Maddocks Gardens cultural garden a showpiece for all to share

A large group of people is gathered in and around a lowered accessible circle known as a yarning circle, which has been buiult within a new gardenTen people are sitting inside the circle, with five others standing behind them.

An Aboriginal cultural garden is the latest addition to Bairnsdale Regional Health Service’s Maddocks Gardens aged care facility – one where Aboriginal people and all residents and visitors can meet, chat and feel welcome.

The garden, developed at a cost of $80,000, includes a specially-designed one-off yarning circle, picnic and garden furniture with intricate indigenous designs and plants of local significance to the Gunaikurnai people. It was officially opened on Tuesday 5 December.

Two new flag poles have also been installed nearby to incorporate the Aboriginal and Victorian flags.

The garden was constructed by Pearce Cameron Contracting, a Bairnsdale landscaping firm with a staff of six, including four Aboriginal people, that is now also branching into the design and construction of indigenous-themed street and park furniture.

The company was formed by co-directors David Cameron and Nigel Pearce, a proud Yorta Yorta, Mutti Mutti and Manero man who started in the trade 15 years ago as Mr Cameron’s apprentice at another firm.

The garden space was suggested to Maddocks Gardens management by a resident, who has since passed on, whose sister could not visit during restricted visiting hours required during COVID lockdowns.

The idea was to create a welcoming space that would allow residents and families to meet in the open air, without the need to pass through RAT screening inside the front door, which was available only at limited times. RAT screening remains in place at Maddocks Gardens.

At the same time, Maddocks Gardens staff were keen to make their facility more inclusive and welcoming for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and worked towards that goal with the BRHS Aboriginal Health Unit.

Following a tender process involving First Nations landscapers, Pearce Cameron was placed in charge of design and construction, with BRHS General Services Manager Adam Crotty noting its proposal and quote as one of the best he’d ever seen.

BRHS Aboriginal Health Unit Team Leader Ashleigh Munro said the new garden makes Maddocks Gardens and BRHS more welcoming for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The point of having a cultural garden, or all of the aboriginal art we have around the hospital, is to say that Aboriginal people have always been here and are always going to be here,” she said.

“The garden is a symbol of that. It makes Maddocks Gardens more culturally appropriate.”

Mr Cameron said a great deal of thought went into the design of the garden to include a variety of local and native plants (some of which have cultural significance for Gunaikurnai people), feature rocks, a shade sail and a yarning circle with wheelchair access for up to 15 people to socialise in the open air.

“We love how that yarning circle design has come up. We weren’t sure about the scale, but once we had it in the garden, we’re so pleased with it,” Mr Cameron said.

An important element in the garden is the use of hybrid plants – local plant varieties grafted with other species – so that they would fit with the scale of the partly enclosed space but still fulfil the cultural needs of Gunaikurnai residents.

“The she-oak is commonly used with eucalypts in smoking ceremonies, but we couldn’t incorporate a typical she-oak because it would be too tall,” David said.

“We found one hybrid that has the common name ‘Cousin It’. A she-oak would normally grow to be about 6m, but it’s been grafted to be a ground cover through the rocks. We can still have that foliage for ceremonies, but in a different type of plant.”

“The grafted silver princess gums will only grow to about 6 metres. They won’t have a massive canopy or dense foliage. They will just provide that bit of extra shade,” David said.

Grafted kangaroo paws will bloom in different colours, he said.

Like BRHS, David said his company is dedicated to providing meaningful employment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Pearce Cameron recently won a 2023 Wurreker Award from the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association for its commitment to aboriginal education and employment.

BRHS Chief Executive Officer applauded the cooperation of the Maddocks Gardens, Aboriginal Health Unit and Facilities teams, and Pearce Cameron Constructions, to bring the cultural garden to life.

“The garden started as a suggestion from a Maddocks Gardens resident, built with everyone working together, the cultural garden is a showpiece for BRHS that everyone can share but also makes our facilities more inclusive and welcoming for First Nations people,” she said.

“So much thought has gone into its planning and execution, and it will deliver those benefits for years to come.”

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