Wurundjeri elder Kellie Hunter performed a smoke ceremony to the Whittlesea Primary School, officially opening its new Indigenous garden and learning space. Ms Hunter joined Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green and school representatives at the official opening.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Whittlesea Primary School hopes a revitalised Indigenous garden will give students a space to not only learn about Aboriginal culture but also a quiet place to reflect.

All 406 of the school’s students squished knee-to-knee in the playground for a smoke ceremony on Wednesday, officially opening its redesigned and expanded Indigenous garden and learning space. 

The garden features all Indigenous flora and bush tucker, with comprehensive signage to educate the students about what is native to the Whittlesea area, and First Nations agriculture practices. 

The garden is set under a backdrop of Aboriginal visual art, with a vine-draped altar entrance displaying the word wominjeka, meaning welcome in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people, whose land the school sits on. 

The garden was originally established in 2015, but for the past year the school’s environmental subcommittee, including parents who donated their time and skills, redesigned and revamped the space.

“We thought about it being a space to learn about the native plants, but also to create little walkways,” subcommittee member Annette Carle said.

“There’s a place at the back where they can go and sit quietly and get away from their friends and the noise of the playground.”

The school received three grants to complete the garden.

The bulk of the works and materials were covered by a $4245 Landcare Grant from Department of Environment, Land and Water

Protection, while the planter boxes and the signage were paid for by a $950 Woolworths Junior Landcare Grant and $700 from the City of Whittlesea’s Sustainability Outreach Whittlesea program.

All the plants came from Edendale Community Farm in Eltham, which delivered and helped plot the garden for free.

The garden will be maintained by students and the school’s garden club, made up of six parent volunteers.

“The kids get really excited knowing that their parents are coming into the school, and [it] gives everybody a sense of pride with the school,” Ms Carle said.

At the opening, principal Ty Hoggins welcomed Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green and Wurundjeri elder Kellie Hunter, who performed a smoke ceremony. 

A smoke ceremony is a traditional practice of welcome in many Aboriginal cultures. Wurundjeri people burn gum leaves and the smoke, which should wash over a person’s head and body, cleanses bad spirits when they enter a new place.

“When my ancestors lived on country, you wouldn’t go into someone else’s land without having a smoking ceremony,” Ms Hunter explained to the students.

“The gum leaves take away any negative or bad feelings that you have, so when you come onto my land, you come in feeling healthy and positive. And then when you go home you do it again so you don’t take any of our negativity with you.”

Whittlesea Primary School’s new Indigenous garden and learning space features bush tucker, including ruby saltbush, chocolate lilies, midyim berry, pig face and more.

Ms Hunter said the space was unique in that few schools had bush tucker on site.

Ms Green said the garden was ‘amazing’ in its potential to educate students.

“When I was at school, we didn’t learn these beautiful stories and I feel a sense of loss for that,” she said.

Ms Carle said education on native flora and fauna went hand-in-hand with sustainability, and was a point of focus for the committee and the school.

“We’re obviously going to keep pursuing down this line to make the school more aware about sustainability, whether that be through educational aspects or through planting, looking after the gardens and caring for the plants,” she said.


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