Landscape Architecture students from the UNSW School of Built Environment were privileged to spend ten weeks on Ngemba-Baakindji Country in the New South Wales town of Bourke as part of a community-led Professional Placement in late 2022. The project explored ways to improve nutritional, educational and socialoutcomes for Aboriginal people in Bourke through the Bourke community garden.

Supported by the UNSW Global Water Institute, the Professional Placement enabled students Minglu (Alva) Yin and Mollie Shimeld to collaborate closely with an interdisciplinary supervisory team including Charlene Noye from the Bourke Aboriginal Community Health Service (BACHS) and the Northwest Academic Centre, Uncle Gavin Gibbs, from the Regional Enterprise Development Institute Ltd (REDI.E), the Sydney Botanic Gardens Community Greening team. From the UNSW end, the placement was co-led by lecturer Eva Lloyd and adjunct lecturer Samantha Rich—a graduate of the Master of Architecture program at UNSW and a Wiradjuri woman dedicated to embedding First Nations worldviews into the design of the built environment.

Alva and Mollie’s time on placement involved them immersing in Country and community; listening to thoughts and feelings towards the garden and what it could become. The students also undertook field analysis on soil studies and water usage, fruit and vegetable yield and pests, and the potential to grow native species such as Quandong and Bush Tomato both within and surrounding the town. Lead by visions from the community, the students gathered evidence to propose a drought-resilient garden ‘master plan’ for feedback from community partners and ongoing development

Uncle Gavin Gibbs commented on the significance of the community-led approach, saying, “This project started from the idea of people working together sharing ideas and building something for the benefit of the community. I believe we can guide the situation and harness ideas… We both [REDI.E and BACHS] know what we need.”

Daily garden work formed a large part of the placement; the students collaborating closely with the REDI.E team on site and members of the community to set up a suite of wicking beds raised on an ergonomic stand (designed and built by local workers), establish 14 new beds of seedlings, install plant signage, set up a composting system and test permaculture methods for pest and disease control.

Alva said that the placement gave them valuable experiences and learnings that they will carry forward into their future work.

“This placement means much more for me than just another course,” said Alva.

“I was welcomed into the community and was inspired by their inclusiveness, strength, and so much positivity. I learnt to listen to understand, accept my limitations, and feel a grounded connection to Country. This experience will always guide my future work designing for Country.”

Mollie commented on how rewarding the placement was, saying, “It was an invaluable experience, to work on a community-driven project on Ngemba-Baakindji Country, and be a part of the development of this beautiful and functional space that’s going to continue to provide fresh, nutritional food, employment, education and be a welcoming community place.”

The Bourke Community Garden project has been informed by the successful methods and community-led approach to rejuvenating the  Euragai Goondi Garden by the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service, Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) and the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership between the DEG and UNSW. 

Eva Lloyd applauded the example set by the Euragai Garden project, saying, “The Euragai Goondi Garden sets a valuable precedent for the use of wicking beds to assist in drought-proofing community gardens in semi-arid environments such as Bourke. The Bourke project team appreciates the opportunity to learn from and build upon this work.”

Located at 23 Anson Street, the Bourke community garden is now open for locals to enjoy. In an article published by the Western Herald, Uncle Gavin Gibbs emphasised the community spirit, saying, “The main word is community. It’s open to everybody at structured times and when we harvest we get this beautiful produce for our community.”

In November 2022, a series of community workshops facilitated by the Sydney Botanic Gardens Community Greening team and supported by the UNSW students helped to complement the reopening of the community garden. Open to all Bourke community members, the workshops covered topics including visioning and planning, improving soil quality, and DIY wicking bed construction.

The Professional Placement project is continuing in 2023 in partnership with the Bourke community garden team.  

Eva Lloyd says that she hopes the success of the project has the potential to shape and inspire future partnerships at the university.

“Partnering through education on First Nations, community-led projects such as this can disrupt institutional power imbalances and help to shape relationships of reciprocity and care between the academe and community groups,” says Eva.

“‘Real-world’ community needs are supported, and students are exposed to diverse ways of learning.”