Creating Culturally Safe Space: Moondani Balluk Garden

Victoria University

Located on the unceded and contested lands of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples, a new garden adjoins and extends the Moondani Balluk Centre, flowing beyond the walls of the building to create a welcoming place for Aboriginal staff, students, community groups and Traditional Owners to connect, collaborate, and host gatherings.

Previously a concrete and synthetic grass courtyard, it’s now a place where ancestral knowledge can be shared and recorded, through conversations, workshops, and research projects.

The project was envisioned and led by Yorta Yorta woman Karen Jackson, Executive Director of Moondani Balluk. Karen Jackson and the Moondani Balluk team, including Dr Paola Balla, worked with Realm Studios landscape architects and Gresley Abas and Gregory Burgess Architects, to bring the vision to life.

Karen Jackson told us:

This landscape represents escarpment, and floodplains, and the plants that were here on Country.

“One of the things that is really important to me is how Moondani Balluk worked collaboratively with Realm Studios to understand the landscape as it was, before the space was colonised.

I want to acknowledge the ancestral knowledge that was shared with us in good faith. This knowledge is held with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and also the Boon Wurrung peoples.

The garden is scaffolded by Indigenous trees, grasses, boulders and bluestone, and features a yarning circle and fire pit at its centre. During rain events, water moves freely through the vegetation and generates an ecology that is reminiscent of ecosystems that once occurred on Country, on volcanic plains at the edge of the Maribyrnong river.

The top of the garden is lined with She-oak trees, whose needles make a whistling sound in the wind; and, as conversations and shared stories in the garden reveal, have held traditional usages for Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

Watkin McLennan, associate at Realm Studios explained that the garden, unlike many other urban landscapes, “…is not on life support; it doesn’t require irrigation.”

This landscape is about relationships: relationships with the University, with students, with plants and animals. Over time we hope that those relationships will grow and become stronger and people who are interacting here can build those relationships.

Officially opened by Karen Jackson and Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker on 15 February 2024, the garden is already being used by community groups and organisations, including Djirra legal services who hosted an annual staff workshop in the space, and plans for Blak Women’s healing activities are underway.

Like the small shrubs within it, the garden’s impact is already established and rapidly growing.

Karen Jackson speaking to a group of approximately 30 attendees at the Moondani Balluk garden opening.
Karen Jackson and Professor Adam Shoemaker standing outside at the Moondani Balluk garden.
An attendee at a Smoking Ceremony at the Moondani Balluk garden. The person is crouching down close to the fire pit.

/Public Release. View in full here.