An unutilised small space at the Robertson Road Gates of Centennial Park has been transformed into a welcoming cultural garden, influenced by a Dharawal Dreaming story about the banksia (Waddhangarii). The Centennial Park Cultural Garden is a physical connection to Cadigal Country and a celebration of the critically endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub that was once prevalent on this site. The narrative of the garden is the result of a collaborative design process that included input from Traditional Knowledge Holders.
The site at Robertson Road Gates, one of the Park’s four main entries, was identified as a location that would welcome First Nations visitors, aiming to provide a feeling of cultural safety and to allow all park visitors to feel connected to Country as they enter the park.
Centennial Parklands recognised that the inclusion of a Cultural Garden was an opportunity to acknowledge First Nation’s culture and gain a rich understanding of Country from an Indigenous perspective. The client brief specified that the Cultural Garden be designed using a collaborative design process to gain an authentic understanding of Country – flora, fauna, earth, wind, water and sky – as it relates to place.
Waddhangarii provides opportunities to incorporate language, storytelling and traditional ecological knowledge into the design, interconnecting design and Country while complementing the broader Centennial Park landscape. The design team has incorporated a First Nations narrative that evokes the unique Indigenous ecologies that were once so prolific on the site.
The site of the Cultural Garden comprises of two linear stretches of garden bed, flanked by two roads and pedestrian footpaths with a bridle path running through the centre, linking the Park’s equestrian amenity to the nearby Centennial Park Equestrian Centre (CPEC).
The constraints of the Waddhangarii site physically embody the competing needs of the garden– finding the balance to allow First Nations people to have a point for ongoing connection and engagement with the Garden, balanced with the needs of other park users, traveling by car, bike and foot and for patrons from the CPEC on horseback.
The design team recognised that for an authentic interpretation of First Nations narrative to occur, they needed to engage with Indigenous Knowledge Holders. Bidjigal Elder Uncle Vic Simms shared his knowledge and vision with Park representatives to help guide the design of the Garden.
The team developed a design for the garden that would celebrate a number of elements that were highlighted throughout conversations with Uncle Vic. These included a desire to recreate the critically endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) with a focus on plants that were used for food, medicine and craft by First Nations People. Uncle Vic also expressed the importance of seeing the whole cultural garden from a single standpoint, something that has been addressed in the design.
Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) was once found on 5,300 hectares of Cadigal land, but now less than three per cent (146 Hectares) remains of the original distribution of this critically endangered species. With several remnant patches of ESBS in Centennial Parklands, the horticulture and maintenance team is recognised as a best-practice site for conservation, committed to the skills, knowledge, resources to undertake and provide the professional vegetation management of ESBS.
The proposed new plantings will provide habitat potential, providing food and protection for a range of wildlife species such as Grey Headed Flying Fox, Little Lorikeet, Bent Wing Bat, Large Bent Wing Bat, Eastern Coastal Free Tailed Bat and Dusky Wood Swallow.
The materiality of the Cultural Garden, including corten and sandstone, has been chosen so that it weathers and matures with the garden over time. Interpretive signage throughout the site will educate visitors about the importance of ESBS and the different uses for species within the Cultural Garden. The garden has been laid out in three planting zones – a medicinal planting mix, bushtucker planting mix and craft planting mix, with a garden bed of each present on either side of the bridle path.
Circular corten pots have been used for a sculptural, organic design. The pots are of varying heights to create interest and maintain sightlines, set well back from the bridle path so as not to create situations where horses may startle. For this reason, and also from a maintenance and value management perspective, smaller volume species were carefully chosen.
Even working within such a small space, the design has allowed for increased amenity for park users, with wider footpaths and sandstone seating allowing for passive recreation or a place to meet. The sandstone seating is complemented by sandstone stepping steppers, boulders and logs, allowing for moments of active play.
Location: Robertson Road Gates, Centennial Park, Sydney.
Design year: 2021
Year Completed: 2022
Photo: Brett Boardman