ANU Heritage worked closely with representatives of the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri people to build an Aboriginal Resource Garden outside the refurbished RN Robertson Building. The Aboriginal groups guided the design of the garden through the choice of plantings, cultural features, artwork and text that was created specifically for the interpretative sign.
Ngunnawal/Ngambri representative Rob Williams wrote the welcome text on the Garden’s main sign:
“Aboriginal people have been using the natural resources for survival. As pioneers of sustainable land management and the very first scientists and biologists, the people of this area never take more than needed and adapt to local conditions and seasonality. The cultural landscape of this area is used to teach younger generations about caring for country – a place for learning and growth.”
The 11 plantings in the garden are native species used for food, medicine, tools, weapons, rope/string weaving, fire-starting, or ceremonial purposes. The Xanthorrhoea glauca (Southern Grass tree) is the primary feature of the garden with five trees planted. This species was used by Aboriginal people for many purposes. The flower spike can be soaked in water to make a sweet drink; the leaf bases and flower stems can be eaten; the dried stems of the flowers can be used to start fires; the resin from the leaf bases can be used as glue in stone axes and this resin could also be used as a topical medicine for skin issues.
Printed on the garden’s interpretive sign is a painting by Ngunawal woman Karen Denny, Scar and Ring Tree, depicting a scarred tree with a unique feature – a ring in the upper branches. The practice of creating ring trees is achieved by manipulating and binding branches together. Scars and rings demonstrate that Aboriginal people have used the tree to create resources or act as a cultural marker.
Another highlight of the garden is a handcrafted carved bench seat in a shape of boomerang made by the Ngunnawal man Adrian Brown, who explains:
“The carvings on the seat reflect the natural and cultural features of the area including Black Mountain, Sullivans Creek and nearby ceremonial sites with which Aboriginal people have a long history and continuing connection”.
The Aboriginal Resource Garden is located at the front entrance of the RN Robertson Building, on Biology Place, ANU Acton campus.