Aboriginal tribes lived in the Benalla area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.

For 40,000 years Aborigines have used native plants for food, medicine, shelter and utensils so a special garden, featuring local plants, seemed an appropriate living memorial to the people who managed the land for so long.

In April 1838, at the Crossing Place on the Broken River, seven white men and one Aborigine were killed in the so-called Faithfull Massacre. Several retaliatory massacres followed, Border Police Stations were set up at Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga river crossings, and the number of Aboriginal tribes declined.

There is a memorial stone dedicated to the Faithfull Massacre near Lake Benalla but Aboriginal people do not recognise that attempt to commemorate the event.

Community Input

From the project’s inception in 2002, Tomorrow Today Foundation talked about the Aboriginal Garden with as many district community groups, schools and individuals as possible. The Lions Club, with its long interest in Moira Reserve, supported the project.

In 2005, design concept plans were displayed publicly for comment before being approved by Benalla Rural City Council. The public consultation led to a local botanist joining the Project Advisory Committee and interested parties being encouraged to be involved.

In September 2008 more than 100 school students and community volunteers planted the large garden beds that surround the stone wall.

A Place for Everyone

Benalla’s Aboriginal Garden is a living testament to the spirit of cooperation required to create a community garden, which  is approved by Aboriginal elders, a wonderful addition to a town renowned for its gardens, and a healing and knowledge sharing place of benefit to all.

The idea for the garden came from discussions with local Aboriginal leader, Chris Thorne, who saw the potential for a community garden to recognise the district’s history before European settlement and to share learning about Aboriginal culture and the environment.

Tomorrow Today coordinated the creation of the garden and continues to be involved because of its potential to bring people together and create greater awareness and conversation about our district’s history and heritage.

Sharing stories with children visiting from a local childcare centre.

Location and Design

The Aboriginal Garden is located within Moira Reserve, adjacent to the Broken River and the dam wall of Lake Benalla. It sits between the Lake Walk path and the water, surrounded by beautiful old River Red Gums.

Water is the source of life so it was imperative for the garden to be alongside the waterway.  Representatives of local tribes, working with a landscape architect and the Foundation’s Advisory Committee, selected the site.

At the centre of the garden is a wall of local granite, shaped like the edge of a Coolamon – the wooden food bowl used by Aboriginal people to collect food. The wall symbolises the Coolamon tipped on its side with food plants scattered nearby.

Large ‘seating’ rocks in the sandy area embraced by the wall are another feature of the design. With the leadership of Aboriginal elder, Uncle Wally Cooper, Kevin Cooper and Chris Thorne have worked on a number of rock carvings that add an extra dimension to the garden.

The plants in the garden are native to, and were once widespread in, the Benalla area. Many of the species are now threatened by clearing, farming practices and urban development.

Care was taken in the design and location of the garden to ensure that it allows floodwaters to move freely through the area, with minimal impact on the flow of water or damage to the garden.