Dining with the Ngambri

In recognition of, and with respect for the traditional owners of this land and their descendants, this activity is intended to help readers understand how the Ngambri* may have found shelter, sustenance and other lifestyle resources from the Aranda grasslands and bushland. Trading activity amongst networks of local tribal groups would also have complemented local resources.

Take the book Our Patch: Field Guide to the Flora of the Australian Capital Region along the Frost Hollow to Forest Walk and imagine that you are a member of the Ngambri Aboriginal group at the time Europeans came to live in this area. As you proceed along the Walk identify the resources that are available to provide shelter, food, weaving materials for baskets and bags, warm clothing, and ceremonial decorations.



Shelters (mia mias)

Bushy shrubs/understorey plants, Eucalypt barks

Useful tools, clothing and accessories

Axes, scrapers, choppers, chisels, stone wedges, grinding stones

Rocks/rock flakes, animal bones

Baskets and bags

Spiny-headed Matrush (Lomandra longifolia), Lomandra multiflora, Dianella revoluta var. revoluta

Acacia dealbata (Silver Wattle) and

Pimelea sp. could be used for weaving.

Dried kangaroo sinews could be used like thread

Fishing nets

Other fishing aids e.g. crushed leaves could be used to stun fish so that they could be caught more easily

Woven Kangaroo Grass (Themada triandra)

Austral Indigo (Indigofera australis)

Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata)

Rugs, cloaks and ‘drum skin’

Possum and kangaroo skins provided warm clothing and drawn tight over the knees could be used like a drum skin

Bull-roarers (a musical instrument), spears, shields, boomerangs and spear throwers, coolamons (water holders), canoes and shelter.

Wood of the Native Cherry or Cherry Ballart (Exocarpus cupressiformis) and the bark and wood of other woodand species including E. blakelyi,
E. bridesiana, E. melliodora,
E. macrorhyncha, E. polyanthemos

Personal decoration

Bird feathers, clay, ash


Starchy foods, some protein: e.g. radish-shaped tubers could be eaten raw or cooked in an earth oven (and producing a dark sweet juice)

Similarly, underground stems of bindweed, orchids and bulrushes were baked and skinned, then chewed to extract the starch.

Yam Daisy or Murnong (Microseris lanceolata)

Bulrush (Typha orientalis), particularly the tender white-to-green shoots available in spring; tubers of Convolvulus erubescens

Ground seeds for damper flour

Kangaroo Grass (Themada triandra) (although there is little evidence this was common in the Canberra region)

Fruits (raspberries, native cherry, mistletoe, appleberry fruits)

Native Raspberry (Rubus parvifolius)

Apple Berry (Billardiera scandens var. scandens)

Cherry Ballart/Native Cherry
(Exocarpos cupressiformis), the small
(2 mm diam), hard, green nut of which (drupe) is supported by a fleshy, swollen, yellowish stalk (pedicel - 5 mm diam).  This becomes reddish-pink and edible when ripe.


The gum of Silver Wattle
(Acacia dealbata) could be dissolved in water and drunk

Protein food sources

Kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, wombats, wide variety of birds (including brolgas, emus, swans, ibis and other water birds, wild turkeys (Ardeotis kori), birds, possums, echidnas, skinks, Bogong Moths (Agrotis infusa), shingle back lizards, eggs, snakes, rats, cattle, sheep, platypus, fish, crayfish, yabbies (Cherax spp), platypus, ants, native cats, bandicoots, echidnas, rabbits, wild pigs, foxes, Acacia melanoxylon (Blackwood) seeds, Witchettty Grubs (Cossidae spp.)


For snake bite

The sap of the Native cherry or Cherry ballart, Exocarpus Cupressiformis

For fevers and gastro-intestinal problems

Smoke from Eucalyptus divesBroad–leaved Peppermint, and dissolved gum from Acacia dealbata


Australian National Botanical Gardens, n.d. Aboriginal Plant Use Walk with introduction by Beth Gott, ANBG, Canberra.

Cribb, AB and Cribb JW. 1981. Useful Wild Plants in Australia. Collins Publishers.

Davis Wright, W. 1923. Canberra, John Andrew and Co., Sydney.

Flood J. 1996. The Moth Hunters of the Australian Capital Territory: Aboriginal Traditional Life in the Canberra region, JM Flood.

Gale, J. 1927. Canberra History Of and Legends Relating to the Federal Capital Territory of the Commonwealth of Australia, AM Falick and Sons, Queanbeyan.

Gillespie, Lyall L. 1984. Aborigines of the Canberra Region, Canberra Publishing and Printing Co.

Isaacs, J. 1996. A Companion Guide to Bush Food, Lansdowne Publishing, Sydney.

Jackson-Nakano, A. 2001. The Kamberra: A History from the Records of Aboriginal Families in the Canberra-Queanbeyan District and Surrounds 1820-1927 and Historical Overview 1928-2001,

Kabaila, P.R. 1997. Belconnen’s Aboriginal Past: A Glimpse into the Archaeology of the Australian Capital Territory, Black Mountain Projects Pty Ltd.

Victoria Museum, 2001. Aboriginal Plant Use: Information Sheet. Victoria Museum, Melbourne.

* Now largely identifying as the Ngunnawal people (Jackson-Nakano, 2001), descendants of the Ngambri living in the area now known as Canberra, and previously also known as Nganbra, Kamberra, Kgamberry, Kembery, Kamberri and Canburry.

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