A new Indigenous-designed urban food production farm in Sydney’s inner city Redfern – believed to be the first of its kind in Australia – is a prototype that its creators hope will be replicated by other people, especially other Indigenous communities.
Modelled on a First Nations rooftop garden in Toronto, Canada, the design of the native farm is similarly shaped by considerations of environmental, social and financial sustainability but from an Indigenous Australian perspective.
Getting this balance right was the goal of the duo behind the recently finished project, Woiwurrung and Maneroo man Christian Hampson and Mindjingbal-Bundjalug man Clarence Slockee from cultural start-up Yerrabingin.
The 500 square metre farm, which is on top of Mirvac’s new technology and innovation hub South Eveleigh (formerly the Australian Technology Park), is populated with native medicinal and edible plants including finger limes, warrigal greens, native raspberries and sea celery.
The ambition was to create a functioning mini ecosystem on the roof to attract insects and birds into the space, Clarence Slockee told The Fifth Estate.
“People forget about the insects and how important they are. Plants are one thing but we want more organisms to come,” he says.
Slockee says putting native species on rooftops makes sense because they are accustomed to the hot, dry and windy environments that are typical of urban roofs.
“I’m surprised natives don’t get more of a run.
“Succulents are common because they don’t need a lot of maintenance, but natives are the same.”
The hardscaping features were done in partnership with Junglefy, which was responsible for One Central Park’s green walls. Slockee says the hardest thing about building the native farm on a rooftop was the weight restrictions.
Slockee said the team wanted to put a couple of hero trees in but realised they would become two heavy in just five years. Instead, they opted for trellises with climbing plants to create a similar effect.
The native farm is also financially sustainable
Some of the edible native plants will be available for purchase by cafes in the area. But the farm is also about involving the local Indigenous community and teaching people about this culture by allowing people to try the produce and take clippings to plant at home, Slockee says.
Mirvac rooftop farm opening: Christian Hampson, Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, Clarence Slockee, Governor of NSW, Linda Hurley andCosta Georgiadis
Workshops and events will add to the viability of the farm
Selling crops is not the only way the farm will support itself financially. Yerrabingin will hold a series of workshops, events and tours on the roof about native permaculture and other topics, with the proceeds to be funnelled back into the farm.
The importance of sustainability and its role in placemaking is something Slockee hopes to impart by holding these types of events at the native farm.
“It sustains us, it’s a sense of place.
“And we want more people to get an idea about that sense of place, even if they’re not Aboriginal. Maybe it won’t be the same spiritual connection, but we want people to experience the sense of place.”
The project came about when the original plans for a garden rooftop fell through. Yerrabingin was already doing a separate native landscaping project with Mirvac, which was how the idea for a native rooftop farm was born.
“This is a significant step forward in embedding reconciliation into placemaking while harnessing the potential of Aboriginal social enterprise,” Yerrabingin co-founder, Christian Hampson, said at the launch of the rooftop farm last week.
“The development industry can often be concerned about ‘overstepping protocol’ so it has been inspiring to work with Mirvac who has set an example for the industry in how to respectively incorporate Aboriginal culture and heritage.”
Going forward, Slockee says that it’s important that Aboriginal communities benefit from the commercial side of these types of projects.
“Often the commercial aspect is not going to Aboriginal communities.
“We want aboriginal communities to start commercially viable initiatives to rectify disparity in that regard.”
The other project that Slockee and Hampson are involved in is the South Eveleigh Aboriginal Cultural Landscape Garden, which will also grow native and medicinal plant species and bush food.