Aboriginal garden grows community, spirituality and learning

St Therese students Gregory Rice and Courtney Brown enjoy their aboriginal garden with teacher Rosemary Mammone-Sacca and principal Michelle McKinnon. Photo: Kitty Beale

An aboriginal garden at St Therese Catholic Primary School Sadlier-Miller is providing many opportunities to inspire the spirits and minds of its students.

The garden was a collaborative effort, created ahead of the schools 2017 NAIDOC Week celebrations with the help of a Liverpool Council sustainability grant and labor and advice from the Australian Botanical Gardens community greening project.

Parents, students, teachers and Aboriginal elders had an active voice in the garden’s design and placement. Every student, including the school’s 33 aboriginal students, contributed a map or drawing of what the garden should look like. Themes and features common to the drawing became part of the garden.

The garden features a yarning circle near an established tree and a mural painted by aboriginal artist and past student Allan Fitzgibbon and his mother Margaret Brown. Students each painted a rock to border the garden with aboriginal gratitude symbols during a workshop with an indigenous artist.

The garden has created a sense of belonging and community in our school.

– Rosemary Mammone-Sacca

St Therese’s aboriginal education officer Rosemary Mammone-Sacca said the garden was a tranquil space used to teach students about aboriginal culture, and for science, reading and other activities.

“Everyone had an active voice in expressing their vision for the garden,” she said. “Parents voted the garden be placed in a tranquil place that students could visit with their teachers as a sacred place that embraced learning in an outdoor setting and embraced the aboriginal culture.”

The garden is planted with finger lime trees, cinnamon myrtle, grevillea, kangaroo paw and lily pillies. Gymea lilies are also a feature of the garden. The plants are labelled with their common and scientific name, and students research the uses of each plant in science lessons. There are plans to use the fruits of the trees in cooking classes and to draw on the knowledge of aboriginal elders so students learn which are edible and which are used for medicinal purposes.

A yarning circle encourages respectful conversation and a deeper understanding of aboriginal culture.

“A lot of teachers do their religious education lessons there, and have found that going to a space that is very different from a classroom setting has made the students very enthusiastic about reading,” Mrs Mammone-Saca said.

“In a yarning circle everyone is heard and it’s disrespectful to have your back facing another person.”

Ms Mammone-Sacca said the best part of the project was seeing the students come together and their enthusiasm and respect for the space.

“It has created a sense of belonging and community in our school, not only for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students but for our whole school,” she said.

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