Ngunawal river connections

Ngunawal meaning ‘we, the people, or us’

Wally Bell welcoming us to Ngunawal country at our Feeling Fishy Field Day at the Yass River. Photo Siwan Lovett

The Ngunawal people are the Indigenous Australian inhabitants whose traditional lands encompass much of the area now occupied by the city of Canberra and the surrounding Australian Capital Territory.  When first encountered by European settlers in the 1820s, the Ngunawal people lived in an area roughly bounded by what is now the towns of Braidwood, Goulburn, Boorowa, Harden, Gundagai and Cooma (see map).  The Ngunawal people are neighbours of the Yuin (on the coast), Ngarigo (south east of Canberra), Wiradjuri (to the west of Yass) and Gundungurra (to the north) peoples.

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).

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.  Rivers of Carbon works within Ngunawal boundaries and the depth of indigenous knowledge about the rivers we care about is essential to developing a holistic approach to restoring rivers.

Source: Our Water, Our Country. Artist: Krystal Hurst.
A living, breathing river of carbon running through the township of Yass in New South Wales. Photo credit: Richard Snashall.
Tyronne and Wally Bell, Adam Shipp and Richard Snashall at one of our filming locations on the Yass River. Photo Siwan Lovett

We spent a day on the Yass River with Wally and Tyronne Bell, along with Adam Shipp, from Greening Australia to learn about Ngunawal connection to rivers. Siwan and Richard Snashall, our film producer, felt privileged to hear these stories and we are so pleased to be able to share them with others, and Siwan talks about this in our first film that provides an introduction to this new part of our Rivers of Carbon initiative.

These films are all about different parts of the Yass River and the connection Ngunawal people have to these ‘arteries’ of the landscape.  Wally and Tyronne share stories about living and growing up along the Yass River, as well as explaining some of the song lines that are part of their rich Aboriginal history.

The Ngunawal people today maintain a close connection to their traditional area and are actively involved in the protection and preservation of their culture.  We are delighted to have their stories and insights as part of our Rivers of Carbon initiative.

In our Yass River Linkages Phase 2 project we have also been working to restore the ‘Old Blacks Camp’ that is mentioned in these films.  Our work has been focusing on the removal of weeds and planting of native vegetation so that this area can be restored and people can appreciate its location and value to the Ngunawal people as a home.  You can find out more about this work on our Rivers of Carbon – Yass River Linkages pages.

This text is modified from Ngunawal Past, Present and Future and Thunderstone.

Rivers of Carbon projects

Rivers of Carbon – Breadalbane
Rivers of Carbon – Yass River Linkages
Rivers of Carbon – Murrumbidgee
Rivers of Carbon – Burra Bush Banks and Biodiversity

Back to ‘Aboriginal knowledge and connection’