Amidst all the recent building developments on campus at UTS there remains a hidden gem, unbeknownst to many academics and students, located on level 6 of the UTS Tower. Welcome to the Waraburra Nura garden or ‘Happy Wanderer’s Place’ – an open space created in 2018 for visitors to connect to Country in an urban environment. All of the plants in the garden are native to Wa’ran (Sydney) and have been cultivated by Darug, D’harawal and Gadigal peoples for generations. 

The garden was developed by UTS ART in partnership with Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research (JIIER), with much of the knowledge, information and resources stemming from D’harawal Senior and botanist Aunty Fran Bodkin, while the layout and design was conceptualised by Yamatji/Wajarri artist and designer Nicole Monks. Yuin Senior Uncle Bruce Pascoe advised on edible plants and Indigenous agricultural practices, such as combination planting, which enhances the rich medicinal value of each plant. 

The story of the Waraburra Nura Indigenous garden at UTS

Connecting to Country on Campus

The garden provides an opportunity for a unique, shared learning experience that taps into Australia’s rich Indigenous botanical history and knowledge. Students and teachers can engage with the garden in a number of ways through a wide variety of subject areas including art, Indigenous studies, medicine, education, science, Aboriginal political history, design studies, and more. Everyone is encouraged to use the space in their own way, bringing their own lens of enquiry to it. 

Last year, the Graduate School of Health incorporated an Indigenous Medicinals Workshop into their first-year Pharmacy student’s curriculum, which was particularly well received by students. Initiated by Professor Mary Bebawy and associate lecturer, Susan Manners, the workshop was devised as an activity to bring the students together to collaborate in teams. Students were invited to visit the garden prior to class in small groups and take a small sample of a medicinal plant to study. Following an introductory talk by Aunty Fran Bodkin, they were asked to research their plant’s use in traditional medicine, as well as the Indigenous knowledge behind the plant, and presented their findings to the class in a one-minute snap presentation at the end of the workshop. “It was such a rewarding experience for everyone,” says Bebawy, who has always had a fascination with and a passion for Indigenous culture and medicine. 

“Aunty Fran was so engaging and the students loved her, asking questions way beyond the scope of what she covered. We all felt like we had been so educated that day.”

Professor Mary Bebawy, Graduate School of Health (Pharmacy)

Working with the Waraburra Nura garden has given Bebawy the opportunity to share that knowledge and experience with her students, and to think about how they can connect to Country and respect Aboriginal culture in their work practice and daily lives. The workshop was such a success they plan to run it again in Autumn 2020 and have even embedded learning outcomes and assessment around the workshop into the curriculum.

Building Indigenous Knowledge into Coursework

Bebawy believes that more Indigenous practices and knowledge should be embedded into academic curriculums: “It informs our own learning and ways of thinking; enhances our understanding of our world and what we know in science.” 

To find out more, visit the Waraburra Nura website, which is full of information and resources for academic staff to learn more about the garden and interpret the knowledge it contains for coursework:

  • Listen to a podcast series of Aunty Fran in conversation with Uncle Bruce Pascoe as they exchange ideas on different environmental issues and share their wealth of Indigenous Knowledges
  • Find out how to build your own garden, including Sydney plants list
  • Explore primary school resources open to re-interpretation for higher education
  • Learn more about the history of First Nations people in Wa’ran
  • Listen to audio of Aunty Fran describing the uses of the plants and the associations they form with each other
  • Learn more about the Darul and Gadigal horticultural language

So, next time you’re thinking about ways to engage your students, consider visiting the Waraburra Nura garden to enrich their learning journeys. The garden’s staff can easily facilitate workshops or tour requests, and are happy to collaborate with academics wanting to integrate the space and its resources into their coursework or research. 

Students, staff and visitors can check out Waraburra Nura (weekdays 6am-9pm: Level 6 balcony, Building 1, 15 Broadway, Ultimo NSW 2007) or get further information at utsgallery@uts.edu.au

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