The summer day was perfect. Mt Rogers was very dry but there was plenty of shade from the 26°C sunshine. Over 30 people, of all ages, assembled at the Wickens Place carpark. For newcomers there were copies of the Mt Rogers WELCOME which is about to be superseded by the new Mt Rogers colour brochure.
Karissa, Ginninderra Catchment Group co-ordinator, introduced the concept of Thunderstone and Buru Ngunawal Corporation’s series of walks around our area which aim to introduce present-day locals to the Indigenous heritage of the nearby reserves, creek-side open spaces and the properties that have been spreading over ancestral lands since the 1820s.
We moved into the shade of one of Mt Rogers’ 300-year-old eucalypts, where King Parrots had earlier been feasting on Mistletoe berries.
Wally & Tyronne Bell: Wally Bell introduced himself and his younger brother Tyronne, explaining that he came from Jerrawa and later the family moved to Yass. Tyronne was born in Yass. They both live locally and play active parts in their suburban communities. In recent years they have been surveying and consulting about Aboriginal sites threatened with adverse change due to development, and working with Greening Australia and Friends of Grasslands.
            Ngunawal: Wally explained that Ngunawal was more correctly pronounced ‘Noon-a-wool’ and that the name should only have two ‘n’s. Tyronne had recently returned from a conference in Hawaii where participants focussed on indigenous languages. Both combined their talents in order to ‘read the landscape’. They had always lived on Country and now were dedicated to sharing their findings, their knowledge and stories with other communities. A program bringing Indigenous culture to an eventual 15 schools was being planned for trial at Fraser Primary School. They and neighbouring clans, people and groups had been successful stewards of Country for 40,000 years ensuring survival in often-harsh places.
            The route: The walk took us to the Mt Rogers summit via the track ‘above’ the twin tanks, past the turn-off to the single tank’s gate, up to views over Belconnen at the summit, to the Second summit with its dead tree, down to the gully and up again to the Benchmark tree near the spreading infestation of Tree of Heaven suckers and back to the carpark. There Tyronne enthralled the crowd with his collection of artefacts as each had fascinating origins and stories ‘to tell’.
            Sap: A 4 m tall wattle was oozing sap from its trunk. It provided the opportunity to reinforce how Ngunawal people had no option other than to live off the land. The sap could be eaten, though a critical use was as a glue. When heated it could be applied to the fibrous material used to bind handles to stone axes, other tools and spears.
            She-oak, Casuarina trees: Although Casuarinas were part of Fraser Primary’s plantings 25–30 years ago, Tyronne used a Casuarina to explain that the species’ timber was used for handles and boomerangs. Seeds could be crushed into a paste and eaten. 
            Wattle seed & stones: Collecting wattles’ seeds was the women’s responsibility (along with other food-gathering). Seeds were crushed between stones to make a form of flour and subsequently bread which was cooked on special stones. Later we were shown a cooking stone. It and grinding stones were heavy in terms of being carried around. They would be left in specific places to be used when the groups next passed through. We also noted Cauliflower bushes whose seeds were also ground into flour. They’re finishing flowering now.
            Artefacts & tools: Volcanic rocks were prized for producing the finest edges on tools. For modern surgery some volcanic rocks provide superior edges on instruments. Two chips of rock (approximately the size of a 20 cent piece) found near graded edges served to illustrate that artefacts could still be found by knowledgeable searchers. It was likely these pieces were discarded during the work that produced other tools.
            Cherry Ballart: Mt Rogers has two of these cypress-like trees. The fruit is edible and sweet. The timber can be used for digging-sticks. A Hardenbergia growing near the summit illustrated that the twining stems could be made into rope. The Flax-lily or Dianella, found near the Second summit, has blue berries. These could be eaten and parts of the plant chewed as people journeyed. Curiously it’s classed as a toxic plant in a 2010 book, reinforcing Wally’s point that selecting bush foods to eat is based on aeons of experience and plants may have to be treated for toxins before being edible. Lomandra’s strappy leaves could be used like a whistle whose tone suggested ‘animal in distress’ to snakes. The fibrous leaves of both Dianella and Lomandra were used to make baskets.
            Journeys and pathways: At the summit Wally explained the journeys made by the creator-being, a water spirit named Budjabulya. These began after time resting near Lake Ngungara, now called Lake George. Budjabulya explored and scoured out the creek-lines, turning up the Pialligo valley towards Red Hill. From near the present Parliament House he journeyed towards Gungahlin before returning to Lake George to sleep. When he’s happy there’s water in Lake George, and drought and dryness signify displeasure.
            Camps were held on Black Mountain and an important ceremonial ground existed where the gates of the Botanic Gardens are now. (In those days Aboriginal Groups were not consulted about new buildings being violations of important sites.) Different groups met via three pathways at Red Hill. Mt Rogers was part of the minor pathway network. Its summit wasn’t as important as we’d like to imagine, as it lacked water.
            Bracket fungi on the Benchmark tree were among those used to keep mosquitoes away when tossed onto a fire to produce smoke. Below the huge landmark eucalypt tree were a few Bluebells, the roots of which could be used for food. Mistletoe berries are sweet and sought after by birds. There were several on the ground near where Tyronne had set up his artefacts collection.

Thanks to Karissa for organising this walk for the Mt Rogers community. At least 15 people attended from our community. Others attended as a result of publicity elsewhere and through the Bells’ Thunderstone and Buru networks.

Thank you Wally and Tyronne for giving us a broad and fascinating picture of how plants from Mt Rogers would have been used by Ngunawal people. It was a privilege to hear insights into cultural history, heritage and above all the millennia of stewardship of Country; the land that sustained them, through which they travelled and that each generation knew intimately.

I think we felt very glad to be able to continue to care for Mt Rogers through our diverse daily caring and monthly landcaring activities.

More information and the page ‘Ngunawal past, present and future’.
Thunderstone Aboriginal Cultural Land Management Services

If you missed this walk or want to visit a different place there’s
another walk at Strathnairn, off Stockdill Drive, HOLT
on 19 April.

The book
Ngunnawal Plant Use: a traditional Aboriginal plant use guide for the ACT region, published by ACT Government, 2014 
is available from the Ginninderra Catchment Group (between the Kippax shopping centre and the playing-fields), ph 6278 3309
and from the Botanical Bookshop at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

Convenor Mt Rogers Landcare Group,   phone 6258 4724  

No comments:

Post a Comment