Aboriginal Heritage in the ACT

It is believed that Aboriginal people have been visiting the ACT and surrounding tablelands for over 20,000 years. The oldest Aboriginal site found in the ACT so far is Birrigai rockshelter, which contains artefacts that are 21,000 years old.

According to Flood (1996)* there were three tribal territories within the ACT. These included the Ngunawal of the Southern Tablelands, the Ngarigo of the Monaro Tablelands and Snowy Mountains and the Walgalu of the Tumut Valley and high country east of the Murrumbidgee. In recent times, Ngunawal is more often spelt Ngunnawal.

One unique source of food in the area is the Bogong Moth Agrotis infusa. These moths aestivate during the summer months along the mountain ranges. The moths are highly nutritious, easy to collect and were in sufficient numbers to warrant large gatherings of Aboriginal people. These gatherings of different tribes, were for initiation ceremonies, marriage arrangements, corroborees and trade.

Prior to European settlement, the Uriarra area was often the location for such a gathering. The name Uriarra is derived from 'Urayarra', the call used to summon tribal members to come to the feast. Women and children often participated in this annual event, in order to feast on the moths.

Aboriginal people also occupied the Kowen, Pierces Creek and Stromlo forest areas prior to European settlement. A number of aboriginal sites have been found in these areas and are recorded on the ACT Heritage Register.

*FLOOD, Josephine (1996). 'Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory: Aboriginal Traditional Life in the Canberra Region' J.M. Flood, Canberra.