Royal Botanic Garden to mark Reconciliation Week with Indigenous cultural events

An Aboriginal Cultural Tour explores the "Wuganmagulya" (Farm Cove) artwork on the foreshore promenade within the Royal Botanic Garden. Photo: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney/supplied.

By DAMIEN NOVAK

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, one of the city’s largest, oldest and most important public spaces, is to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians during National Reconciliation Week with Indigenous cultural events. 

The heritage-listed 30-hectare (74-acre) botanical garden will host Aboriginal cultural tours, with Indigenous guides showcasing the garden’s rich Aboriginal heritage by exploring plant uses, culture and artefacts.

Aboriginal weaving workshops will also be held in the garden during Reconciliation Week. Participants will be instructed in the innovative use of native plants and weaving techniques, and guided through making their own baskets. 

A Royal Botanic Garden spokesperson said: “The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, including the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, recognise that our understanding of plants and their environment is informed by thousands of years of knowledge generated by First Nations people.

“Our aim is to generate education and scientific programs that inspire a connection with country and to work in partnership with First Nations people to promote a broader appreciation of Australia’s unique flora.”

Indigenous bush foods and flora will be explored during the Aboriginal Cultural Tour. Photo: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney/supplied.

National Reconciliation Week

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme is: ‘More than a word, reconciliation takes action’. The week is intended to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and foster reconciliation discussion and activities. 

National Reconciliation Week has its origins in the formation of Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR), created by the Australian Parliament under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991.

In 1993, a Week of Prayer for Reconciliation was initiated and supported by major religious groups in Australia. By 1996, with the support of CAR, this had evolved into the first National Reconciliation Week.

The start and end dates – 27 May and 3 June – were chosen for their historical significance to Indigenous Australians: the former marks the anniversary of the 1967 Australian referendum, which gave Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders the right to vote; the latter marks the anniversary of High Court of Australia judgement on the landmark Mabo vs Queensland case of 1992, which recognised native title in Australia for the first time.

A previous Aboriginal Cultural Tour at the Royal Botanic Garden. Photo: Royal Botanic Garden Sydney/supplied.

Garden’s Indigenous history

The area on which the Royal Botanic Garden exists at Farm Cove has a rich Indigenous history. 

Known as Wuganmagulya to the Yura people who inhabited the site, the flat ground where the garden now stands was used by the Yura as an initiation place and was known for performances of the ‘Kangaroo and Dog Dance’.

Tens of thousands of years of local Indigenous settlement was changed forever with the coming of the British, who settled in nearby Sydney Cove in 1788, and established a farm at Farm Cove that same year.

In 1816, the Botanic Garden was founded on the site by Governor Macquarie as part of the Governor’s Domain. 

In the year 2000, the area’s Aboriginal heritage was the subject of the Wuganmagulya (Farm Cove) artwork, which was installed on the foreshore promenade within the garden to honour the presence and importance of Indigenous people.

The large terrazzo work is embedded into the paving, crafted in muted colours that reflect the natural elements of the environment around it.

In two sections of the pathway, Indigenous artist Brenda L Croft used terrazzo and stained concrete to depict figures from Sydney Aboriginal rock carvings – some of which no longer exist. 

Along the pathway kerb, she etched the names of people, places, animals, tools and rituals from the many clans and language groups of Indigenous people in the Sydney area.

The Reconciliation Week Aboriginal Weaving Workshops will be held at 10am–11am and 11.30am–12.30pm on Thursday, 27 May and Monday, 31 May at Rathborne Lodge, Royal Botanic Garden, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney. For bookings and further info, visit www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/What-s-On/Reconciliation-Week-Aboriginal-Weaving-Workshops.

The Reconciliation Week Aboriginal Cultural Tour will be held from 10am–11.30am on Wednesday, 26 May and Friday, 28 May, commencing at the Garden Shop, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. For bookings and further info, visit https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/What-s-On/Reconciliation-Week-Aboriginal-Cultural-Tour.