What I learnt on an Aboriginal cultural tour

and it’s also antibacterial.” Cauliflower plant ‘a bush band-aid’ We came across a white flowering plant found all around Canberra.”We would use cauliflower plant in smoking ceremonies; you put that on the fire to get rid of bad spirits,” he said. I’ve walked Canberra’s Mount Majura dozens of times; I’ve admired the tall gums, heard the crunching of rocks underfoot and soaked up the beautiful views from the top.I took in the natural beauty of the place, but I never realised the history stretching back tens of thousands of years that was right under my nose.It wasn’t until I joined a cultural tour of the nature reserve with Ngunnawal elder and traditional custodian Tyronne Bell that I was able to see the landscape through different eyes.”This area is a recorded Aboriginal site,” Mr Bell explained as he pointed out a flat open space near a dry creek at the base of the mountain.”My ancestors have been here 60,000 years plus, so there would have been water flowing down there.”This area is nice and flat and you could see people coming; those days were really fierce and you had to see who was coming, as we had a lot of warfare against other clans.”

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Tyronne Bell points out an Aboriginal scar tree. “We never had shops, we couldn’t just go down to the corner store or the mall to buy everything, we had to make everything to survive.” Scar trees pointing the way Up ahead was a tall gum tree with a white trunk and markings up high.”You have a lot of different Aboriginal scars around Canberra,” Mr Bell said.”This one here is pointing down to that big [flat] site at the start. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
“Some of the elders said it was good for your skin, for ageing … Termite mounds over a metre high were used as Aboriginal burial sites. “If you’re out on country and you cut yourself and you don’t have a band-aid, you use it.”You roll it all up and it becomes all sticky and that and you put it on the wound; it’s a bush band-aid.”

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Sunita White smells a piece of cauliflower bush during the tour. He pulled off a piece of the grass, put it to his lips and made a high-pitched sound. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
Basket weaving and snake whistles Closer to the ground, we inspected a bunch of dianella grass.”Some people may already have it in their gardens; you can use it for basket weaving,” Mr Bell said. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
‘Old man beard’ headache remedyA vine climbing along a tree branch had created a mass that looked like a wispy white beard.”Old man beard, these leaves here you squash them up, put them in water, boil it, smell it, it’s good for migraine headaches,” Mr Bell said. “Soap bush — we would use this when you’re out on country and you want to spruce up for the other half,” he said with a chuckle. “Back in the day a lot of trees were used as marker trees, just like traffic lights and signage that say you have to go this way.”Keeping clean in the bushMr Bell pulled some leaves off a low bush, poured some water on them and started rubbing them between his hands.To everyone’s surprise, it started to lather up like soap. Photo:
Canberra man Thomas Townson inspects an ‘old man beard’ vine as part of the tour of Mount Majura. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
Termite mounds and burial sites A bit further along the track we found a termite mound, and while it was only a small one, we soon discovered what the big towers of earth were once used for.”Around our country the rock is really, really hard and the ground is hard,” Mr Bell said.”So back in the day our ancestors would cut the lid off, dig down and put the Aboriginal body inside and fold them up.”Then we’d put dirt back over and then put the rocks over so the wildlife wouldn’t come and pull the body out.”

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A small termite mound on Mount Majura. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
He picked up a round rock: “This one here is a hammer stone.”It turned out many of the small rocks and stones we were walking over were actually artefacts.”A lot of them are considered by archaeologists as rubbish or no good, but sometimes, depending on where you were, you had to use what was available to you,” Mr Bell explained. Photo:
Tyronne Bell lathers up some ‘soap bush’.
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Ngunnawal elder Tyronne Bell blowing a snake whistle

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(ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers) ABC Radio Canberra

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Penny Travers

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April 01, 2017 09:00:00

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Ngunnawal elder Tyronne Bell holds up one of the many stone artefacts that can be found on Mount Majura.
“It was also used as a whistle to bring snakes in. “But if you get lost and they’re out in season and you get lost, you can have a good munch.”The sap was used to treat snake bite — I haven’t tried it on anyone yet!”

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Gaye Paterson from Melbourne takes a photo of a small kurrajong tree. (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)
Embracing Ngunnawal cultureMr Bell set up Dharwra Aboriginal Cultural Tours six months ago to offer a variety of guided tours around the national capital.”It’s about people looking outside their door or their window and experiencing and embracing local Aboriginal Ngunnawal culture,” he said.”It’s about educating the wider community, but also we come across Aboriginal people that have been disconnected from their culture and we also help them out too.”

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A highlight was admiring the view while listening to 18-year-old Jayden Goodrem play the didgeridoo. the seeds in there, you can actually cook them up and have it as traditional popcorn,” he said.Next was a native cherry.”You eat the red, yellow part but not the other bit because the other bit will make you sick,” he said. “I’ve actually tried it on a snake and it actually does come in because it sounds like an injured bird that’s fallen out of the nest because it’s at that vibration.”Bush tucker “For Aboriginal people, back in the day, everything out here was our supermarket to use, it was all about protein and surviving,” Mr Bell said.He pointed out a kurrajong tree.”The little shell that they have looks like a bird … (ABC Radio Canberra: Penny Travers)