Varuna's grant for Indigenous garden

It was a "dream of a few" to create a sensory bush tucker garden for the local community and the writers who visit Varuna, the globally celebrated, National Writers House, at Katoomba.

After years of planning and a couple of grant applications, Varuna is now able to make a good start on the garden after Blue Mountains City Council agreed to donate $5000 at the June council meeting.

"After speaking with David King we were inspired to go ahead and seek funding for a bush tucker garden," said Amy Sambrooke, Varuna's creative director.

"We hope over time we can use this produce in the kitchen to feed visiting writers, perhaps even the broader community, and that we can introduce more Indigenous edibles across the grounds."

The project will need $12,000 to complete, but the council's "significant start-up funding will get the initial design work done, some garden beds established in the sunny spot behind our office, and purchase a range of plants".

The Varuna Bush Tucker and Edible Garden Project seeks to renovate part of Varuna's large site into edible, accessible gardens that celebrate local bush tucker and eventually mean 20 per cent of the vegetables cooked for writers, will come from this garden.

At the June meeting, council heard funding would be made available from the 2021-2022 mayoral contingency fund which has an annual total of $8000. The idea was supported by staff and the other councillors who were told it aligned with council's initiatives that address climate change; and for projects that worked in partnership with the traditional owners, incorporating traditional Indigenous knowledge.

"I think it's a worthy project and I'm happy to give $5000, so it may go ahead," the mayor said.

Gundungurra's David King, will act as a consultant: "It was a dream by a few of the Varuna people and our Bushcare officer," he said. "The journey failed to find initial funding, but then the mayor and Running Wild came through to support us."

Mr King said "once everything is lined up, we will engage the local garden creator and set up a sensational sensory bush tucker garden. This will be for the local community and the writers".

The report to council said the project acknowledged "that local food production is key to environmental and social sustainability. Moreover the project seeks to engage with, and learn from, local Gundungurra and Darug elders and community members and assist in building skills and knowledge in care of land and in Indigenous and other food production".

Ms Sambrooke said funding will be used for an Aboriginal horticulturalist, purchase of plants, seed and soil, raised garden beds, an accessible pathway and landscaping and planting.

"We are so excited to get this project underway. We will hit the ground running once this lockdown ends," she said. "Environmental sustainability is key to Varuna's strategic plan, with Varuna striving always to uphold the heritage of Eleanor and Eric Dark's commitment to environmental justice, and to be a cultural leader as an environmentally aware, sustainable arts organisation."

She said the project would improve Indigenous food knowledge, weed management and social sustainability partnering with the Blue Mountains Food Coop and the Edible Garden Trail.

"[It's] all about healing Country - NAIDOC," Mr King said when he heard it had passed council.

It was carried unanimously, with Cr Romola Hollywood out of the [zoom] room due to a non-pecuniary interest in Varuna.