Aboriginal and European Encounter in the Canberra Region:
a question of change and the archaeological record

Table of Contents 
Chapter 1 
Chapter 2 
Chapter 3 
Chapter 4 
Chapter 5 
Appendix 1 
Appendix 2 
Appendix 3 
List of Figures 
List of Tables 

The Archaeological Record

In this chapter, the archaeology of Aboriginal sites characteristic of the contact period will be examined. The term 'contact site' is used in this discussion to describe an archaeological site representative of an Aboriginal encounter with alien materials or people.


There are few known contact sites in the Canberra Region, and the majority of these has no material composition, being recognised on the basis of oral tradition or documentary evidence (Appendix 1). In order to extend this database it was deemed necessary to archaeologically investigate the locations of Aboriginal campsites mentioned in historicalal accounts. The choice of areas that could be examined was restricted by various factors including urban and rural development, and the lack of specific references in historicalal sources to the location of Aboriginal campsites. Archaeological field surveys were conducted in three areas (the Oaks Estate, the Naas Valley and South Lanyon), at locations known to have been occupied by Aborigines at different times in the contact period; the results are included later in this chapter. Maps of the study areas and site cards from the surveys are included in Appendix 2.

Field survey of the selected locations was primarily confined to exposed surfaces where archaeological visibility was high, though random transects were also made across unexposed surfaces. In some cases, despite reasonably precise historicalal references, archaeological visibility prevented the detection of possible sites. For example, in the survey of the Oaks Estate, an Aboriginal 'fringe-camp' known to have been situated on a rise adjacent to the Molonglo River opposite the 'Oaks Homestead', was unable to be located because of dense vegetation cover and also disturbance by quarrying activity in the area.

Other problems encountered involved the actual identification of a contact site. For example, stone artefact scatters may be representative of the contact period, though without the presence of historicalal material this cannot be accurately determined. Also, as the criteria for selection of Aboriginal and European sites are similar (i.e. flat ground, close to water sources), stone artefact scatters in the vicinity of a European structure may specify use either before or during the contact period. Even with the presence of historicalal material in a stone artefact scatter, the artefacts in the site may not be contemporaneous and therefore cannot be conclusively identified as being a contact site. The problem of identification is considerable when examining archaeological sites characteristic of the late contact period, as it is assumed that the material culture being used by Aborigines and Europeans would probably have been essentially the same.

In the following examination, previously identified sites and sites located during this research have been classified on the basis of their archaeological content. Although some stone artefact scatters may be representative of the contact period, because of the problem of identification, only sites containing historicalal material will be considered. In discussion of the different sites, their possible historicalal context and date of use will be examined in determining how the archaeological record may have altered over time. Contact sites will also be compared to stone artefact scatters located in the same region, to assess whether their location, size and content, may have changed during the contact period.

Stone artefacts in association with worked glass.

Four open scatters containing stone artefacts and worked glass have been found to the north of the ACT. The location of these sites does not indicate exclusive land use in this region during the contact period and can be explained by the large amount of archaeological research undertaken in this general area compared to elsewhere in the ACT. Other sites containing possible modified historicalal artefacts have been found at Pialligo (Saunders 1994 - pers. comm.) and Jumping Creek, NSW (Kuskie 1989). However, these latter sites will not be considered, due to the lack of information pertaining to the locations and doubts as to whether or not they actually constitute contact sites.

Unfortunately, with the exception of one site located at West Belconnen (site WB-C-C1/2), the glass artefacts were either unable to be relocated or possessed no features that could be used to suggest their date of manufacture. Information concerning stone artefact scatters located in the same region as these contact sites is included in Appendix 3.

Site C3/12, Gungahlin.

Site C3/12 was recorded by Kuskie (1992: 85) during a cultural resource survey of a proposed residential development in Gungahlin. The site is located on a spur overlooking Ginninderra Creek and one of its tributaries, and consists of one glass artefact and ten stone artefacts. The glass artefact is made from the base of a dark green bottle with a thickness of 5-6 mm, with four adjacent negative pressure flake scars on one edge.

Generally the site conforms to the location, dimensions, numbers of artefacts and types of stone artefacts of other open scatters in the area. However, a difference is evident in terms of the range and types of raw materials, other than glass, represented in the contact site.

The first European settlement near site C3/12 was established by G.T Palmer in 1826 known as "Ginininginninderry" or "Palmerville". Palmer purchased 3 miles2 around his homestead at Ginninderra at some time between 1832-1833, and in 1834 purchased blocks of land on the Ginninderra Creek and the Molonglo River, extending his holdings to 11 868 acres (Farrington & Williams 1992: 6). The region in which the site is located was probably initially used by Palmer in the 1820s as a sheep-run, while land to the immediate south of the site was used for wheat cultivation (ibid.). Squatters are recorded in the general locality in the 1840s and 1850s, including John Gillespie to the north, near the modern 'Horse Park Homestead', and William Ryan, also to the north of the site, at Mulligan's Flat. Both men purchased these landholdings in the early 1850s (Kuskie 1992: 19). John Crinigan, a former assigned convict to Palmer and employee of Davis (who was the overseer at Ginninderra for Palmer in the late 1840s and the owner in 1854), purchased the land on which the site is located in 1859. However, it is likely Crinigan occupied the area and built his home known as 'Crinigan's Hut' prior to selection in the 1840s, or perhaps as early as 1835 (Kuskie 1992: 20).

Although there are several references in historicalal sources to Aborigines in the Gungahlin region during the contact period (Gillespie 1984: 34, Sydney Morning Herald 11.6.1927), it is difficult to ascertain when the site was actually used. For example, the site could have been used by Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans (as valuable items such as glass may have been traded over considerable distances), or alternatively, during white settlement of the region in the nineteenth century.

Site HP5, Gungahlin.

Site HP5 was recorded by Huys (1993) in a wetland area of Gungahlin, located on a slight rise 25m from Ginninderra Creek and in close proximity to present-day 'Horse Park Homestead'. The site comprises two glass artefacts and 14 stone artefacts. Both glass artefacts were made from green bottle glass and are described as representing a flake, measuring 15 x 20 x 2 mm, and a flaked piece, measuring 20 x 10 x 3 mm (Huys 1993: Appendix 3). Huys (1993: 65) confirmed Aboriginal use of the glass artefacts by usewear and residue analysis. Both artefacts revealed striations consistent with those known to be obtained by repeated scraping action, and tested positive for blood and starch residues.

The location, dimensions of the site, number of artefacts, types of stone artefacts and raw materials used (with the exception of glass) in the contact site conform to other open scatters in the wetland region. Whether the glass artefacts from site HP5 are connected with the glass artefact from site C3/12, as suggested by their proximity, was unable to be determined as the artefacts could not be relocated during this research.

The location of site HP5 suggests that it may be connected to 'Horse Park Homestead', built in the 1850s by John Gillespie. It is probable that John Gillespie was squatting near the location of the homestead as early as 1844, until he purchased the land in 1853 (Gillespie 1985: 4). However, although the site may be associated to the homestead, it can equally be argued that it may have been used before European settlement in the region, and therefore the date of use of the site cannot be confidently ascertained.

Site WB-C-C1/2, West Belconnen.

Site WB-C-C1/2 was found by Boot and Kuskie (1994) in a cultural resource survey of a proposed residential development area in West Belconnen. The site is located 200m south from Gooromon Ponds Creek, on a gently sloped granite ridge, consisting of one glass artefact and 26 stone artefacts (Boot & Kuskie 1994: 60-61). The glass artefact is made from a light green bottle base, which had been flaked and retouched to form a scraper, measuring 65 x 28 x 20 mm (see Figure 6).

The location, dimensions of the site, number of artefacts, types and raw materials (with the exception of glass) of artefacts in the contact site conform to stone artefact scatters located in the same region.

The history of European land use in West Belconnen is similar to that of Gungahlin, with G.T Palmer being the first settler in the region. Another major property was established by Henry Hall in 1836 who built his homestead on the southern side of Halls Creek. Hall's property 'Charnwood' is recorded as having maintained up to 4000 sheep, and also dairy herds, goats, donkeys and fox-hounds (Winch 1965: 19). The actual location of the site is included on a land grant made to Miss Francis Weller at some time in the late 1820s or early 1830s. When the land was surveyed by Robert Hoddle in 1832 no improvements had been made to the land, and although no evidence of its use in the nineteenth century is available, in the 1915 Federal Territory Feature Map, it is described as being "very old cultivation land" (Boot & Kuskie 1994: 6-9).

Fortunately, the glass artefact found at WB-C-C1/2 was recovered and possesses features that can be used to suggest its possible date of manufacture. The artefact appears to possess part of a conical push-up or rounded apex, characteristic of flint bottles made between 1830 -1860 (Boow 1991: 116).

Ginninderra Blacksmith's Shop artefact scatter, Ginninderra.

An artefact scatter consisting of glass, metal and ceramic material located adjacent to the Ginninderra Blacksmith's Shop was identified and collected by the the ACT Heritage Unit in 1994. On examination, one of the glass fragments found at the site possessed certain characteristics indicative of Aboriginal modification. Although there are many other possible modified glass artefacts, considering treadage and fracturing by other means can produce cojoins similar to human knapping, only one can be said to be of probable Aboriginal creation. The glass artefact is made from green flint glass and possesses two different angles of retouch on one edge measuring 20 x 17 x 5 mm (see Figure 7). A chert flake was also found in the artefact scatter further supporting Aboriginal use of the site.

The site is located some distance from Ginninderra Creek and its tributaries, but water may have been available intermittently in shallow watercourses which drain from Percival Hill and Harcourt Hill. The location and presence of one stone artefact conforms to other artefact scatters located in the area. Artefact scatters which occur away from the valley basal slopes and major tributaries tend to be small and more sparse (Navin & Officer 1992: 54).

The site is located in the area known as Ginninderra Village located on the Yass Road (now the Barton Highway), consisting of a blacksmith's shop and residence (built in 1859), a bootmaking and tannery business (1860's), a Roman Catholic church (1870's), a school (1873), a post and telegraph office (1882), a police station (1882), a Farmers' Union Hall and School of Arts (1906), two stores (1867 and 1912) and a showground (Saunders 1993: 7).

The site was probably used by Aborigines before the building of the blacksmith's shop in 1859. The large quantity of glass and other historicalal material at the site is probably of European origin and some bottle fragments date to the early twentieth century. Large numbers of Aborigines are recorded in the region in the early nineteenth century (Newman 1961: 26, Sydney Morning Herald 1.6.1927), and were employed by Davis at Ginninderra until the late 1860s (Shumack 1977: 150). Bobby Hamilton, a member of Hongyong's family group, who was employed by Davis, is said to have worked at the blacksmith's shop. The Queanbeyan Age (26.10.1867) also reported that Bobby Hamilton assisted the blacksmith, McAuliffe, in fighting a fire at the latter's residence, which was located near the site. Hence, although this site was probably used by Aborigines prior to the building of the blacksmith's shop, there is a possibility that the glass artefact was made at a later date.


The open scatters discussed above containing stone artefacts and worked glass were probably used prior to 1860, either before or after white settlement in the region. The modification of historical material indicates that Aborigines were manufacturing traditional tool types and perhaps using traditional resources when the sites were used. Similarities in terms of the number of artefacts, site dimensions, and the tool type and raw materials of stone artefacts between these contact sites and other open scatters in the same region, further suggest that they were used early in the contact period. The location of these sites also conforms to stone artefact scatters in the same region, though other factors, such as their proximity to European settlements, may have determined their placement.

Stone artefacts in association with unmodified historical material.

Sites OE1 and OE2, Oaks Estate.

The Oaks Estate is situated near the town of Queanbeyan, on the ACT side of the NSW - ACT state border. There are several historical accounts of Aborigines camping on the Oaks Estate during the contact period. In 1862 large numbers of Aborigines camped opposite Dr Hayley's homestead known as the 'Oaks', on the Molonglo (Gale 1927: 64) and the Queanbeyan Rivers (The Golden Age 5.4.1862). Aborigines from the South Coast, the lower Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers, Yass, the Bland Plains and Braidwood are recorded as attending the gathering, and are described as "wandering in the streets by day, drunk and quarrelsome, and assembling nightly for [a] corroboree" (ibid.). The gathering lasted 8-10 days and is reputed to have been the 'last Aboriginal corroboree' in the Canberra Region (Gale 1927: 64-65). An Aboriginal 'fringe-camp' is also reputed to have been located on land near the Oaks Estate and was used as late as 1889 (Walker 1988: 4-5).

In the survey of the Oaks Estate, two artefact scatters were located on a river terrace near the confluence of the Queanbeyan and the Molonglo Rivers, consisting of predominantly unmodified historical material. Site OE1, located approximately 200m from the Queanbeyan River contained eight artefacts including glass and ceramic fragments, bottle bases, a nail and a broken chert blade. Site OE2 was located approximately 60m from site OE1 (260m from the Queanbeyan River) and consists of twelve artefacts including broken bottle glass, several pieces of a 'willow pattern' china plate, a china cuphandle, river pebbles and a chert flake. Both sites' contents were closely clustered within an area of 1m2, suggesting that the artefacts were contemporaneous.

Bottle bases recorded at the sites possessed features from which their date of manufacture could be ascertained. A bottle base from OE1 was made with a bare iron pontil which leaves a circular depression in the centre of the push-up (see Figure 8). Such a feature is characteristic of bottles made between 1845 -1870 (Boow 1991: 35). Two bottle bases, one from OE1 and the other from OE2, have push-ups roughened by small glass chips and particles of sand characteristic of a sand pontil, common to English wine bottles manufactured between 1720 -1870 (Boow 1991: 33-34, see Figure 8). A third type of bottle base located in site OE2 has a conical push-up made with a wooden forming tool, confined to bottles manufactured between 1820-1840 and 1860-1870 (Boow 1991: 114, see Figure 9). There does not appear to be any archaeological or historical evidence suggesting European land use in the area before 1887, further supporting Aboriginal use of the sites.

Several stone artefact scatters were found during the survey of the Oaks Estate, including a large site located on a high rise adjacent to the Molonglo River (site RS1). One other stone artefact scatter was found on an exposure in a paddock in the vicinity of sites OE1 and OE2 (site OE3). The location of the contact sites conforms to stone artefact scatters recorded by English (1985: 48-58) to the immediate east of the study area. Also, chert artefacts were recorded at site RS1 and in sites located in the Molonglo Gorge and Kowen Forest region (ibid., Bulbeck & Boot 1992).


It is possible that the artefacts in sites OE1 and OE2 are unrelated, and therefore cannot be conclusively identified as representing contact sites. However, accepting that the sites are representative of Aboriginal use in the contact period, the predominance of unmodified historical material suggests that Aborigines were using essentially European material culture, though as indicated by the presence of stone tools may have also been manufacturing traditional tools and perhaps utilising traditional resources. References to historical sources concerning the use of the area as a campsite in the early 1860s indicate that Aborigines may have been using both traditional and European technology (see page 30). Dates obtained from bottles from the sites further suggest that the sites may have been used at some time around the mid-nineteenth century. The location of these sites does not differ from stone artefact scatters in the same region, suggesting that the criteria for selecting a campsite may have remained the same. However, it is possible that other factors, such as access to European resources, may have also influenced their location.

Possible Historical Sites.

Aboriginal Reserve, Naas Valley.

The Naas Valley is located in the south of the ACT bounded by the Billy Ranges to the west and the Clear Ranges to the east. There is little information concerning the Aboriginal reserve granted in the Naas Valley in 1895, situated above the present-day 'Top Naas Homestead'. The reserve encompasses 220 acres adjacent to the Naas River extending into the Billy Ranges, and was proposed for the use of "hunting and fishing" (AONSW Register of Aboriginal Reserves 2/83348). However, whether the Aboriginal reserve was actually used is unknown. The reserve was revoked in 1898 as there were apparently no Aborigines remaining in the region (ibid., Gillespie 1990: 217).

In the survey of the reserve, five historical sites and four stone artefact scatters were recorded. All historical sites were located adjacent to the Naas River including the foundations of a building, toilet pits, a pile of granodiorite blocks and an historical artefact scatter. The former site consists of a raised earth platform and is recorded as a building on a portion plan in 1900 (Plan of Portion 141, County of Cowley, Parish of Cuppacumbalong, 1900), suggesting that it may have been present when the land was an Aboriginal reserve. The other historical sites are probably associated with this building, as suggested by their close proximity, where the granodiorite blocks may have been used as hearth material. The historical artefact scatter included sheets of corrugated iron, a bed post, a treadwheel of a sewing machine, a broken bottle and a metal spoon (see Figure 10). The bottle in the site was embossed with the brand name 'Champion's Vinegar', known to have been manufactured between 1842-1860 (Boow 1991: 190), indicating that the site is probably not connected to the Aboriginal reserve.

A distinct boundary can be seen in the location of these historical sites and stone artefact scatters in the study area. All stone artefact scatters were found on the upper reaches of a sheltered creek running from the Billy Ranges to the Naas River. Bottle glass fragments were recorded in two stone artefact scatters in this region, though in both cases appear to have been of recent origin.

'Ford Paddock', South Lanyon.

The "Ford Paddock' located in South Lanyon encompasses an area of 660 acres on the Murrumbidgee River opposite Cuppacumbalong. In the early 1900s, Andy Cunningham, the owner of the Lanyon property, employed Aborigines on his station and also in a gold mine located near the 'East Gate' of his homestead known as the 'Black-White Mine' (Ray 1982: 62). Lily Brown, who grew up at Lanyon in the early twentieth century, recalled:-

"... they [Aborigines] used to camp up from us, up in the paddock above Lanyon there. I can't remember what they call the paddocks now - the Ford. They used to have a big camp up there. Old Black Dick was their leader. Old Mr Andy Cunningham was very good to them. He looked after them, and gave them a horse and buggy, and they used to drive to Queanbeyan ... there was a lot of women ... Perhaps when Jimmy came (when Andy Cunningham died in 1913) he might have cleared them out, I don't know. He was a little stricter than Andy ..." (Brown in Withycombe 1988 - oral transcript).

The Aborigines camped near Lanyon were also given ploughs by Andy Cunningham, which however were not used and were left to rust.

One historical artefact scatter was found in the survey of the 'Ford Paddock', located on a rise adjacent to the Murrumbidgee River and a tributary (see Figure 11). This site included bottles, glass fragments, a billy can, corrugated iron, tin cans, a shoe sole and a watering can spout. Bottles at the site possessed features characteristic of manufacture between 1900 to the present, and therefore cannot be definitely identified as the mentioned campsite. Attempts to locate the 'Black-White Mine' were unsuccessful, though extractive sites have been found in the Lanyon region (Winston-Gregson 1985: 7).

Although no stone artefact scatters were located during the survey, five isolated finds were recorded. Similarly, five isolated finds were recorded in the area during the Murrumbidgee River Corridor Archaeological Survey (Barz & Winston-Gregson 1982: Map Sheet 4 of 8). The location of the historical site is similar to stone artefact scatters located on the Murrumbidgee River (i.e. on a rise adjacent to the river and associated tributaries), though the criteria for location also appear to be common to European sites.


It is possible that some of the historical sites recorded in the Naas Valley and the site found at South Lanyon were used by Aborigines, but as it is assumed that the material culture used by Aborigines and Europeans would probably have been the same by the end of the nineteenth or by the early twentieth century, this cannot be determined.


From the evidence examined, three different types of archaeological sites have been identified which may be representative of Aboriginal use during the contact period. Firstly, sites containing stone artefacts and worked glass appear to have been used either before or during early white settlement in the Canberra Region, where Aborigines were using traditional technology and resources. The second site type, consisting of stone artefacts and unmodified historical material, may have been used around the mid-nineteenth century, and suggest that Aborigines may have been using both European and traditional material culture, and perhaps traditional resources. Finally, sites containing historical artefacts may be characteristic of the late contact period, when Aborigines were probably using essentially European materials and resources.

The archaeological record may indicate the different ways in which Aborigines adopted foreign materials in the contact period, and perhaps document the gradual transition from a hunter-gatherer to European economy. However, due to the limited number of contact sites able to be located and the problematic nature of the evidence, the sequence of events is difficult to establish with any degree of confidence.