Last Saturday, I caught up with my two sisters in the city – Cate had come down from Albury for the annual quilt show at the Exhibition Buildings and Rita and I met her at Southern Cross to spend a few hours together.
The sculpture above an apt metaphor because with the disruptions to the rail system there were replacement buses for me and delays for both my sisters. Lots of comings and goings!
Ironically, I thought I’d be late but the connection from Moorabbin to the Arts Centre by express bus was seamless and I was the first to arrive at our designated rendezvous.
Cate’s VLine delayed by a signal failure outside Seymour and Rita’s train on the Lilydale Line sat at Flinders Street ‘forever’ before continuing onto Southern Cross.
First stop, of course, was a cuppa to catch up and plan our day – my sisters would go into the quilt show for a couple of hours and I’d go into the museum opposite.
They are both into a craft and excellent sewers and knitters. However, sister Cate hadn’t entered a quilt panel this year, so I opted to catch the latest exhibition ‘From the Heart’ at Museums Victoria which focused on the regeneration of communities after the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires.
At Moorabbin, I had got on a crowded bus because I was prepared to stand and so ended up close and personal with a bloke from Sydney who accepted the offer too.
It became one of those random meetings that turn into a happy memory.
He was from NSW and we chatted all the way into the city comparing Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne won! He hadn’t been here for 30 years but couldn’t believe how much it had changed – and he loved it.
‘I met my wife here – the only good thing about the place all those years ago. It was grey, grey, grey and boring.‘
A bit harsh, I thought but then he admitted being born and bred in the Blue Mountains and still living there.
‘I sit on the verandah with my coffee and listen to the birds and watch the sunrise or sunset transform the mountains and trees.’
The journey then became a mutual admiration society – we covered climate change, the troglodytes in the LNP, the need to change the rules and reintroduce fairness and the lack of good social interaction and communication in the age of people being constantly plugged in and tuned out.
He envied Melburnites because despite disruptions our transport system ‘still worked and your Premier finishes things.’ He was impressed by our replacement services.
I envied him living in the Blue Mountains and told him one of my never to be realised dreams was ‘to afford a writers’ retreat at Varuna.
We parted ways and as I walked towards Flinders Street and paused to admire the beauty of Birrarung Marr, I appreciated again, the joy of living in ‘the world’s most liveable city’ with many public gardens and parks, heritage buildings and great facilities.
We can explore or retreat to beautiful places with our children and friends to enjoy the outdoors if we don’t have our own garden.
There are so many delightful places the public can access to reinforce an important connection to Nature that nurtures happiness and belonging.
Melbourne Museum – An Undervalued Gem
I spent a relaxing two hours in a garden often overlooked and yet it is not only delightful but educational because it is part of the Melbourne Museum and alongside other amazing exhibitions it tells the story of our country from the perspective of our First Peoples and highlights the strong relationship they have with the land – a relationship developed over thousands of years.
Silence and solitude are invaluable, offering time and space to reflect and contemplate. And in the Milarri Garden, there are plenty of rest stops where visitors can take time out, similar to the benefits of visiting Mingary in the heart of Melbourne.
Milarri is an initiative of the Victorian Aboriginal community. It is planted with trees and shrubs used by Indigenous people for food, technology and medicine, and promotes an understanding of Aboriginal people and their culture.
Every sign naming the plants has the Aboriginal name too if known. Milarri is from the Woi-wurrung language and means ‘outside’. Wominjeka is a Woi-wurrung word for welcome.
You discover the plants by walking a pathway that wends its way to the Forest Gallery and you are advised to watch your step because the rocks can be uneven and slippery so always remain on the path.
Also, the museum being, child-friendly as a number one priority, there are signs warning against eating and touching the plants – some of them may be poisonous if consumed. There is a water feature with eels, fish, ducks and turtles and a sign warns that eels bite.
Sometimes, when I see these signs asking for behaviour, which I deem common sense, I wonder if respect has been thrown out the window. Fortunately, on Saturday, everyone I met or observed behaved impeccably!
When you walk through the garden, you leave behind the noise of the city, the irritations, any personal worries and concerns…
The garden seems soundproofed and it is easy to absorb the serenity as well as appreciate the knowledge held by the oldest living culture in the world.
Feed your spirit.
Near the entrance, there were two exhibitions reinforcing the wonderful gift our First Peoples want to share:
Sometimes we need to reinforce the positive messages and lessons learned in childhood. Those idyllic days when we played outside in the fresh air.
We need to take time from the busyness of our lives to reconnect with the earth and a ‘green’ place where we belong.
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more, to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks where I can bathe my fingers in a cataract of rippling notes, or to clamber over a stone wall into green fields that tumble and roll and climb in riotous gladness!”
Places and experiences that provide comfort and joy and a host of memories – all valuable contributions to health and wellbeing.
Milarri Garden is one of many places for a writer to observe the changes wrought by each season and perhaps acknowledge the changes in our life or the lives of characters in our stories.
Every culture has folklore and stories and we are fortunate in Australia to reap the benefit of the richness of many cultures from our First Peoples to the various ethnic groups and races who now call Australia home.
In Milarri, there is a sculpture, Biamie the Rainbow Serpent, by Clive Atkison and Dominic Benhura. Clive is a Yorta Yorta artist from northern Victoria and Dominic is a Shona artist from Zimbabwe. They collaborated on the artwork in 1999.
For Clive, the snake is a symbol of knowledge and wisdom, and the paved concentric circles represent harmony, strength and unity.
The sculpture reflects his respect for the wisdom and guidance of his elders.
There was also an area where paintings on the rock told a story of the trail and the animals to be found in the habitat.
When I meandered through the garden at the Museum, I was fascinated to read the Aboriginal names for plants I recognised as being indigenous to Mordialloc.
I remember researching how the Boon wurrung used the plants when I collated a kit for the City of Kingston while volunteering with the Friends of Bradshaw Park.
Bradshaw Park, Mordialloc is an example of grassy woodland consisting of a lower storey of native grasses, sedges, rushes, lilies and small shrubs.
Grassy Woodland has a middle storey of shrubs and small trees with a scattered dominant tree completing the upper storey. The dominant tree species at the time of European invasion and settlement would have been the Coast Manna Gum.
The Manna Gum, Wurun, in Wurundjeri was enjoyed as a food source by the Aborigines and early settlers. The sap dries into hard sugary drops that fall to the ground – ‘manna from heaven’!
The bark comes off the tree’s pale trunk in long ribbons and the wood used to make implements such as shields and wooden water bowls called tarnuks by Victorian Aborigines. the long thin leaves were smoked over a fire to lessen fever.
There are over 800 different wattle species in Australia and several species grow in Bradshaw Park. Wattle, karook, gum was an important food for the Boon wurrung as well as being used as a glue or cement. Taken as a medicine, the gum helped treat dysentery or was applied to wounds.
Wattleseed is high in protein and carbohydrate – the green seed pods were cooked and eaten, and dry seeds ground into flour.
Plants were used for many other things besides food. When collected, the long leaves of sedges, rushes and lilies made baskets and mats. Soaked and beaten to free the fibres they made string. The inner bark of some wattle trees also made string.
Kangaroo grass, wooloot in Gunditjmara, was common in Victoria’s low-lying plains but grazing animals quickly destroyed much of this. The Boon wurrung used the grass to make fishing nets, using the leaves and the stem to make string. The seeds can be ground into flour.
Common sedge, poong’ort in Djabwurrung were made into capes and worn around the neck to cure toothache.
Sweet pittosporum, bart-bart in Gunai/Kurnai language, has a sticky substance around its seed and this is used to relieve insect stings. The inner bark is used for string.
Even the humble pigface, gadwud in Gunai/Kurnai has fruit that can be eaten raw. New leaves are eaten raw or cooked and sap from leaves can be used to treat insect stings and small cuts.
The flax lily, murmbai, in Gunditjmara is also found in Mordialloc and the fibre from strap-like leaves can make string and baskets. The fibre in the leaf makes a strong cord.
The drooping she-oak, gneering, in Gunditjmara provides hardwood for making implements such as boomerangs, shields and clubs. The young shoots chewed to relieve thirst and the cones can be eaten.
Usually, it was the women who collected vegetable foods and trapped small animals, while men hunted the larger animals. Depending on the time of year groups of hunters and gatherers went out each day to spend 4-6 hours collecting food.
Children went with their mothers to learn where to find plants, which ones to eat and how to forage. Finding food involved everyone, and all learned the skills necessary to hunt and gather. All the food was shared.
The First Peoples knew the land and it provided them with a variety of food to produce a well-balanced diet. They were not undernourished or deprived and had the kind of diet we are encouraged to follow today.
They ate fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish. The meat from wild birds and animals was lean and low in fat. Their lifestyle included plenty of exercise, particularly walking and of course, they got plenty of fresh air.
The Aboriginal people have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment. Their seasonal calendar encompasses seven seasons. Each season marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather coinciding with the life cycle of animals and plants.
For our sustainability and survival, we need to take heed of the knowledge our First People possess and value our environment. If some of the catastrophic predictions regarding climate change are correct, we may appreciate the medicinal, edible and practical qualities of many of the plants we have ignored or wantonly destroyed.
After the tragedy of the 2009 bushfires, acknowledgement of the importance of learning from First Peoples and allowing them to continue their stewardship of the land has been an important step.
If you can’t visit From the Heart you can access online a mini digital exhibition of the Victorian Bushfires Collection, Curious?
But you can improve your health and wellbeing and take a Milarri Garden Walk or hug a tree any time!
“Even the smallest landscape can offer pride of ownership not only to its inhabitants but to its neighbours. The world delights in a garden… Creating any garden, big or small, is, in the end, all about joy.”
Julie Moir Messervy