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Ngambri people
Regions with significant populations
 Australia over 400[1]
Related ethnic groups
Other Aboriginal Australians

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 property to the east of Springbank was the larger Camberry station (Canberry), occupying what now is the suburbs of Acton and Turner[clarification needed].


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"[citation needed] 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".[citation needed]


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[edit]

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.[2]

Traditional diet[edit]

Yam daisy, a staple in the traditional diet of Ngambri people

Yam daisies, now rare in the ACT due to land development, were a staple in the diet of traditional Ngambri people.[3][4] Ngambri people also ate grass trees,[5] bulrushes, native raspberries, apple berries and native cherries.[6]

For protein, the witchetty grub, Bogong moth,[7] emu, koala, cod, platypus, echidna, brolga and bush turkey were all represented in the traditional Ngambri people diet.[3][6]

Government recognition[edit]

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."[8] 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.[9] 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."[10]

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[edit]

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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[9][12][13][14][15][16] 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".[16][17][18] 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.[19] 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.

For each application, the court determined that native title did not exist.[20][21][22][23]

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.[24] 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[edit]

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".[25] 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.[26] House had a vision for the future of the tent embassy:


  1. ^ "Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions: exhibition launch". 15 November 2011. Archived from the original on 25 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "Ngambri Statement". Ngambri Inc. Archived from the original on 26 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Shane Mortimer (20 May 2010). "Appendix 9: Quote from Mr Shane Mortimer, of the Ngambri People" (PDF). Report of the Grassland Forum. ACT Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Beaconhill Consulting (20 May 2010). "Report of the Grassland Forum" (PDF). ACT Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  5. ^ ACT Territory and Municipal Services (8 February 2013). "Importance of Plants to Aboriginal People". ACT Territory and Municipal Services. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Dining with the Ngambri". Archived from the original on 22 June 2005. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  7. ^ ACT Territory and Municipal Services (18 December 2012). "The Bogong Moth Story". ACT Territory and Municipal Services. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders-Ngambri group". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. 6 May 2005. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "ACT split: Claims fly" (PDF). Koori Mail. 12 August 2009. p. 4. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  10. ^ 702 ABC Sydney (6 August 2009). "ACT formally recognises Ngunnawal people". ABC. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "ACT Government Genealogy Project: Our Kin Our Country" (PDF). ACT Government Community Services. August 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 March 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Andrew Bolt (13 April 2009). "Canberra gets new owners". The Herald Sun. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Misha Schubert (1 February 2008). "Elders hit out over bungled protocol". The Age. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Patricia Karvelas (8 February 2008). "Rudd into a second tribal welcome". The Australian. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  15. ^ Melissa Polimeni (22 May 2009). "Stateline: Indigenous Times". ABC. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Crystal Ja (6 August 2009). "Indigenous groups fight over ownership". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 23 September 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  17. ^ "Govt to quell dispute". The Post-Courier. 7 August 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  18. ^ Michael Inman (11 April 2009). "Uproar at Aboriginal sign being renamed". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  19. ^ "ACT signs fixed after land rights stoush". ABC News. 11 April 2009. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  20. ^ "NSW - Native title determination summary - Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council #1". National Native Title Tribunal. 2012. Archived from the original on 14 April 2013. 
  21. ^ "NSW - Native title determination summary - Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council #2". National Native Title Tribunal. 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  22. ^ "NSW - Native title determination summary - Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council #3". National Native Title Tribunal. 2012. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  23. ^ Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council v Attorney-General of New South Wales [2012] FCA 1484 (19 December 2012), Federal Court (Australia).
  24. ^ Noel Towell (9 April 2013). "Canberra's first people still a matter for debate". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 10 April 2013. 
  25. ^ a b Mark Metherell (31 October 2002). "Aboriginal group wrecks embassy". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 21 March 2009. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  26. ^ Joe Kelly (28 January 2012). "Hard work of 70s indigenous heroes 'destroyed'". The Australian. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ann Jackson-Nakano, The Kamberri: a history from the records of Aboriginal families in the Canberra-Queanbeyan district and surrounds 1820-1927 and historical overview 1928 -2001 Aboriginal History Monograph 8, ANU Press, 2001.

External links[edit]