Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Aboriginal heritage at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens

People Plants & Place

The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust recognises that each of its three botanic estates - the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and the Domain, the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah - has an Indigenous history. The traditional owners of these lands are the Cadigal, Dharawal and Darug respectively. Click here to find out about

The Trust and local Aboriginal communities are working together to create themed gardens and displays, educational programs, guided tours and publications to acknowledge the significance of these lands to Aboriginal people, past and present.

Indigenous gardens and installations

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

See Indigenous displays at the Royal Botanic Garden

See the information on our interpretive signs in the First Farm and Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters Garden

Cadi Jam Ora: First Encounters - is an award-winning garden display that interprets the Aboriginal cultural heritage of the Royal Botanic Garden. Surrounded by native vegetation that would have existed around Sydney Harbour approximately 200 years ago, and incorporating the First Farm display which was developed in 1988 to tell the story of early European farming practices, a 52-metre sculptural ‘storyline’ tells the Aboriginal history of Sydney from The Dreaming to the present. The text on the Storyline was compiled from a variety of sources including over 40 interviews with local Aboriginal people.

This provocative garden gives insight into the first encounters between early European settlers and the traditional Indigenous inhabitants, the Cadigal, and interprets their differing environmental perspectives. Wuganmagulya (Farm Cove) - is a ground artwork found along the Farm Cove path which links the Opera House and Mrs Macquaries Point.

In two sections of the pathway, figures found in rock carvings in the Sydney area are represented in terrazzo and stained concrete. Etched into the pathway kerb are names of women and men, places, animals, tools and rituals from the clans and language groups of the Sydney area.

The Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan

See Indigenous displays at Mount Annan Botanic Garden

View list of Dharawal indigenous plant names and pronunciations.

Stolen Generations Memorial - Yandel’ora is the name the Dharawal people gave to Mount Annan. The name means ‘place of peace between peoples’ and the Australian Botanic Garden is the site where a memorial to the Stolen Generations is located. Acknowledging Aboriginal people who were separated from their families as a direct result of government policy in the last century has been a focal issue for Aboriginal Reconciliation in Australia. Plans for the Stolen Generations Memorial at Mount Annan Botanic Garden were instigated as early as 1999, as a partnership between the NSW Stolen Generations Committee, the Botanic Gardens Trust and Link Up NSW. Visitors will experience the memorial as a journey of healing and reflection, as they pass through beautiful Cumberland Plain Woodland along a series of boardwalks leading to a peaceful meeting place with water and a sandstone sculptural centrepiece.

Fruit Loop Garden - visitors to this circular garden located within the Australian Botanic Garden will see and taste native fruits in season, learn about bush foods and find out about plants that are important to Dharawal people.

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah

See Indigenous displays at the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden 

Darug Connections - the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden acknowledges the land it occupies is part of Darug Aboriginal Country and respects the rights of Indigenous people, particularly in relation to land, culture and heritage. ‘Tomah’ is reputedly the Darug word for tree fern. These magnificent plants dominate the rainforest in the area. Interpretive signage celebrating the past, present and future Darug associations with Mount Tomah and other Aboriginal places in the region is located at significant places around the Garden. The signs are illustrated with works of art created by Darug artists.

Aboriginal Education Programs

At each of the Botanic Gardens, lessons with Aboriginal themes have been developed for primary (K-6), secondary (7-12) and tertiary students. These are closely linked to curriculum requirements and New South Wales Board of Studies syllabus outcomes. Whenever possible, lessons are lead by Aboriginal education officers.

Lessons such as 'Aboriginal People and Plants', 'Bush Foods of Sydney', 'Aboriginal Studies' and 'Everyone Needs a Home' identify plants that Aboriginal people have used for food, tools and weapons and provide an Indigenous perspective on living with, and from, the native bushland. The Royal Botanic Gardens is the place where some of the earliest prolonged European encounters with the local Aboriginal people, the Cadigal, occurred. 'Contact - First Encounters' and 'Contact Study Day' investigate what really happened when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour in 1788 and attempted to establish an agricultural foothold on Australian soil.

'Changing Rights and Freedoms of Aboriginal People' gives students the opportunity to understand contemporary Aboriginal cultural and social issues and bush tucker lessons are offered to students studying courses offered at TAFE colleges in partnership with the Restaurant & Catering Association of NSW.

Publications

A wide range of specialised publications that link Aboriginal people to plants and places are to be found at all three Botanic Garden Shops. In addition, the Trust has two of its own relevant titles:

  • 'Bush Foods of New South Wales' by Kathy Stewart and Bob Percival (1997), with colour photographs, illustrations, descriptions and botanical information about 30 of the most commonly used bush food plants of New South Wales. This book is now out of print. See the Bush foods of NSW web pages (or download pdf file) and the Aboriginal bush foods web pages .
  • 'Darug Connections' by Suzanne Kenney (2000), a booklet that tells the Darug Aboriginal story with works of art created by Darug artists Robyn Caughlan, Mrs Edna Watson and Ian Bundeluk Watson.

Heritage Tours and Cultural Events

Aboriginal Heritage Tours with Aboriginal education officers offer a unique opportunity for both local and international visitors to learn of the richly diverse history and culture of Aboriginal people of the Sydney region, and in particular, of their reliance on plants.

A self-guided Aboriginal walk is available for the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

At the Royal Botanic Garden, guided Aboriginal tours are offered. Bookings are essential. Specialised and group tours can also be pre-arranged. Call (02) 9231 8134 for more information. With sufficient notice, tours can be tailored to suit the needs and requests of groups wishing to experience the cultural and historical aspects of the Australian Botanic Garden: phone (02) 4648 2477 and the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden: phone (02) 4567 3000.

Cultural events include the Woggan-ma-gule Morning Ceremony, performed in the Royal Botanic Garden. This ceremony is the first official Australia Day event on 26 January each year - this date conveys mixed feelings for Aboriginal people and is referred to as Survival/Invasion Day by many. In the spirit of Reconciliation and to remind people of the Aboriginal history of this land, the ceremony celebrates one of the world’s oldest living cultures. The Trust also acknowledges National Sorry Day and NAIDOC Week and conducts school holiday activities with an Indigenous theme.

Cultural Awareness and Community Outreach

Acknowledgement/Welcome to Country are appropriate cultural protocols that recognise Aboriginal connection to Country and Trust staff observe these throughout day-to-day operations and particularly at major events/openings held on its botanic estates.

'Two Ways Together' is the NSW Government’s Aboriginal Affairs Plan for 2003 to 2012. It encourages Aboriginal people and government agencies to work together in partnership and be jointly responsible for planning and delivering solutions that achieve a measurable improvement across the range of conditions of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal people. To this end, the Trust provides horticultural apprenticeships and other educational employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.

The Trust also takes its expertise ‘beyond the garden walls’ and serves the broader community through innovative outreach programs. Many schools and community groups seek advice in establishing native gardens, often incorporating bush tucker and/or reconciliation themes. Where possible, Trust staff support the work of local Indigenous communities by offering assistance in plant identification and selection, landscape design and garden preparation.

Disadvantaged Aboriginal communities are given the opportunity to develop gardening skills and a deeper appreciation of the natural environment as part of Community Greening, an initiative of the Trust and NSW Department of Housing.

Woggan-ma-gule-Morning-Ceremony

Indigenous-education

Sorry-Day

Bush Foods cover

From 'Bush foods of New South Wales' by Kathy Stewart & Bob Percival (Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney 1997).
>> Download pdf file

Stolen Generations Memorial boardwalk 

Sculptor Badger Bates - Stolen Generations Memorial

Darug painting by Mrs Edna Watson

Darug painting by Robyn Caughlan

Darug story board