Language group: Ngunnawal

Your country wants to talk to you.

It needs to talk to you.

Living shelters are found on mountain slopes among the granite tors.
Living shelters are found on mountain slopes among the granite tors. Photograph: Vicky Shukuroglou

In this valley you are only an hour from your country’s federal parliament. But the political decisions here began 120,000 years ago. Evidence of the culture is all about you as you walk through this national park – rock art, scar trees, stone arrangements, tools. It is so tempting to take a souvenir but please stay your hand. Those specimens have yet to be fully studied and we need them to explain and defend our culture.

We need our cultural objects in situ, not on your mantelpiece only to be turfed out by your grandkids when you die.

Walk here and wonder. It is a beautiful, wild landscape, immerse yourself in its story. That story will be found at every corner. A dingo observes those ascending a rocky mount. It watches, ears jigged forward, wondering. The people keep climbing and he sits on a boulder to watch. He has a reason.

As soon as he is seen he bounds from the boulder but his curiosity and need cause him to pause. The visitors see him and wonder at his rich golden pelt, his intelligent eye, his need for conversation. He sniffs, he plays, he suggests, he proffers a wounded foot.

There is an exchange of intimacy between two entirely different creatures. A strange, beautiful and puzzling conversation with Australia.

Driving through the countryside beyond the national park, however, makes you wonder about the intensity of modern agriculture. Thousands of sheep straggle across barren paddocks raising dust, hammering the earth with their sharp hooves, nibbling tenaciously at every prick of green that is foolish enough to show itself.

Curls of wire over the grasslands near Namadgi
The complex history of Namadgi and surrounding areas lies among the valleys and slopes, evident in tangles of heritage-listed wire, rocks in various formations, and trees showing signs of human interaction. Photographs: Vicky Shukuroglou Photograph: Vicky Shukuroglou
A tree showing signs of human interaction in Namadgi

It is hard to imagine how this type of land use can be sustained. We need sheep to eat but how many do we need and at what cost to our soil? Smaller, more appropriately grazed flocks are being proposed for this industry and a man of this district, Charles Massy, has written a wonderful book, Call of the Reed Warbler, on this very issue. It is highly recommended along with The Biggest Estate on Earth written by Bill Gammage, another man of the district. Both offer new ways of looking at an old country, re-examining our history with curiosity rather than cringe.

We are lucky to have Namadgi to speak for country. And the country wants to talk to you. And she is.

Listen for the frog near the Ready Cut Hut’s drain, watch the kangaroo puzzling over the dewdrop from the shed roof, watch the swallows and hawks coursing across the marsh, become mesmerised by the trickling water searching for a course between the rocks, the wood ducks serene on the handrail of the bridge. And if you walk along the road searching for internet access, look away from the glow of your device for a moment, down at your feet, because here is a real feat: the tools of a people who managed this land for 120,000 years, as current research at Moyjil in Victoria indicates, an aeon without thistles, foxes, sheep or barbed wire.

Look to where the sun lets her blood seep and drench, where a woman of stone seems to recline. Is she dying or living? Is she from the ground or on the ground?

Australians, this is your Namadgi, she is a mystery, a relic, a vibrant pulse in the earth. Within the frosty dawn, jewels of frozen dew on the barbed wire might be the pearls on the breast of a most beautiful woman, the breast of your country. Your country.

This is your invitation to enter this sacred valley, allow your breath to slow, allow your mind repose, rest in the verdure of the valley and embrace these secrets. It’s your country after all. She is your responsibility.

Indigenous cultural experiences, tours and organisations

Tidbinbilla nature reserve

Forty minutes south of Canberra, Tidbinbilla is on the edge of Namadgi national park and also has important Aboriginal sites. Go for a bushwalk, spot some wildlife or enjoy a barbecue. The visitor centre has information on the area’s Indigenous culture and history.

Murumbung Yurung: Murra Cultural Tours

Explore the Gudgenby Valley in Namadgi with an Aboriginal ranger to learn more about the rock art of the area and the culture of the Ngunnawal people.

Dhawura Tours

As well as various tours around Canberra, Dhawura offers a Namadgi national park tour.

Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation

0413 908 408

Other things to see and do

In Canberra you can wander through the Australian National Botanic Gardens or go to the many cultural institutions found in the capital. In the country surrounding Canberra you can visit a solar farm at Royalla, the Christmas Barn at Bredbo (an hour south of Canberra), the famous bakery at Nimmitabel (two hours’ drive south of Canberra) and the pub at Nimmitabel (now there’s an experience). There are the snowfields in winter and the wildflowers on the same fields in summer. This is rich, rich country.

Namadgi national park visitor centre

Loving Country book cover

Just south of Tharwa, this centre has guides to Namadgi’s 160km of marked walking tracks, including the Yankee Hat Rock Art walking track, and information on the camping and hut accommodation available in the park.

Note: At the time of publication the Namadgi national park was partially closed as the result of the Ororral Valley bushfire in early 2020. Be sure to check its status before you visit.

• This is an edited extract from Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou, available now from Hardie Grant

Contributor

Bruce Pascoe

The GuardianTramp

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