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Ngambri is an Aboriginal name for a locality in the south-east of Australia, near the centre of what is now Australia's capital city of Canberra. The area is close to Black Mountain along Sullivans Creek down to the Yeelamgigee, now Molonglo River. The extent of recognised Ngambri territory has been the subject of controversy in recent years.
The location was settled in October 1831 when John MacPherson was granted 640 acres (260 ha) of land. The homestead of the property was on the high ground above the river and called Springbank. MacPherson lived at Springbank with his wife Helen and their children, the first European family to live in what is now the Australian Capital Territory. One of their children, John Alexander MacPherson, was probably the first European boy born on the Limestone Plains.
The people who lived in the Ngambri location were part of the Nyamudy/Namadji people who spoke a language similar to Ngarigo spoken on the Monaro Plains. The Nyamudy/Namadgi people, some 300 persons, consisted of at least six family groupings, those around Queanbeyan (Ngyemutch), Pialligo, Brindabellas, Isabella Plains (Namwitch), Namadgi Range, and Black Mountain (Ngambri). The name used by the early European settlers for these people was the Limestone Blacks. In 1831 the Ngambri area was granted to John McPherson; the name Ngambri was possibly used by these early European settlers to refer to the Aboriginal people who lived there.
As detailed in the 2013 genealogical report to the ACT Government "Our Kin Our Country", there has been growth in the number of "new tribes" in the context of claims to country and land management in the current legal context. An example is the use of the name of the Ngambri locality to propose the existence of the tribe "Kamberri" or "Canberra" who speak Walgulu, with a large county, including Canberra, Cooma and Yass. The report concluded that, with "the paucity of the written record it may be assumed that the issue of which groups held traditional association over which areas will remain uncertain".
While initially it was thought the Limestone Plains was Ngunnawal territory, research into the vocabularies collected in the 19th century by Mowle, Robinson, Eyre and Curr has determined the language spoken in the Canberra region to be a dialect of the Ngarigo people, not the Ngunnawal. Their research showed the Aboriginal language spoken in the Canberra district, including Queanbeyan, to be the Nyamudy/Namadgi dialect of the Ngarigo/Ngarmal people. The family groupings speaking this dialect included Nammage, Nammitch, Yammoit and Ngemutch. This is confirmed by the "Limestone" vocabulary of Chief Protector Robertson, and the Queanbeyan vocabulary published by Carr in 1887. As with other Australian Aboriginal languages, prior to the arrival of Europeans Walgalu language had been a purely spoken language and had no writing system. The Cooma Shire Council, after investigating the matter, concluded Ngarigo was the Monaro Plains language and Walgalu was the Alpine language.
Extension of the name to the whole Canberra region
It has been claimed by some people[who?] claiming Ngambri descent that the name for Canberra is derived from the name of the "Ngambri" family rather than the name of the location. Hence the Canberra district is Ngambri territory.
Yam daisies, now rare in the ACT due to land development, were a staple in the diet of traditional Ngambri people. Ngambri people also ate grass trees, bulrushes, native raspberries, apple berries and native cherries.
In 2005, in response to a question in the ACT Legislative Assembly about the status of the Ngambri people, the Chief Minister at the time, Jon Stanhope, stated that "Ngambri is the name of one of a number of family groups that make up the Ngunnawal nation." He went on to say that "the Government recognises members of the Ngunnawal nation as descendants of the original inhabitants of this region. There is no specific recognition of the Ngambri group outside of this broader acknowledgement." The reason for the recognition of the Ngunnnawal as the traditional first people was due to inaccuracies in Tindal's map of tribal boundaries, which he later corrected by stating the southern boundary of the Ngunawal people was to the north of Canberra.
In 2009, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope incorrectly said the Ngunnawal people were the traditional owners of Canberra after five signs on the Canberra border were defaced to include the Ngambri name. Stanhope at the time said that "one family that previously identified as Ngunnawal now identifies as Ngambri" and "this is causing confusion and distress within the community."
In contrast, the Commonwealth Government recognizes that the Ngambri people were the first people living in the centre of the Canberra area, at such events as the opening of Parliament.
Disputes over the traditional ownership of Canberra and the surrounding region
The comprehensive dislocation of Aboriginal populations, intertribal marriage and interracial relationships following European settlement has led to a high proportion of people identifying themselves as Indigenous Australians not knowing their traditional origins. Australian Bureau of Statistics records showed several Aboriginal families in the ACT were affected by the removal of mixed race children from their parents in the Stolen Generation era. Many of the Nyamudy people were moved to the Hollywood Aboriginal Reserve in Yass and intermingled with other tribal groups, including Ngunnawal people who previously were located along the Yass River.
Due to the geographical relocation, and intertribal marriages since the 1900s, of indigenous populations there are disputes between people who claim descent from the Ngambri family of the Nyanmudy/Namadgi, Ngarigo and Ngunnawal people, who all claim they are Canberra's traditional owners. A family who originally claimed to be Ngunnawal chaned their argument claiming to be from the Ngamri family. The debate came to a head in April 2009 when five "Welcome to Canberra" signs on the Canberra border were defaced by replacing the words "Ngunnawal Country" with "Ngambri Country". The signs were quickly restored by the ACT Government, with the Chief Minister Jon Stanhope promising that the signs would be monitored closely in the future. However this action exacerbated the problem, with the result that the Government funded research into Aboriginal family histories. The conclusion was there was insufficient genealogical evidence to conclusively state the Ngambri were the sole traditional owners of the ACT region.
In 1974 Norman Tindale in his major work on Aboriginal tribal boundaries located Canberra within the southern boundary of Ngunawal country. Later research showed this to be incorrect. The unsettled dispute as to who were the first people of the Canberra district, is whether the Nyamudy/Namedjii were a separate tribe or part of the Ngarigo tribe from the Monaro.
In December 2012, the Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council made three applications for native title:
- McQuoid Street, Queenbeyan, NSW;
- Karabar, Queenbeyan, NSW; and
- Erin Street, Queenbeyan, NSW.
In 2013, an ACT Government genealogy report entitled Our Kin Our Country was released. The report, researched to settle the dispute of who were the first people, found that the Ngunnawall were not the original inhabitants of the ACT, however they did attend corroborees. The report concluded that evidence gathered from the mid-1700s onward was too scant to exclusively support any present day group's claims. It showed that the ACT land had been either part of the Ngarigo tribe territory, the Nyamudy territory, or split between the Nyamudy and Namadgi people. The question remains unanswered whether the Nyamudy/Namadgi tribe, the settler named Limestone Blacks, occupied the whole Queanbeyan-Canberra-Namadgi area, or whether the Queanbeyan people were either part of the Ngarigo people of the Monaro, or the Moolinggolah people who were located to the west of the Shoalhaven River.
Aboriginal Tent Embassy
In 2002, a group of Ngambri people burnt down a humpy and dismantled tents at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. At the time, prominent Ngambri elder Matilda House said her people were "cleaning up the site and making it respectable so that when visitors do come here we will be proud". House had been closely involved with the tent embassy since it was founded in 1972 and remembers the four men who founded the embassy as heroes. House had a vision for the future of the tent embassy:
“ I'd like to see the tent embassy used for a place of education and proper understanding of protocols and the proper understanding of our identity. It could be achieved by looking at a proper way of having a place where Aboriginal people can do what they want and protest. But in a manner that will get the message across and (provide) a really good place for educating the rest of the community. Not this thing where buses will pull up and sometimes people get told the wrong story. ”
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