From horse paddock to a garden for mates

An overgrown paddock that was once home to the local police station’s horse has been transformed into Bermagui Preschool Moodji Cultural Garden through the hard work of the preschool and its surrounding community, IEU Journalist Sue Osborne writes.

“It’s been the most amazing project. It started as this tiny little idea after a conversation with one of our neighbours. We had both just read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe,” Early Childhood Teacher/Director Narelle Myers said.

Dark Emu outlines the rich agricultural and aquacultural practices of First Nations people before white settlement.

“We thought wouldn’t it be great to create this garden where we could teach agricultural farming practices that have been here for millennia and have the children growing up knowing such a deep and rich part of our culture. It’s just grown and expanded, and we now have this amazing garden.”

The garden includes an agricultural space where children can grow crops traditionally farmed in the region including yams, oat grass, native grains, native rice and bush tucker. Moodji means ‘mate’ and the garden is all about making connections.

The space includes examples of irrigation systems and game farming with opportunities to make and use traditional baskets and bags for gathering bush tucker, use traditional tools to harvest crops and bake bread using traditional grains.

Narelle said the children have been exploring traditional fire practices, which has been particularly significant after the devastating bushfires at the start of the year.

“This has been a great way for our children to process their emotions, thoughts and feelings, especially with the bushfires affecting so many of our children and families,” she said.

“We have been able to talk to the children about fire safety, how to cook with fire and about Indigenous fire management for our country. We are also looking forward to celebrating around our Moodji fire circle again next year.”

Traditional housing, paths, meeting places, fire spaces, storage structures, shade shelters and totems will be installed, creating places where children can play and learn.

In consultation with Yuin elders, a focus on teaching Yuin language, law, trade systems, ceremonies and traditions will be encouraged.

“It keeps evolving and going off track a little bit, but in really good directions,” Narelle said.

“We work with a lot of volunteers from the broader community. High school students are now partnering with us as well. Once a month we have a community workshop. It’s a preschool project but educating the broader community as well.

“Banana plants are growing, there are butterflies flying everywhere, and goannas in the middle of town. It was one of our aims to repatriate the area with native flora and fauna.”

Beehives have recently been introduced into the garden following research on the safety issues. Narelle said the learning potential for the children about ecosystems outweighs any risks.

She advises any preschool or long day care centre wishing to emulate Bermagui Preschool not to be dissuaded by a lack of space.

“The children have learned how to make wicking beds in a used coffee bag from our local café.”

She also advises people not to be nervous about making connections with their local First Nations community.

“Just pick up the phone, go and have a cup of tea or yarn and make those connections because there’s so much to learn from our local Aboriginal people.

“The garden will provide opportunities for children to play outdoors every day. We believe in the rights of children to be able to feel the land beneath their feet, the sun on their face, experience the natural rhythms of the seasons and breathe fresh air.

“The children are learning lifelong attitudes and knowledge about nature and our natural environments. It is our hope that these attitudes will lead to a deeper respect for our planet and lead to better outcomes for our future.’’