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UC launches education space with native plants used by the Ngunnawal peoples

Suzanne Lazaroo and Kimberly Kang

17 April 2019: Launched today at the University of Canberra, the Ngunnawal Plant Use Education Space is planted with varieties of vegetation significant to the Ngunnawal peoples, the Traditional Owners of the land on which the University’s Bruce campus stands.

The garden was launched by Professor Deep Saini, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra and Elder in Residence Aunty Roslyn Brown. Aunty Agnes Shea, the oldest living Ngunnawal Elder in Canberra, delivered a Welcome to Country for all in attendance.

At the launch, the space was gifted with its Ngunnawal name, Ngaladjima, by the United Ngunnawal Elders Council. Pronounced “narlad-jeema”, Ngaladjima is a Ngunnawal word for plants of different sizes, including trees.

Planted with 24 different plants, Ngaladjima will help the University to strengthen its inclusive learning community in which equity is deeply embedded, and diversity is a major strength.

Ngaladjima - The Ngunnawal Plant Use Education Space

"The Ngunnawal Plant Education Space recognises the cultural history of this land and values the ongoing rich cultural legacy of the Ngunnawal people," said Professor Peter Radoll, Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Strategy.

Environmental organisation Greening Australia cultivated and developed the space in December 2018.

The native Ngunnawal plants chosen have various uses. These include Kangaroo Grass, which can be used for weaving baskets and fishing nets; Kurrajong, which has edible seeds, sap and shoots; and Narrow Leaf Hop Bush, which has leaves that relieve toothache.

Other plants can be used to build fires or for ceremonial purposes, to make dyes and paints, and for a myriad other purposes.

The plants were all selected from Ngunnawal Plant Use, a guide to the use of traditional Aboriginal plants in the ACT region, published by the ACT government.

The plants in Ngaladjima are traditional to the Ngunnawal region. Each plant is accompanied by a sign detailing the plant and its uses.

The Ngunnawal Plant Use Education Space was created to provide a culturally safe environment for students, staff and communities, and in recognition of the First People, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Professor Saini feels that the space will be hugely beneficial to the University.

“It provides a genuine opportunity for all students and staff to bridge the cultural gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians,” he said.

“Such cultural exchange increases understanding and respect, and will help facilitate respectful relationships between and among the communities. This creates a culturally safe environment for a UC community moving ever closer towards reconciliation.”

“The Ngunnawal Plant Use Education Space is a living example of Aboriginal culture and its permanent place in our lives here in Australia, and a celebration of our relationship with Ngunnawal land,” Professor Saini added.

Professor Saini and Aunty Ros planted a tea tree at the launch.Professor Deep Saini and Aunty Roslyn Brown planted a tea tree

“Tea trees are significant to Aboriginal peoples all across Australia,” said Professor Radoll.

“This tree symbolises our ongoing commitment to build and strengthen the connections and relationship between the University and the Aboriginal community.”

“It will shade us from the ignorance of people who don’t understand what we are doing here, and also symbolises the growing branches of knowledge as we learn – fitting for an institution of higher learning,” he added.

According to Ngunnawal Plant Use, culture is a living thing.

Ngaladjima, where people can experience Aboriginal culture through the plants that are representative of Ngunnawal peoples, provides a great means of sparking and nurturing that living cultural connection.