From the Garden: Food, Medicine and Stories

Australian Aboriginal peoples have been observing seasonal change, environmental interaction, patterns of weather and climate, and changes in the night sky for tens of thousands of years. Indigenous science is grounded in empirical observation and a deep understanding of connectivity and complex ecological interdependencies. From the Garden: Food, Medicine and Stories is a new science engagement project in Armidale that celebrates this unique and sophisticated knowledge. This project is funded by Inspiring Australia as part of National Science Week, 2015.

Indigenous Australians marked the seasons by observing environmental interactions. Certain plants acted as ‘bush calendars’, alongside keenly observed animal behaviours which occur only at certain times of the year. In the Yarralin area of the Northern Territory, for example, if flying foxes are moving from the inland bush to the rivers and nesting in the pandanus palm trees the onset of rains is imminent.

In the Sydney area, koala fighting signals that the weather will soon be extremely hot: ‘the bigger the fights, the bigger the noise, the hotter the weather.’ Aboriginal seasonality also includes observation of celestial movements which are associated with the ripening of particular fruits or the visitation of certain animals.

As part of National Science Week, the North West Regional Science Hub in partnership with University of New England and East Armidale Community Garden, will be launching From the Garden: Food, Medicine and Stories toIMG_3234 promote the sophisticated scientific intelligence embedded in Aboriginal cultures and lore.

Sharing the growing recognition of Indigenous science with the Australian community is a way of invigorating passion for science, while celebrating diverse knowledge domains. Our hands-on approach to science communication involves working together with local Elders and community leaders, UNE academics, primary, high school and university students, as well as artists and horticulturalists, to develop a bush food and medicine plant trail in the garden. This living trail will explore links between Aboriginal Australian science and Western science, while promoting environmental sustainability and connection to Country.

Plants, insects, animals, and other nonhuman elements like weather and rain, are all collaborators in this innovative community-oriented and community-directed science project.




Students from Armidale High School’s Clontarf Academy at the community garden, with coordinator, Bruce Dennison

As part of this exciting project, an Indigenous Science Workshop Series will run throughout National Science Week at the East Armidale Community Garden. Targeting local primary and high school groups, as well as the wider community, these hands on workshops are designed to celebrate diverse knowledge domains through a culturally inclusive engagement with science and the environment.

We are working together to inspire young people to consider pursuing studies in science and to facilitate aspiration-building networks between school students, teachers and educators, university students, and academics.

Tuesday August 18th

9am – 3.30pm Gabi Briggs: Weaving lomandra – native grasses and cultural practice

Attendees: Indigenous students from Armidale High School and O’Connor Catholic School

Tuesday August 18th 9am – 3.30pm

Workshop attendees will learn of the importance of weaving today as an Aboriginal woman whilst also honouring our ancestors who wove before us. Attendees will learn how to weave a basket from lomandra.

The fire pit will be running all day, with a hot lunch cooked on the coals provided to participants for a gold coin donation to the garden.

Wednesday August 19th

12.30 – 1.30 Thalgarrah Environmental Education Centre: Science and Art in the nectary – where flowers, bugs and birds meet

Attendees: Year 5 and 6 students from Minimbah Aboriginal Primary School

Some flowers hold special morning tea parties to attract visiting birds and bugs. The visitors can’t wait to go along and taste the yummy treats on offer. Sometimes there are uninvited guests…

Students will use microscopes to view native flowers, produce botanical art, and learn about the ecological mutualisms between birds, insects and these beautiful plants.

12.30 – 1.30 Professor Jeremy Bruhl (UNE): Friend or foe? Getting started with plant collecting and identification.

Attendees: High School boys from Armidale High’s Clontarf Academy

We will go through the basics of collecting good plant specimens to make identification easier. What to collect? How to collect it? What to do next!

1.30 – 2.30 Students will harvest the VERY FIRST vegetables planted in the garden to make salads. A sausage sizzle cooked on the open fire pit will also be served. 

2.30 – 3.30 Dr R D B (Wal) Whalley (UNE): Grasses, native Australian and introduced – our lives depend on them!

Attendees: High School boys from Armidale High’s Clontarf Academy

A hands on workshop showing participants how to identify grasses, and explaining the ecological importance of native and introduced grasses.

4 – 5pm Callum Clayton-Dixon:  Uytikana Nyaywan (Speaking Anaiwan)10988087_10205906728654791_2109156322792667489_n

Attendees: High School boys from Armidale High’s Clontarf Academy

Rūnyara! A group of Anaiwan people formed a language revival program in early 2015. In this workshop, we hope to share some of what we’ve been working on over the past six months. Some say our language was dead. We say it was just asleep, waiting to be awoken.

The inpa (fire) pit will be going along with some pāta (food) provided for participants for a gold coin donation to the garden.

Friday August 21st

9.30am – 12.30pm Frances Bodkin: Science, Seasons and Stories: A workshop on Indigenous Knowledges

Attendees: Primary school students and high school students from a range of local schools.
Frances Bodkin

Having Aboriginal knowledge recognised as a science… is one of the most passionate ambitions that I have”

– Frances Bodkin


Frances Bodkin is a D’harawal woman of the Bitten Water Clans, well known for her dedication to, and knowledge of, the environment and Aboriginal culture and science. Her mother was a storyteller, and her grandmother and great grandmother were medicine women. Fran is now an Elder, knowledge-holder and Indigenous educator, with degrees in climatology, geomorphology and environmental science. Fran is also a recognised botanist and the author of ‘Encyclopaedia Botanica’, which has over 11, 000 entries on Australian native plants, and ‘D’harawal: Seasons and Climatic Cycles’, a beautifully illustrated childrens book that explores ecological indicators of climatic changes.

Fran will present a workshop on Indigenous science, with a focus on climatic cycles, seasonal knowledge, flora and fauna, and environmental processes, combining engaging stories with scientific knowledge and wisdom.



1.30 – 2.30 Dr Tommy Leung (UNE): Echidna Tales – The Science of a Uniquely Australian Animal

Attendees: Kindergarten – Year 4 students from Minimbah Aboriginal Primary School

A hands-on workshop about the echidna. As part of national science week, primary school students from Minimbah school and high school students IMG_0774from Armidale High are working together with landscape designers to create a large sculpture of an echidna at the garden site. The echidna’s spikes will be made of lomandra grasses!

Parasite ecologist from the University of New England, Dr Tommy Leung will present a workshop on the echidna using the sculpted echidna created at the garden site to explore interesting biological and evolutionary facts about this native animal – totem of the Anaiwan people.
All workshops will be held at the garden site – 201 Canambe Street Armidale, next to Doody Park Oval, with parking via Mann Street

Garden beds colourful


Science, Seasons and Stories: A Public Conversation with Frances Bodkin at the University of New England

Final F Bodkin Poster

Art exhibition and Indigenous Science Celebration

Later in the year (November), the North West Regional Science Hub will collaborate with local artists to host an exhibition in the garden celebrating Indigenous science and community.

Emu in the Sky - artist Kyle Pickett

Emu in the Sky – artist Kyle Pickett

From the Garden: Food, Medicine and Stories will utilise garden structures and living plants to create an interactive artwork celebrating Indigenous science. A geodesic dome, constructed by local Indigenous school students as a shade house, will become a planetarium for large-scale three dimensional projections of the starry night sky. This will be accompanied by a presentation on Aboriginal Astronomy by Murawari man and visiting Astronomy researcher and guide from the Sydney Observatory and the University of New South Wales, Willy Stevens. The garden space will also be used to showcase student research posters exploring Indigenous science and cultural practices.

Community will gather around the fire pit to share story, eat bush foods grown in the garden, listen to music and traditional dance, and celebrate the sophisticated knowledge of connectivity embedded in Indigenous cultures.



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