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This page is for the Indigenous Australian group. For their language see Ngunnawal language. For the suburban district in the Australian Capital Territory, see Ngunnawal, Australian Capital Territory.

The Ngunnawal people (alternatively Ngunawal tribe) are some of the Indigenous Australian inhabitants whose traditional lands encompass much of the area now occupied by the city of Canberra, Australia 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 Queanbeyan, Boorowa and Goulburn. The Ngunnawal people were neighbours of the Yuin (on the coast), Ngarigo (who lived south east of Canberra), Wiradjuri (to the west) and Gundungurra (to the north) peoples.


The traditional language of the Ngunnawal people is the Ngunawal language.

In their 2004-05 Annual Report, the ACT Planning and Land Authority stated they had contributed to achieving an outcome of safe health and supportive family environments with strong communities and cultural identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders by "including consideration of the vocabulary of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criteria for determining names under the Public Place Names Act 1989." The report stated that "Any names proposed for geographical features are researched thoroughly and then referred to relevant authorities for consultation, including the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies." The Planning and Land Authority had invited the Ngunnawal Elders Council to nominate a representative to the ACT Place Names Committee during 2004-05.[1]

Dispute over the traditional ownership of Canberra and the surrounding region[edit]

Some Canberra-area people with Aboriginal heritage in the local region, including Matilda House and Shane Mortimer, say they are a part of the Ngambri nation and distinguish themselves from the Ngunnawal people.[2] However, the claim of the nation status is disputed by some Aboriginal people who say that the Ngambri are a small family clan of the Wiradjuri nation.[3]

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."[4] Since this time the ACT Government's position has changed and in 2013, a Government anthropological report was released concluding that the struggle between various indigenous groups for the mantle of Canberra's "first people" is likely to remain uncertain. The report stated that evidence gathered from the mid-1700s onward was too scant to support any group's claims.[5]

Native title[edit]

The earliest direct evidence for Indigenous occupation in the area comes from a rock shelter near the area of Birrigai near Tharwa, which has been dated to approximately 20,000 years ago. However, it is likely (based on older sites known from the surrounding regions) that human occupation of the region goes back considerably further. Whether the original occupants of these early sites were ancestral to the Ngunnawal is not directly known, however Ngunnawal lore and tradition identify strongly with these sites and the surrounding lands, indicating a lengthy association.

They were gradually displaced from the Canberra area beginning in the 1820s when graziers began to occupy the land there. In 1826 a thousand Aborigines at Lake George protested an incident involving a shepherd and Aboriginal woman, though the protesters moved away peacefully.[citation needed] Some Ngunnawal people worked at properties in the region.

Some histories of Australia record the last full-blooded Ngunnawal person, Nellie Hamilton, dying in 1897. However, it has been regarded by some Indigenous Australians as a biased attempt to claim that they were wiped out when there are many Ngunnawal people still around today.[6]

Tent embassy[edit]

The Ngunnawal people had no part in the founding of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972.

The opening speech at the constitutional convention at Old Parliament House held on 2 February 1998 by the chairman, Ian Sinclair, included: "We acknowledge that we are meeting today on country of which the people of the Ngunnawal tribe have been custodians for many centuries and on which the members of that tribe performed age-old ceremonies of celebration, initiation and renewal. We acknowledge today their living culture and the unique role that they and other members of the Koori people play in the life of this region." [7]


  1. ^ "Annual Report 2004-2005" (PDF). ACT Planning and Land Authority. 23 September 2005. pp. 40–41. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "ACT split: Claims fly" (PDF). Koori Mail. 12 August 2009. p. 4. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Future of the Tent Embassy". ABC Australia. 25 November 2005. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. 
  4. ^ "Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders-Ngambri group". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly. 6 May 2005. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ Rosemarie McKeon (20 October 1995). "SCULPTURE FORUM 95: ABORIGINAL ART at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space". Archived from the original on 6 September 2004. 

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