29 August 2023

Cultural partnership cements plans for significant Indigenous site

| Edwina Mason
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Students sitting around a yarning circle

Tumbarumba Public School students at the Ngarigo Culture Reserve during NAIDOC Week in July. Photo: Ngarigo Snow People/Facebook.

A culturally significant Indigenous site near Tumbarumba is set to benefit from a private partnership with one of the town’s leading manufacturers, cementing links between the centuries-old meeting place and today’s wider community.

Hyne Timber this week announced a 12-month partnership with the Ngarigo Toomaroombah Kunama Namadgi Indigenous Corporation to support the development of the Ngarigo Culture Reserve near Tumbarumba.

The Ngarigo Culture Reserve is the first of its kind for the town and is already attracting buses of visitors, despite the development being in its early stages.

Ngarigo elders Uncle John Casey, Uncle Craig Wilesmith and Aunty Sandra Casey, supported by many other Ngarigo people and volunteers, are proudly informing the reserve development in respect of their ancestors.

Ngarigo’s traditional land covers some 16,000 square kilometres of the Monaro Tableland and southern NSW and northern Victoria alpine region.

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That translates to an area that takes in, roughly, the towns of Yass, Queanbeyan, Cooma, Bombala, Delegate, Nimmitabel and Tumbarumba down to Omeo and Goongerah in Victoria.

Uncle Craig said the Ngarigo Culture Reserve, south of Tumbarumba, was in an area of spiritual and cultural significance.

At Murrays Crossing Road, south of the town, it’s known locally as “Five Ways” because it marked the convergence of five main Indigenous song lines, or walking tracks.

Several of these walking tracks – including Elliott Way and Snowy Mountains Highway – have morphed into modern-day roads but the junction, or as the Ngarigo people dubbed it “a bottleneck”, remains a consequential landmark.

Traditionally each year in November, Uncle Craig said, about 600 people from the 23 Ngarigo family sub-groups and other nearby mobs would gather with neighbouring tribes at this very place for corroborees, yarning, dance and trade.

At one time a knowledge or message tree – where message sticks were passed on to neighbouring communities/mobs – presided over the spot, until a rock monument took its place when the tree was damaged by bushfires and removed.

Cultural elements include a scar tree, a yarning circle, a healing circle and a striking hand-carved, wooden, long-neck turtle made by Ngarigo man Justin McClelland, which wouldn’t have usually featured but represents traditionally favoured food.

two rainbow serpents, created using painted rocks, and school students

Tumbarumba Public School students helped build a rainbow serpent walkway during their recent visit to Ngarigo Culture Reserve. Image: Ngarigo Snow People Facebook page.

The two circles are joined by a rainbow serpent walkway lined with rocks painted by local primary school students as part of their cultural learning and engagement.

While volunteers and businesses are pitching in to help develop the Ngarigo Culture Reserve, the elders say there is still much to do.

“But we have been overwhelmed with the community and business support we are already receiving, including most recently from Hyne Timber coming on board as a partner,” Uncle Craig said.

Hyne Timber general manager of stakeholder engagement Katie Fowden visited the site with Ngarigo elders Uncle Craig and Aunty Sandra Casey to understand firsthand the development’s scale and plans.

“We entered into a longer-term partnership as opposed to simply supplying one-off funding so we can continue to support the elders and volunteers with this historically significant project through to fruition,” Ms Fowden said.

“People want to understand and engage with our Indigenous heritage. This includes here in Tumbarumba, with the visitors already flocking to this culture reserve still under development.

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“We can’t tell the stories of our Indigenous heritage but we can help fund the logistics so their story can be shared more widely, educating people in an appropriately respectful, engaging and informative way for all ages and abilities.”

Signage for the area is now being made and will feature these stories.

Ms Fowden said anyone could visit the site now and sit at the yarning circle, surrounded by trees and the sounds of kookaburras.

“It is already an immersive experience despite the project being in its infancy,” she said.

A car park is being installed, along with barbecue facilities, bathroom amenities, educational signage and a bituminised culture trail to connect with the ever-popular Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail.

The project continues to raise funds from the community and local businesses, with bituminisation of the Culture Trail yet to receive funding and get underway.

Supporting businesses and organisations include Hyne Timber, a Snowy Hydro grant, Aboriginal Affairs, Warren Hulm and Sons and Bald Hill Quarries, with the Snowy Valleys Council also supporting the development as a preserved area of spiritual significance.

If you would like to support the project in some way, contact the Ngarigo Toomaroombah Kunama Namadgi Indigenous Corporation.

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