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By Neville Passmore

I attended the Murray Districts Aboriginal Association Community Vegetable Garden planting day to see hundreds of veggies going into prepared soil in raised beds. This planting project is the product of an evolving collaboration aimed to improve Aboriginal heath, wellbeing and family connections in the Peel community.

Caroline Nilson a lecturer, PhD candidate, registered nurse and midwife from Murdoch University School of Health Professions has collaborated with the women from the Murray District Aboriginal Association. The result is the Bindjareb Yorgas Heath Program, which is aimed at developing health literacy, health awareness and skills to engage in healthy lifestyle choices. Under this banner Caroline set up a pilot program in 2011 called the Deadly Koolinga Chefs. A group of 8 children aged 11 and 12 years took part in a 12 week nutrition and cooking program. Each day of the program which involved preparing and cooking fresh food meals, every child took home a ready-made meal for 4, so that benefits flowed through to the rest of the family. Support from The Community Development Foundation and Soroptomists International of Riverside has enabled the "chefs" project to continue and expand into 2013.

The Bindjareb Yorgas Health Program is made up of 4 competencies, which involves: healthy eating, healthy preparation and cooking, mental health and understanding health issues. Once again the cooking sessions involved taking prepared food home for the rest of the family.

The most recent expression of the program led to the development of a food garden to supply fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs. More collaborations came forward including Greening Australia who in turn are supported by Alcoa's Making an Impact program. Their assistance came in the form of materials and plants supply. John Bodycoat of the Pinjarra Community Garden led a team of Fairbridge students studying Conservation and Land Management and between them they provided much of the expertise and labour to set up garden beds, the irrigation systems and the planting out process. C-Wise a locally based organic soil fertility company assisted by supplying high humus soil conditioner to turn sand into growing soil for the vegetable beds as well as for the individual fruiting trees going into the site. The message here is that healthy productive soil grows healthy food.

The aim of the community vegetable garden is to provide fresh produce for the continuation of the cooking program and for use by the local community. A master plan is being developed for the Department of Environment and conservation administered land surrounding the Aboriginal community centre in Hampton Road Pinjarra. This 7.5 hectare site is envisaged to have Women's walk trails as well as bush food trails. These interpretative trails are seen as a means of engaging with the local community and an opportunity to explain aboriginal custodianship of the land. When you take a helicopter view of this project which started out as a small cooking circle, with a lot of help from many friends it has grown into an important community initiative.

This has the ability to increase community awareness of the importance of growing your own healthy produce, provide the local Aboriginal community with a place to actively engage its members in positive and inclusive initiatives, create a wholesome space where people can participate in growing edibles to enhance food security and provide training and upskilling in all aspects of community garden establishment and maintenance.

Every program of this nature needs a champion within the group to provide inspiration and energy. Karrie-Anne Kearing the chairperson of the Murray District Aboriginal Association and her husband Mark Salmon fulfil this role with great enthusiasm and a lot of plain hard work.

This project is a great example of that old adage that "many hands make light work"


Many hands on the day


Installing reticulation


Painting labels


Ready to plant


A guiding hand


Greening Australia helping out