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An important new selection of guided Aboriginal tours can show you around significant indigenous sites in the Canberra region.

By Paul Robinson
Published: 14 June, 2017

There are many significant Aboriginal sites in the Canberra region and many stories to tell, but if you want a deep understanding of them, you'll need some insider knowledge.

Now, thanks to a range of new Aboriginal-led tours, you can share in some of this culture and history for the first time. Join one of the Dharwra Aboriginal Cultural Tours, and you’ll be accompanied by a Ngunawal guide who’ll take you on a journey to find hidden rock art, identify historical artefacts, learn about “bush food” and traditional stone tools, and hear the stories attached to each of the significant local sites you visit. Tours range from two hours to a full day; all offer insights into Ngunawal history and culture.

The Ngunawal are the traditional Aboriginal inhabitants of the Canberra region. When first encountered by European settlers in the 1820s, the Ngunawal people’s intimate relationship with “country”, as it’s often referred to, had existed for at least 20,000 years.

Mount Majura two-hour tour 

Mount Majura, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Mount Majura, part of the Canberra Nature Park, lies on the north-eastern edge of the city. At 888 metres (2913 feet), it is the highest peak in suburban Canberra, mostly covered in eucalypt trees, and the site of a Dharwra tour. Over two hours, you’ll learn about the mountain’s importance to Aboriginal people, the wide range of wildlife which lives here (including several threatened species), identify and sample bush foods, perhaps discover a “scar tree” (where the bark was once removed to create containers, shields or even canoes, leaving historical scars) and learn about the traditional uses of various tools. The view of Mount Majura valley below is a fitting reward for the climb.

Cultural sites in Canberra half-day tour

On a 3.5-hour Dharwra driving tour, you will visit several important locations that show abundant evidence of Aboriginal occupation in the Canberra area, including bush food sites in Red Hill and “grinding grooves” in the suburb of Theodore. These grooves are the result of the Aboriginal practice of shaping and sharpening new stone axe heads on the rock, creating oval indentations in local sandstone that have existed for many centuries. You will also see both a canoe tree and shield tree near Lanyon Homestead, where bark was ripped from the trees to construct the objects, leaving scarring behind. At the end of the tour there’s a refreshment stop at the Lanyon Homestead cafe. Transport is by 4WD troop carrier.

Namadgi National Park full-day 4WD tour

Namadgi National Park, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

If you’ve got a bit more time to spare, consider the full-day 4WD tour through Namadgi National Park, which makes up almost half the entire land area of the Australian Capital Territory. Namadgi is the Ngunawal name for the mountains to the south-west of Canberra (on the edge of Kosciuszko National Park, which is across the state border in New South Wales). Aboriginal occupation of the area has been dated to at least 21,000 years here, and there are many historical cultural sites – both Aboriginal and European – in the park. Forage for bush foods, spot wildlife such as swamp wallabies, emus, wombats or eastern grey kangaroos, visit the “Yankee Hat” rock art site, perhaps discover an Aboriginal artefact and hear many cultural stories. You’ll gain an appreciation of the significance of the area to the local Ngunawal and receive a detailed Aboriginal interpretation of the landscape from your experienced guide. This tour is recommended for families with older children.

Connect to Aboriginal culture in Canberra

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

If these tours whet your appetite to learn more about indigenous culture, there is another significant place worth visiting during your next trip to Canberra: the National Gallery of Australia. Here you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.