Canberra Raiders Captain David Shillington ventured out to the catchment area of the Lower Murray Darling last week to attend the opening of the Menindee Cultural Gardens.
Menindee Cultural Gardens is a project of the Lower Murray Darling (LMD) Catchment Management Authority and was funded by Australian Government's Caring for our Country program & the NSW Government's Catchment Action Program.
The region covers the far west, southern region of NSW and takes in the communities of Euston, Buronga, Wentworth, Lake Victoria, South of Broken Hill, Menindee, and east of Ivanhoe.
The idea for this project came out of discussions by Aboriginal women at a LMD forum, identifying that their usual medicinal plants that they were harvesting from the side of the local roads, were fast disappearing in variety and quantity.
The garden was constructed as a place which would provide the community with a sense of ownership.
This sense of ownership was evoked from the fact that most of the labour for this project would be done by volunteers from the community. The volunteers assisted in the work from the ground up and created a place that reflects the vision of the Aboriginal community to share and educate in the respect of traditional knowledge.
“I was asked to come out and be a guest to help launch the Menindee Cultural Gardens and I was more than happy to come along,” said Shillington.
“I’ve got a bit of experience in the country because my cousins are on farms in Central Queensland but this was a bit of a shock to the system. Going to Menindee from the airport is a 100km journey through the countryside. There’s no building but heaps of wild emus and kangaroos running around.”
“It was an exciting adventure though and a genuinely great experience. I was given a warm reception and they were really lovely people.”
“It was great to get to know the people in the community and see what the garden meant to them. We had a barbeque and I had some kangaroo tail soup which was a first for me and it was surprisingly nice.”
Aside from continuing to be a great ambassador for the Raiders and the game of rugby league, the significance of the garden was not lost on the 13 Test veteran.
“It’s a nice little garden with a mix of plants for medicinal purposes and for food as well. It’s designed as a way of passing down the traditions of the Aboriginal elders to the next generations.”
“I think it’s a great concept because as time goes on in some community’s Aboriginal people have lost a lot of these traditions because of technology and other factors.”
“The garden will be a good bonding venue for the local community especially after having spent the year putting it together. As time goes on, they will spend time together talking about things and getting to know each other by passing on their traditions and stories.”
“It’s not a big community but seeing the bonding that came of this and the ongoing benefits that the garden will provide was very meaningful for me to be a part of.”
A new Landcare group, Menindee Local Landcare Group, has also been established from the local community to assist in maintaining the garden, creating a community meeting place and continuing opportunities to share information, knowledge and culture as a community.
“The people from Landcare talked to the kids about conserving the land and doing the right thing for the environment and the importance of planning plants and trees to stop erosion and that sort of stuff. With the help of the group, the garden will be around for a long time.”
Shillington has immersed himself in multiple community initiatives throughout his career and believed that the experience was another great example of how rugby league can break down cultural barriers no matter where you are in Australia.
“I was really surprised how big rugby league was. I asked the kids what their favourite teams were and I got six or seven different answers which they were all very passionate about. It was good to see a few Raiders fans there and I pleased to be asked to sign a few jerseys.”
“We do lots of different community things but just seeing the importance of something like this in a remote community like Menindee was very moving.”