyanberra) is meeting placeThe Canberra region is generally understood to have been a meeting place for different Aboriginal clans, suggesting that there was a reliable food and water supply. To access areas of significance such as Mt Majura and Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain and the major meeting ground at the current site of Parliament House, significant pathways were formed as people moved from place to place through transitional cultural boundaries following river and creek corridors and the ridges and spurs of hills and mountains. Pathways were the means of access across the region and, in the case of the main ranges visible from the highpoints of the Majura valley, a physical and visual link to major spiritual and gathering places.

The Ngunawal people today maintain a close connection to their traditional area and are actively involved in the protection and preservation of their culture, having been consulted with and involved in numerous field surveys since the 1970s.

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