First Aboriginal Resource Garden on campus

9 August 2018

Our ancestors perfected the knowledge and adaptable use of these plants and this knowledge is still passed down and used by our families today.

What was once an underutilised area in front of the RN Robertson building, recently became the very first Aboriginal Resource Garden on the Acton campus.

The Garden was officially opened in late July after the refurbishment of the RN Robertson building as an opportunity to celebrate the native plants that were used in this area for thousands of years by the Ngunnawal, Ngunawal and Ngambri people.

Supported by the teams from the Facilities and Services Division (Heritage, Gardens & Grounds, and Projects team), these three 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.

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 here. 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 resin from the leaf bases can be used as glue in weapons and tools such as stone axes and this resin could also be used as a topical medicine for skin issues. Finally the dried stems of the flowers are used to start fires.

"Our ancestors perfected the knowledge and adaptable use of these plants and this knowledge is still passed down and used by our families today. The cultural landscape of this area is used to teach younger generations about caring for country – a place for learning and growth," emphasised Rob Williams, Ngunnawal/Ngambri representative who was involved in the project from the beginning.

Thus the RN Robertson building, which now hosts both the ANU Research School of Biology and the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, comes as a natural choice to create a cultural garden right where academic research in biology, plant sciences, ecology, food in the environment, agriculture, sustainability, people and the environment, biodiversity and many other fields take place.

One of the highlights of the garden is a handcrafted carved bench seat in a shape of boomerang made by Ngunnawal man Adrian Brown.

"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," explained Brown.

In the warmer months that are on our way, take a short stroll down to the RN Robertson Building to check out this hidden gem of our campus. You can also learn more about the cultural significance of the campus by downloading the ANU Walks app, and following the ANU Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Heritage Trail.