Virtual Learning in the gardens of Elizabeth Farm
With its rich soils, woodlands and waterways, the land around Parramatta has for thousands of years been the home of the Burramattagal of the Darug Nation who sustainably managed and cultivated the landscape and its resources. Following the arrival of European colonists in 1788 and their subsequent struggles to cultivate successful crops in Sydney, colonists were drawn to the Parramatta region’s rich resources, clearing the land to make way for European style farmland and agriculture to serve as the colony’s ‘food bowl’, dispossessing the Burramattagal of their land and altering their way of life in the process.
This month Elizabeth Farm will host students from across the country as they tune in to a live online event, Plant your History at Elizabeth Farm. Against the property’s leafy backdrop, students will be examining both the plants of Elizabeth Macarthur’s kitchen garden and plants native to Darug Country, considering the different ways these groups of people have used the land. Tapping into the knowledge of Uncle Fred of Fred’s Bush Tucker, students will discover the uses of some local native plants, like Lomandra longifolia, also known as Spiny-headed Mat-rush or basket grass.
If you live in Sydney you are probably familiar with the tufts of long, flat leaves of the lomandra. A hardy and drought tolerant plant, lomandra is sometimes described as the ‘corner shop’ in many Aboriginal cultures because it is such a vital source of food and other resources that are essential for survival’.1 If you pull one of the leaves from the ground you’ll see a white base, which can be chewed on for hydration and nourishment and has a pea or bean like flavour. The seeds can also be dried and ground up, and mixed with water to make a bread or damper (please be advised we do not recommend trying these foods unless you are accompanied by someone who is well trained in this field and can safely identify the plants!) As well as being a food source, the leaves of the lomandra are also incredibly strong and can be used to make fibres for stringing and weaving. These fibres may be woven into a range of useful objects, including bags, baskets and eel traps. This plant was used not only by Darug people, but by Aboriginal people in many parts of Australia.
- 1. Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/stories/2020/our-traditional-heritage
Elizabeth Macarthur was fond of native plants, or ‘dear evergreens’ as she called them, and liked to juxtapose them with her European plantings. Today, native plants can be found growing along the edges of Elizabeth Farm, a suggestion of the bushland that once bordered the edges of the Macarthur’s gardens and reminder of the Indigenous landscape that underlies the homestead. In a nod to the installation Healing Land, Remembering Country by Kuku Yalanji artist Tony Albert which currently calls Elizabeth Farm home, students joining the live education event will create their own recycled seeded paper using the seeds of native plants and take part in a ‘memory exchange’ activity. On their seeded paper students will record a positive memory, or something they have learned during their experience at Elizabeth Farm, and return it to the ground to germinate the seeds and help regenerate the landscape.
You can make seeded paper of your own by following the simple instructions below, and find out more about Healing Land, Remembering Country here on the SLM website.