The Ngambri and other Aboriginal communities in surrounding regions were herded like cattle on to missions and reserves in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In the 1930s, most Ngambri descendants were at Hollywood Aboriginal Reserve at Yass in the country of our former enemies.
By then, our elders were not allowed to speak in language. Some of our children were designated ‘white’ and sent off to ‘white’ foster families or children’s homes. It was a terrible time. We younger generations were losing our ancestral culture, language and identity.
Great Uncle Roddy died in 1951. After Grandfather Lightning died in 1959, his three eldest grandchildren, Matilda, Harold ‘Crow’ and Arnold Williams, returned to their grandfather’s ancestral country in the Canberra region.
Contemporary Commonwealth Government statistics confirm their statement that at that time there were few Aboriginal residents in the ACT and that most of these were at Wreck Bay.
Back then, the Williams family was still identifying as Ngunnawal, the linguistic name of the original Wallabalooa and Burrooa groups from Yass and Boorowa respectively. Grandfather Lightning had rights to this country too, through his mother. His three eldest grandchildren established the Ngunnawal Local Aboriginal Land Council in Queanbeyan in 1984.
Meanwhile, Yass-based non-Ngambri family members identified mainly as Wiradjuri and established the Onerwal Land Council in Yass.
By 1996, we had recovered our Ngambri ancestral identity and began to identify as such, although like everyone else we have multiple identities, which we also acknowledge.
Our Ngambri identity, however, is paramount.
Arnold Williams (left), Matilda Williams House (centre), Harold ‘Crow’ Williams (right), with Joe, Charlie, baby Leah
and Michelle House, take their challenge for rights to their ancestral country to the High Court of Australia, 1993.
Photo reproduced courtesy of The Canberra Times.