One wouldn’t think there’s much to be gleaned about Australia’s agricultural past from an industrial park near downtown Sydney. However, more than 2,000 native edible and medicinal plants now grow on the roof of a corporate office building there, overlooking the glass and concrete forest that’s been built over what was once called “Botany Bay.” Yerrabingin is the world’s first indigenous rooftop farm dedicated to traditional plants and flowers. Hopefully it’s not the last.
It all began when longtime friends Clarence Slockee and Christian Hampson, both Indigenous Australians, enrolled in an executive-style business program for Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. With mutual experience in parks and gardens, the two came up with the idea for a community garden that elevates both native flora and Aboriginal traditions.
They planted 35 different species of plants and fruits on the rooftop in March of 2019. To keep the weight down, they were forced to use free-draining soil and plant only species that required little irrigation. In other words, the plants selected are some of the most durable flora native to the country. The farmers adhered to a traditional permaculture layout, eschewing neat rows and separation of species. By April, the farm had opened and the rooftop was verdant.
The farm is a mishmash of countless niche “bush foods,” such as warrigal greens, lilly pilly, murnong, and grevillea. Native raspberries from the mountains sidle up next to finger limes, sausage-shaped citruses packed with colorful balls of tangy pulp. Karkalla plants, which grow stir-fry favorites known as “dune bananas,” neighbor with muntrie, a fruit tree that struggles in even controlled environments, but for some reason thrives at Yerrabingin. Much of the goods grown are sold to local chefs and restaurateurs interested in more abstract produce.
The farm not only offers workshops on permaculture, pickling, weaving, and tool-making, but hosts Aboriginal musical and dance performances as well. By reacquainting modern Australians with traditional crafts and agriculture, Yerrabingin looks to inspire a new generation of young Aboriginals interested in farming to expand their presence in both the market and their communities, at least enough so that one day Yerrabingin isn’t the only farm of its kind.