The area on, and surrounding, the Acton campus was once of major importance to the local aboriginal people, both economically and ceremonially. Historical and archaeological evidence has shown extensive use of this area. Nonetheless, heavy development on ANU property since its inception in 1946 has likely removed most traces of aboriginal sites or artefacts on the property itself. The likelihood of any intact sites being found on the Acton campus is low, however isolated artefacts may be found on the property.
Linguistic evidence collected by anthropologists such as Curr, Howitt and Mathews, Tindale (1974) has placed the Canberra/Queanbeyan area within Ngunnawal land, extending from Queanbeyan to Goulburn, west to Tumut and Gundagai. Tindale indicates that the southern Canberra region was situated close to the boundaries of the Ngunnawal and Walgalu people. It is likely that boundaries, estates and ranges were fluid and varied over time, and as a consequence, the patterns recorded in the recent past may only represent the situation at the time of European contact.
Historical evidence indicates that the Molonglo River Flats, Black Mountain and its spur, now known as the Acton Peninsula, were areas that are believed to have been favoured as meeting places by the Aboriginal people of the region (Gillespie 1979; Bluett 1954; Sydney Morning Herald 21st May 1927). The Canberra region was occupied by three groups: the Ngarigo; the Walgalu; and the Ngunnawal. The Ngunnawal people are thought to have occupied the environs of Black Mountain, and the ANU site.
The timbered areas would have provided ample stocks of possum, kangaroo and wallaby whilst the Molonglo River was rich in Murray Cod. Proximity to water and protection from the prevailing winds would also have made the area at the base of Black Mountain (Black Mountain Peninsula) attractive for Aboriginal occupation. Material culture remains for the region include srone artefacts, spears and possum and kangaroo skin cloaks. The arrival of European settlers markedly decreased the local Aboriginal populations with Schumack and Schumack (1967) noting that the number of Ngunnawal people in the area in the 1860s was around seventy; this had dropped to only five or six in 1872.
Surveys undertaken in the Acton area from 1929 and throughout the 1930s located upwards of 50 artefacts in an the area bounded by the now National Film and Sound Archive, Sullivans Creek and the Old Community Hospital including a large grinding stone and two pounding stones.
Ceremonial meeting places for Aboriginal people have been located to the north and west of the Acton Campus, with a further Corroboree site situated at the now entrance to the Chifley Library near Union Court. Large numbers of artefacts have been associated with these sites strengthening the importance of the Acton area to the local Indigenous communities.