Aboriginal Garden at Monash

Published 02/06/14

The Aboriginal Garden on the grounds of Monash University honours and revives the ancient reliance of humans on the indigenous plants of Australia

An IFFA excursion in March brought members close to nearly 150 plants used for food, medicine, fibre, adhesives and tools. In a morning stroll we traversed thousands of years of Aboriginal relationship to this land. Our guide, Sharee Harper, has worked at the garden for over 6 years. Sharee led us on a gentle and generous tour through the garden’s different zones with plants from the inland, wetlands, the subtropics and, of course, Melbourne.

A fallen Bunya Pine cone allowed us to handle this legendary food from the Queensland rainforests whose harvest once supported Australia’s largest ceremonial feasts. In this garden one can stroke the raspy leaves of the aptly named Sandpaper Fig from the eastern rainforests and, a few paces on, taste the salty berries of Ruby Saltbush (left) from arid regions.

Among the wealth of Traditional knowledge are peppered a few very non-traditional stories. Quandong and Mountain Pepper have become popular and trendy foodstuffs on modern cuisine. A ‘Red Centre Lime’, a hybrid between the native Finger Lime and a cultivated citrus, provides another metaphor for the blending on traditional and modern tastes.

Exploring the garden is aided by a pamphlet that you can access online1 or pick up from the foyer of the adjacent Science Centre. Plants are labelled with signs that include the English, scientific and, where known, an Aboriginal Language name. They also indicate the use to which it was put. Groups might enquire about the availability of tours such as ours, where the Aboriginal relationship to the plants comes alive. These interpretation resources are a great aid for people building their understanding of the Aboriginal relationship to this land. It is also valuable for Aboriginal people reclaiming Traditional ecological Knowledge. A large scar tree found in the Mullum Mullum Creek in 1997 was gifted to the garden by the Wurundjeri community and adds to the significance of this place.

This garden has been a project of Beth Gott, an honorary research fellow in the School of Biological Sciences, who has done so much to gather and preserve the traditional knowledge of aboriginal plant use. However, the garden is also maintained with the help of volunteers. During our tour, several worthwhile projects were highlighted that could benefit from the help of interested volunteers.

A hour or so spent in this outdoor classroom is a gently mind-expanding experience and builds respect for the ingenuity of Aboriginal cultures.

Brian Bainbridge

Online pamphlet: http://www.fsd.monash.edu.au/files/bethgottpamphlet_po.pdf