Yass Valley residents came out enthusiastically to support the grand opening of the Yass Community Bush Tucker Garden despite the wet weather conditions and the extra vigilance required due to the COVID-19 virus.

A reprieve in the rain allowed the event to kick off at 3:30 pm Saturday, with many prominent figures out on the afternoon. Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman, Men’s Shed President Allan McGrath and Garden co-designer Aaron Chatfield were present, taking on either supporting visiting roles or, for the likes of Mr Chatfield, catered much of the event, giving a walkthrough of the plants present and their local history.

For those concerned about the gathering of crowds in a Covid world, have ease of mind that the location easily allowed for the crowd of 100 to socially distance, with a sign-in register at the front and handwashing applications available.

The event began with a ‘welcome to country’ smoking ceremony performed by local prominent Ngunnawal man Scott Bell and two local indigenous youth, Tahlen Bell and Ferdie Bell. Mr Bell had visited a locally significant site, Oak Hill just before to collect the ingredients he was carrying in a hand-made coolomon or ‘Gunn Gun’ in Ngunnawal and encouraged visitors to waft the fresh gum leaf smoke over themselves.

As Mr Bell performed the smoking ceremony, his son and nephew Tahlen and Ferdie accompanied him, keeping a steady beat with the use of clapsticks, a traditional Aboriginal instrument. Indigenous culture and practices were an overarching theme of the Garden’s opening, with 32 native plantings now established.

Visitor’s gained insights into traditional use of the plants and more recent adaptions by Europeans thanks to Mr Aaron Chatfield who imparted his wealth of knowledge – particular standout examples including Cassinia longifolia also known as Cough Bush or the Bush Bandaid, with its characteristic stickiness serving as a natural bandage adhesive, the grass tree, one which will be a long-standing member of the Garden, as pointed out by Mr Chatfield-

“It grows its trunk about three centimetres per year”, and humorously the hop bush, aptly named due to its use in early alcohol;

“It was one of the first plants Europeans used as an ingredient of beer… Mr Chatfield described how the wait for the real thing led to its use “they got impatient and found a substitute!”

Mr Aaron Chatfield describing traditional plant uses to an appreciative crowd on Saturday

Many of the plants have pleasing edible value, as evident by the homebrewed tea presented by Mr Chatfield towards the end of the ceremony. It was made from a mix of crushed and boiled leaves of Lemon Myrtle soaked overnight with a hint of honey along with the main ingredient Waraburra – a plant featured in the Garden. In commercial nurseries, you will find it under the name of ‘Hardenbergia Violacea’, and common names for it are Happy Wanderer, False Sarsaparilla, Purple Coral Pea and Native Lilac.

The event was well received by the company and guests, with much enthusiasm over the gardens but also for the opportunity to come together as a community.

 “My congratulations to the Men’s Shed, auspicors of the grant. The hours they’ve spent putting in, the work that’s been done, it’s about community full stop. Joining the community into such a wonderful garden that’s of such great interest, it’s just fantastic” praised local member Mrs Wendy Tuckerman.

As well as the community support, the focus on a more earthly, green-based activity was noted and praised as an alternative to the standard woodwork related activities generally present at the Men’s Shed, therefore likely garnering more interest from other groups, as highlighted by Men’s Shed President Allan McGrath-

“It’s more in touch with the natural environment, it enhances the place and makes it more attractive, and provides another interest for members.”

This positive community reception is demonstrated further by Aedeen Cremin and Julie Campbell and their new edition to Yass literature – a digital publication, Gardens of Yass, that follows the Garden in more detail and provides the community perspective, along with several other regional gardens in its text, available on USB-stick and anticipated in print soon.

At back – Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman and Garden co-designer Aaron Chatfield with Garden book editors at front – Julie Campbell and Aedeen Cremin

The Garden is still in its early stages of development, yet it has already firmly rooted itself in the community – Mr Chatfield engaging various community groups involvement, including the youth of Yass Valley from Tafe and Yass High School. Mr Chatfield feels reaching out to the youth community groups will help enforce the community role of these gardens, “Lay that first step of hey, this is a community garden, everyone’s welcome to come in”, showing that the Garden extends beyond a Men’s Shed collaboration. A hope shared by Wayne Stuart, Men’s Shed secretary, who put forward the idea and has worked behind the scenes for its realisation.

Men’s Shed president Mr McGrath expanded on this idea, calling what we have ‘a stage one’ for community building with plans for the Garden’s future, providing;

“a bit of a bridge really, between the Men’s shed and the rest of the community, more particularly the indigenous community. You can see them (the plants) here today…we hope to see it mature; we’ll continue to plant and enlarge it.”

Men’s Shed members present at the Grand Opening with local member Wendy Tuckerman

The gardens will be open to public viewing during the same opening hours as the Men’s Shed, with Shed President Mr McGrath emphasising Tuesday mornings and the afternoons of Thursday and Saturday. Organised group tours will have to follow COVID regulations with a previous booking; however, the Men’s Shed members, now 100 strong, look forward to providing hosting to those interested.

By Griffin Palen