Stories of community self-help…

Community gardening the theme for Launceston tour

I KNOW it may not be the best day for a community and school garden tour. The dull greyness of the overcast, the cold and the feeling of impending rain is enough to suppress any feeling of exuberance we might have started the day with. It is Launceston in winter, after all.

That feeling of impending deluge dissipates as we find the people we are to meet at the school. There’s Jo Dean, the Launceston-based North-North West Tasmania program manager and trainer for 24 Carrot, a health and nutrition program supported by MONA (Tasmania’s Hobart-based Museum of Old and New Art) and the not-for-profit Material Institute. 24 Carrot is a school kitchen garden program educating children in growing, cooking and eating healthy garden produce and building their resiliency. Jo is also the Tasmanian coordinator for Community Gardens Australia, the national network linking community gardeners across Australia.

There, posing for the local newspaper photographer, is Sydney-based Costa Georgiardis who hosts ABC TV’s Gardening Australia program and who does much to promote community gardens. There is no mistaking the Hobart permaculture educator who occasionally appears on Costa’s program, Hannah Moloney. Her pink hair, like her light, bright personality provides a visual counterpoint to the dullness of the day.

It must be around 40 people who gather on the squishy patch of lawn in the school food garden as the sky clears to blue, partially, anyway. Jo, Costa and Hannah speak about the 24 Carrot program, community gardening and its links to public health. After that, we walk over to the community centre where the manager and Sandy Murray — dietitian and food and public health nutrition lecturer with the School of Health Science at the University of Tasmania, Launceston — tells us of their plan to develop the adjacent area as a food-producing landscape.

The dull light of day is getting towards the duller light of late afternoon as we make our way from the school to Macs Community Garden. But… will we be able to get into the garden? Despite doubts, it looks like we will. The recent wet weather has swollen streams, including the stream that separates Macs from the community centre and road. Thankfully by the time we arrive the stream has subsided and the footbridge is above water. The ground is soggy, fully saturated, a familiar situation for Tasmanian gardeners during the wet winter season.

Macs is a substantial community garden on the creek flats behind which rises a low scrubby ridge. Tucked into its little valley it comes as a surprise find. The garden demonstrates the low-maintenance common sense design of sturdily-built rectangular garden beds. The beds are covered in netting, not only to keep out any birds that might take a liking to the gardeners’ vegetables but to exclude the marauding marsupials, something else that Tasmanian gardeners will be familiar with. And those garden beds — they are filled with cold climate winter crops whose abundance testifies to the presence of skilled gardeners. Attractive signs inform visitors of what is growing in them.

Peter Richards is one of those memorable characters for whom hard work in the garden is no challenge at all. Easy going, his face enclosed by a beard that would challenge Costa’s for exuberance, he comes across as a practical, resilient character possessing an inner strength. Peter demonstrates how what is commonly called ‘ordinary people’ are really extraordinary in that their contribution to community wellbeing demonstrates the best of traditional Australian values. Peter is our guide at Macs, the garden where he puts in a great deal of work.

Mamas Cafe occupies the corner of a large industrial building not far from Ravenswood. The rest of the building is taken up by second hand clothing, used kitchenware, a stall selling second hand books and a bicycle museum, the microenterprises of the reuse market. Here, our day ends with a few speeches, music from a local performer and a Butanese ethnic troupe and a treat of varied African foods.

Tonight, the Cafe is also the venue for book singing. Both Hannah and Costa sign copies of their books, and for those who do not own one, Launceston’s independent bookstore, Petrarchs, is happy to provide. Rees Campbell is here too, with the new edition of her Eat More Wild Tasmanian. A book about the island state’s wild foods, the new edition includes information about growing, harvesting, seasonality and recipes as well as identifying, collecting and eating spontaneous plants, the weeds and feral species. Also between the covers is something new for this edition — and Tasmanian palawa kani words for more than 50 native species. Rees stresses that we should use the bush as a library, not a supermarket. It is a warning about the damage that foraging can do. Why not grow instead?

In thinking back on the day as we set up in our van for the night in the camping area, the thought came that the weather might have been dull and threatening with rain, but the people and their works brightened it. At the Ravenswood Primary school garden, later at Macs Community Garden and over dinner at Mama’s Cafe, we got to see how good work and community enterprise improves places and the lives lived in them.

Meeting those people and visiting the gardens brought to mind Yvon Chouinard’s comment that “to do good, you actually have to do something.” That, doing good, was what all those people we encountered this day were doing.

Meet the ambassador…

Effervescent, positive and Tasmanian, permaculture educator Hannah Moloney is an ambassador for Community Gardens Australia, the national web that networks community gardeners across the country.

At August’s community gardens tour in Ravenswood, Launceston, we caught up with Costa Georgiardis, Hannah and people like Launceston’s Jo Dean who are working with the Ravenswood community.

I asked Hannah about her role with Community Gardens Australia and where the value of community gardening lies in our changing world conditions.

Video: Russ Grayson —
Editing: Fiona Campbell.

Insight, information and inspiration were what people attending the community and school gardens tour in Launceston came away with.

In company with ABC Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis, Tasmanian permaculture educator Hannah Moloney and Community Gardens Australia Tasmania coordinator Jo Dean, we toured Ravenswood Heights Primary School’s 24 Carrot Garden, Ravenswood Community Centre’s proposed Ravenswood Food Forest and MACS Shed community garden.

The evening’s Celebrating Community Connections shared multicultural feast and book signing by Costa, Hannah and Rees Campbell, author of edition two of Eat More Wild Tasmanian at Mama’s Cafe in Launceston made this a day to remember.

Bio note: The author of this piece, with his partner Fiona Campbell, was one of the crew who in 1995 set up what now goes by the name of Community Gardens Australia, the national network. Both had previously worked on food security and farming systems programs in the Solomon Islands with, first, the UTS-based NGO, Appropriate Technology for Community and Environment, and later with international development agency TerraCircle.

Russ also worked in community garden, food system and landcare support for the City of Sydney while Fiona assisted new community gardeners get started with their decision-making and structure and, as council’s sustainability educator, developed the Randwick Sustainability Hub, a community resilience education program and regional park in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.



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Russ Grayson

I'm an independent online and photojournalist living on the Tasmanian coast after nine months on the road in a minivan.