Preserving Aboriginal heritage at Ginninderra

March 16th, 2017

Aboriginal groups have helped to find and salvage artefacts as part of the effort to better understand and protect important cultural heritage at Ginninderra.

Prior to European settlement, Ginninderra was known as Ginin-ginin-derry (said to mean ‘sparkling’ or ‘throwing out little rays of light’ in local Ngunnawal language) and was home to Aboriginal communities for many thousands of years.

The presence of Aboriginal sites on the Ginninderra site reflects elements of a natural and Aboriginal cultural landscape, and is a vital part of Ginninderra’s heritage.

Australia-wide CSIRO has been working with Aboriginal communities to ensure sustainable futures for Aboriginal people, culture and country and we certainly wanted that to be the case at Ginninderra also.

CSIRO and Environmental Resources Management (ERM) were joined on 19 December 2016 by traditional custodian group representatives to salvage artefacts from two paddocks within the Ginninderra site ahead of the proposed future development. Artefact salvage, together with conservation measures in the landscape, are important for protecting heritage features and strengthening the connection between Aboriginal communities and their heritage values.

Joe House from Little Gudgenby River Tribal Council, Karen Denny from Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation, James Mundy from Ngarigu Currawong Clan and Carl Brown from the King Brown Tribal Group were in attendance, and the group was able to record and recover all artefacts required with the help of Bruce Isaac (CSIRO), Sarah Ward (ERM) and Katherine Deverson (ERM).

The survey, recording and artefact salvage was undertaken in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and an archaeological research design developed specifically for the Ginninderra site.

“The reps were incredibly professional, experienced and a pleasure to work with,” said Sarah, Principal Consultant of Cultural Heritage at ERM. “Joe House has been surveying in Canberra since the early 1980s and brought a wealth of experience. In fact, he recovered one artefact made of stone not local to Canberra and said he had not seen anything like it in the region before.”

The 1216 artefacts salvaged were mainly flaked pieces from scatter sites that were used in the manufacture of stone tools. There are numerous such sites in the Ginninderra area. There were also some broken hammer stones recovered.

Stone tools were used for a variety of purposes including cutting, scraping (i.e. skinning animals), hammering, and as axes. Several glass artefacts appear to have been worked like a stone tool, which is rare for the ACT and if initial assessments are proven correct, these provide evidence of Aboriginal toolmaking post-European contact.

Wally Bell of the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation and Traditional Custodian Group said, “The salvage process generally entails a tiered approach where we are engaged to conduct a survey on foot transecting the designated area and plotting the finds by the use of a GPS, photographing the items, and measuring their dimensions by length, width and thickness and as you can see this is a very scientific approach. The archaeologist then develops a methodology to locate any occupational use sites which are indicated by numerous artefacts scattered on the surface. Sometimes there may be isolated finds of one artefact.

“This survey may also indicate a potential archaeological deposit which is a landscape feature that may have subsurface artefacts due to the movement of topsoil over thousands of years or even the farming practices that may have taken place.

“If large deposits of artefacts are discovered, then this will lead to further investigation works being undertaken. These works entail a process called test pitting where an area is laid out in a grid pattern of 0.5m x 0.5m pits that are hand excavated at depths of 10cm spits until the topsoil reaches either clay or bedrock. All artefacts are salvaged and analysed.”

The artefacts that were recovered were initially analysed on-site which enabled evidence-based decisions regarding the quantity of artefacts at each archaeological site and immediate input from Aboriginal stakeholders.

Laboratory analysis is yet to undertaken.

With the salvage complete, plans for relocating the artefacts are in progress. While the final site is still to be determined, the most likely location will be outside but very close to the Ginninderra property.

“The reburial process is important to us as Aboriginal people as our cultural beliefs are that we come from the land and we eventually return to the land,” said Wally.

“Aboriginal people’s connection to country has come from our belief systems involving the ability to feel at one with the natural environment for thousands of years, if we care for the country the country will care for us. The materials that are salvaged – being the by-products of the tool making process – have a strong spiritual connection to country and when they are salvaged and taken away for analysis that spiritual connection is broken. It is important that the spiritual connection is re-established so that our past ancestral spirits can harmonise within the landscape and keep the environment productive and alive.”

Wally, in conjunction with the other representatives from the custodian groups, is working on increasing community awareness of ongoing Aboriginal ecological knowledge and traditional land management practices within the ACT and surrounding region. This is to begin to address the huge demand for greater knowledge regarding Aboriginal cultural heritage from ACT residents.

“The Ngunawal people’s traditional country contains many sites of Aboriginal significance due to our occupation of this area for over 21,000 years,” said Wally.

“An experienced Ngunawal descendent can provide an interpretation of the local Aboriginal cultural practices and the cultural landscape at various locations in and around Canberra. We can provide interpretive walks and talks in all Nature Parks to highlight how native vegetation was used for the provision of food and medicine.”

Over 700 people have participated in these heritage walks so far and a major impact has been the increased understanding of cultural natural resource management for participants.

If you’re interested in participating in a heritage walk, contact the Buru Ngunawal Aboriginal Corporation through their website.

CSIRO is actively involving Aboriginal people and traditional custodian groups in efforts to understand, care for and protect important cultural and historical heritage in the landscape of Ginninderra.

Find out more about CSIRO’s Aboriginal Engagement and Aboriginal Knowledge and Environmental  Management.




  1. Our artefacts should never be removed, they should stay where they belong as they are part of the Songlines. Any Ngunnawal person should know this and never remove the any part of the line as our spirits would never allow it.
    Maybe you should open your communication to everyone who knows the lines or ask them what Songline goes through there?

    1. Many thanks for your message Richie. CSIRO is grateful for your comments and for the support/interest of Ginninderra’s Traditional Owners.

      CSIRO has worked very closely with numerous representatives of the four declared Representative Aboriginal Organisations as determined under the ACT Heritage Act on Ginninderra’s heritage for many years and strongly values the knowledge and contribution of Ginninderra’s Traditional Owners in preserving our shared and mutual heritage for future generations.

      Before moving the objects, CSIRO worked very closely with the local Aboriginal groups, ACT Heritage, CSIRO’s stakeholders, within the requirements of the EPBC Act and following development of a research design that had Traditional Owner input, to ensure the best possible outcomes for the objects. The involvement of the local Traditional Owners was critical to achieving the right outcomes and all involved went to great lengths to ensure that these objects could be preserved for future generations.

      CSIRO is continuing to work closely with the local Aboriginal communities to ensure the objects are relocated to an area as close as possible to that from which they have come, and on country connected with and through the song/story lines without being placed in harms way.

  2. Whilst it has been critical to have salvaged some of these artifacts and tremendous to have aboriginal engagement. Many artefacts have already been removed from their original location which reduces their impact and significance. It is good to keep in mind that this collection process is occurring on the very surface and much of what lies beneath will be bulldozed and buried under houses dramatically reducing significance and accessibility.
    It is broadly accepted that the waterways were the main routes through the countryside and there are many signs of aboriginal activity from lore and customs including corroboree to burial sites.
    If later, it is realized how valuable local indigenous landscape is in the raw state. Urban private ownership complicates the chances of native title claims, state and federal acquisition.
    Concessional leases have served the community very well. Since early last century under several different pieces of legislation, eg Leases (Special Purposes) Act 1925 or the Leases Act 1918, Churches Lands Leases Act 1924.
    This area that is undergoing salvage didn’t service local indigenous and provide them with an economic future. Before urbanisation is allowed to occur in this area, the ACT and NSW Governments need to consider the value of retaining artefacts in situ under the protection of a living cultural engagement precinct which will educate both Europeans and the original inhabitants in their culture. All the other Key Arts organization predominately along the river system have destroyed local cultural indigenous knowledge. And it is appalling to imagine that they are cultural engagement facilities that are publicly funded.
    Such a precinct would encompass the entire Ginninderra Creek and any other area where aboriginal existence is detected.
    Notwithstanding the native title issues and Indigenous Land Use agreements (ILUA) under the Native Title Act (which these ILUAs are holding planning laws together) , a paper from Chief Justice French (High Court) highlights why native title should be a planning requirement process.
    Only in respecting their ancient culture can aboriginal children find meaning in this modern world and provide and economic future. While it is a mandatory part of the school curriculum to engage with aboriginal and TSI content the reality is very little actually occurs in schools and rarely engages the local knowledge. The general population would have little idea or experiences of what a cultural site would look like. Understanding the areas of aboriginal sustainability in social groupings, relationship building, engagement with the land and water ways has tremendous benefits in enhancing our perspective on life itself.
    Aboriginal children are being failed by European thinking
    (‘Crisis levels’ of Indigenous children in out-of-home care in the ACT”, March 19).
    An opportunity for an alternative approach that might encourage confidence and pride in their history is again being compromised for not only aboriginal children but the boarder community.
    There is much aboriginal history in the vicinity of Ginninderra Creek, the falls and the Murrumbidgee gorges. And it is vital that we consider that it is connected to other areas of significance. Sharing a symbiotic relationship not only with the flora and fauna but cultural practice.
    A review of process should happen. So, that a long-term vision for Canberra’s development can happen with social infrastructure in mind not economic sprawl. Many First Nations people are not fully aware of the psychological warfare perpetrated it’s very clear that the current dilemmas facing our people in Australia today stems from the fact that we are under attack by a colonial regime determined to beat us into the submission of assimilation.
    Our first major step going forward from our current position is the need to be determined to find solutions on our terms. This truly is the challenge before us because the problems that beset us do create traitors who collaborate with a genocidal regime, and who now oppress their own while arguing that they do it in our interests. This is our true challenge to overcome.
    Was this Land was first granted for loses to Sturt?

    1. Many thanks for your comments. CSIRO has been grateful for the support of the local Aboriginal communities in all aspects of its heritage work.

      Regarding the land grant, the property which is now the Ginninderra Research station does not contain any of the 5,000 acres of land originally granted to Sturt.

      Records show that a portion of what is now CSIRO’s Ginninderra property was granted to George Thomas Palmer in around 1826. Palmer created the Palmerville Estate and subsequently purchased an additional 14 portions of land adjoining Ginninderra Creek between 1829 and 1836. Separately to this, in 1835 Henry Hall was granted 3,472 acres nearby upon which he established the Charnwood estate.

      The 5,000 acres of land granted to Sturt in the early 1830s is some kilometres to the west site bordered by Ginninderra Creek to the north, the Murrumbidgee River to the west and the Molonglo River to the southwest. Sturt sold this parcel of land on 26 Feb 1838.

  3. For example CSIRO and LDA Should be looking into this “not seen anything like it in the region before”
    before plans are put in place. “Joe House has been surveying in Canberra since the early 1980s and brought a wealth of experience. In fact, he recovered one artefact made of stone not local to Canberra and said he had not seen anything like it in the region before.” Consider – Best practice should be engaging with Indigenous peoples first and using their methodologies as the core drives of design. Imagine the richness of that.

    1. It is not that far away from the Clan marriage grounds

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