Raising Awareness Among Children: Aboriginal Culture and Sustainability

A desire to raise awareness of Aboriginal culture and sustainable land practices amongst its 76 children led the Communities@Work Richardson Child Care and Education Centre to successfully apply for a Woolworths Junior Landcare grant to establish a bush foods garden.

Raising awareness about aspects such as the aboriginal culture as well as sustainability is an important aspect of children’s education and care, especially during the early stages of life. Our child care and education centres, across Canberra and the surrounding ACT region, strongly believe in imparting this awareness.

The humble mint and hibiscus, growing in a bush tucker garden in the heart of Richardson, is a testament of this. The garden is connecting community and paving the way for greater cultural and environmental awareness for children.

Communities@Work Richardson Child Care and Education Centre regularly holds activities to teach children about Aboriginal culture, customs and history.

We had a chat with Cherie Fensom, the Centre Manager at Richardson, to find out more.

“We thought a bush tucker garden would be an ideal addition to everything we do to educate children about the aboriginal culture as well as sustainability, as it would allow our children to learn another aspect of Ngunnawal culture in a fun and enjoyable way. It would also complement the many activities that we have already implemented over the last few years to ensure that we are being more sustainable within our community.”

These activities include establishing a vegetable garden, utilising food scraps in the chicken coop, using the chicken eggs for the Centre’s cooking, installing water tanks, and collecting cans and bottles that are then cashed in to help fund their other sustainability projects.

Woolworths Junior Landcare Grant

Our Richardson Centre became one of 617 primary schools and early learning centres throughout Australia (and one of only 14 in the ACT) to receive a $1000 Woolworths Junior Landcare grant to help grow the next generation of environmental champions. The grants are being funded with money made from the sale of the Woolworths recyclable Bag for Good™ which was launched in 2018 when the supermarket stopped using single-use plastic bags.

As we are a community organisation, we involved as many sectors of our local community as possible throughout the project.

All of Communities@Work child care centres believe in building community connections, as it is particularly valuable for the children to know their local community. Richardson Child Care and Education Centre is no different.

The centre involved the children and their families in the project, from the research and design stage of the garden to incorporating their many ideas and feedback. The children at Richardson visited the nearby preschool to see what plants they had in their own bush foods garden. The children were also taken on two Woolworths Fresh Food Kids Discovery Tours at the local Calwell Woolworths store to help get them excited about fruit and vegetables and the importance to their health.

Highlights from the Woolworth’s tours included seeing the cardboard crusher out the back, going behind the scenes and looking into the fridges, and seeing how the food is restocked.

“The children loved trying pieces of fresh fruit and coming back with Woolworth’s gift packs,” says Cherie. “The children loved these Woolworth’s tours so much that we now plan on doing them annually.”

Discovering the benefits of the Bush Tucker Garden

The child care centre also worked with a local Community Indigenous Officer to gain advice, ideas and recipes, and to learn how the Indigenous people used the plants that they’d be growing.

The children planted edible plants such as rosella hibiscus, native guava, river mint, smidgen berry and mat rush. They learned benefits such as:

  • mint: good for tea and fragrant oils,
  • mat rush’s leaf base and flowers: good to be used for food,
  • mat rush’s leaves: can be woven into mats and baskets, or wrapped around aching limbs to relieve pain.

“Since the children don’t drink tea yet, we use the mint to flavour our water for our morning teas. Some children have even picked the mint leaves to eat and they’ve loved it. They can’t wait to start using more of the plants in our morning and afternoon tea recipes. Some of the plants will take a couple of years to really get growing, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” explains Cherie.

“And they’ll take even longer now because the chickens keep eating them – especially the hibiscus!” laughs Cherie. “We’ve had to fence off the garden to keep the chickens out.”

“The bush tucker garden’s been really useful for erosion reduction too. We established the garden around the cubby house because that area was just a dirt pile and the dirt kept washing onto the path. Now it stays in the garden a bit more.”

Opportunity for Education and Learning

While being a fun and enjoyable activity for the children (and educators!) the Bush Tucker Garden project also has several important educational impacts.

Communities@Work Director of Children’s Services, Kellie Stewart shed some light on three of the key educational impacts of this sustainability and aboriginal awareness project, and other such similar initiatives.

1. Sustainability Awareness 

“The garden has been a wonderful opportunity for developing the children’s sustainability awareness,” says

It’s teaching them how to care for plants, how to divert waste to recycling and composting, and how plants are important habitats for birds and insects.

2. Diversity 

Growing a bush tucker garden rather than simply a vegetable garden provides a unique opportunity for the children to learn about diversity, and how to respect and acknowledge the difference between cultures.

This complements other cultural awareness activities, such as the Reconciliation Day Bridge Walk at the Richardson Child Care Centre which was an initiative to help the children commemorate the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge walk in 2000.

Reconciliation Day Bridge Walk 2020 at Communities@Work Richardson Child Care and Education Centre

3. Social Responsibility

Activities such as this bush tucker garden project also help children to become socially responsible by teaching that, as an active member of the community, they have rights but also responsibilities. Caring for the environment around them is one of those responsibilities – now and in the future.

The Richardson centre hopes to ensure that the bush tucker garden serves as a reminder to the children about their social responsibility, as well as continues to raise awareness about sustainability and aboriginal culture.

The plan for the centre is to plant some more hibiscus plants, set up a table and chairs to create a reflective sitting area, and allow the plants to get a bit more established, then pull down the fence and start using the garden more. They are roughly looking at a spring launch.

At Communities@Work, we focus on providing the best education and care to children, infuse with meaningful initiatives that include raising awareness on aboriginal culture, sustainability, and more.

The information provided in this blog post came from Cherie Fenson, Centre Manager at Richardson Child Care and Education Centre, and Kellie Stewart, Director of Children’s Services. 

A version of this story can also be found on The RiotACT.

Communities@Work is Canberra’s largest community organisation and provider of children’s services, with almost 4,500 children enrolled throughout its 12 child care centres, 15 before and after school care services, 10 school holiday programs, and 100 family daycare educators. 

For more information about Communities@Work’s extensive range of education and care and community services around Canberra, please visit our children’s services page or explore our community services

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