The new Reconciliation Garden at University of Queensland’s Herston campus embraces and celebrates Indigenous culture and place, fostering cultural exchange and learning while respecting and aligning within its context of health and higher education. Sitting adjacent to the heritage-listed Mayne Medical Building, the Garden brings ancient cultural knowledge of medicinal plants into a contemporary learning setting.
Established in 1939, the Mayne Medical Centre at University of Queensland is the only medical school in Queensland. Situated at the rear of the building, the Reconciliation Garden is the first stage of a master plan which aims to provide open spaces that will embrace and celebrate Indigenous culture and place, with a forward focus on learning opportunities to enable connection, collaboration and reflection.
As an educational environment, opportunities abound to foster understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture, history and modes of learning. Local Elders were involved in the design process, working with the design team to unpick the site narrative and develop key elements of the garden design.
The latest research and insights about pedagogy were used to realise the potential of the space for teaching and learning, with the layout of the landscape creating engaging spaces that are optimally sized for collaborative learning in groups of all sizes.
The design had to comply with the site’s heritage listing and overcome constraints which included inability to construct against the building and preservation of sightlines to the Mayne building. Existing heritage elements were retained and integrated into the new works, including the concrete staircase, fence, and concrete edging.
Located within Faculty of Medicine, the design team took the innovative approach to incorporate ancient elements of ‘Bush Medicine’ into the planting palette to give medical student the opportunity to learn about the healing properties of plants and their traditional uses. Working with Yuggera Ugarapul Elder Gaja Kerry Charlton, species chosen include Clerodendrum floribundum (Lolly Bush) and Alphitonia excelsa (Red Ash) referred to for their respective properties that may help soothe headaches and inflammation.
The Reconciliation Garden Steering Committee, made up by Traditional Owners and UQ staff from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit and School of Public Health were the project drivers. The Committee engaged a design team with experience in cultural co-design and collaboration. From the earliest stages, the design team, including their Indigenous Landscape Strategist, worked with Gaja Kerry and University representatives to develop the narrative.
With the discovery of a native beehive within the existing log circle that was established by Indigenous UQ students at the front of the Mayne Building, the design team researched the importance of native bees in Yuggera dreaming and their essential role in local ecology and plant pollination. Found in Herston and nearby Mt Coot-tha, which roughly translates to ‘Kuta’ or honey in some Indigenous dialects, the native bees inspired several elements within the space. The unique spiral comb structure of the hive is referenced in the garden layout and concrete patterns and a large feature gathering space, containing a circular paving design, which culturally symbolises a meeting point and the social nature of the bee. To further celebrate the native bee, a log hive has been placed within the garden.
To maintain the ecology of the site, the garden is populated primarily with local species, to benefit natural ecosystems, and for minimal water and maintenance requirements. Local Elders advised the use of one non-endemic plant, because of its powerful medicinal properties in First Nations healing practice.
‘Rammed earth’ is used for some of the garden’s seating. This innovative technique required specialist knowledge for construction, redeploying soil from the site, which was then compacted and layered with cement for a smooth finish. Colours and materials chosen sit comfortably on site, taking tones from the building and the natural environment.
Located at the rear of the campus, the first stage of the garden spans 600m2 and features a series of seating options where groups of all sizes can gather. Accessible and inviting spaces, including the gathering circles designed throughout to encourage people face each other, provide an alternative for smaller groups and individuals to collaborate in the space.
The Traditional Owners recognise this as a place of welcoming for local Indigenous students and staff – the combination of materiality, planting technique and the design narrative combine to create a culturally safe place, where the imposing post-colonial architecture is softened by the new Reconciliation Garden enabling connection, collaboration and reflection.
Location: Mayne Medical Building, Weightmann St Entry, University of Queensland Herston Campus
Design year: 2019
Year Completed: 2022