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Plot for community garden in Erskineville

Community gardens are in bloom all over the city, but a group of Erskineville residents is still waiting to sow seeds reports Kelly Lane in the South Sydney Herald in October 2009.

The group has sought approval to use a small block of Council owned land on Erskineville Road for a garden, and remain dissatisfied with Council’s response that the land is not suitable.

Erskineville resident, Julie Moffat, said: “We all live around the site that has been vacant for probably about 40 years, and it has not been used because it’s been fenced and locked. So the site has just sort of sat there on the main road, but it’s a site that we’ve seen and would like to make use of.”

Ms Moffat made the submission to Council for use of the site as a community garden, which would have been a joint venture between local residents and the hospitality training college Yaama Dhiyaan, with support from the Redfern Waterloo Authority.

Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo, said that Yaama Dhiyaan joined the cause for the opportunity to plant native foods that could be used at the college. “We never really thought about it until Julie approached us and we said yes we can do that,” she said. “Anything to do with the community and the kids that’s educational for us, then we’ll come on board and support.”

Council investigated the use of the land, but rejected the submission on the basis of noise, poor sunlight and the quality of soil. Ms Moffat said residents were not concerned with traffic and noise because they lived around the site and had grown accustomed to it, and that most of the plants and vegetables could be grown in raised planters.

“There are a lot of people who are older and didn’t want a site that was fully in the sun,” she said. “Council did show us a few other sites that were actively open spaces, green spaces that we would possibly look at converting, but that wasn’t really what we were looking to do, and being in the full sun doesn’t appeal to a lot of people either,” she said. The alternative sites were Solander Park, which is about a 10-minute walk from the land on Erskineville Road, and a small park on the corner of Baldwin and Albert Streets.

A City of Sydney spokesperson said: “The feedback from the group of residents was that Solander Park was too far away and that the site on the corner of Baldwin and Albert was too heavily used and close to a private residence. The City has not investigated either site further, as there does not appear to be much interest from the resident group in pursuing any alternative sites.”

Lin Cooper is the coordinator of a nearby youth refuge and agrees that Erskineville Road is the best option for the garden. “It just looks derelict, it looks uncared for and it could be lovely. There’s no value to the community as it is. It’s just fenced off, it’s not even an open space,” she said. “We would really love it to happen as part of plugging our kids into the community. They might learn that carrots come out of the ground rather than from the supermarket.” But Ms Cooper said that the kids at the refuge would only be inspired to get involved if the garden were close by. “I think Council is a reasonable council,” she said. “Unless they have a really good plan for the site ... I don’t know why they are saying no.”

A City of Sydney spokesperson said she was unable to comment on future plans for the site.

Ms Moffat believes the land will be rezoned and sold for development. “We would like Council to allow us to use the site for community purposes, not to rezone it and sell it to a developer, or to see it developed. The application that we made, to make use of it as a community garden, filled the brief for their community garden grants – to enliven parts of the community that weren’t really used and make active use of it and make it a community space.”

There are currently 13 community gardens across the City of Sydney. Council is also supporting new groups in Surry Hills, Ultimo, Glebe and East Sydney to find suitable sites.

Photo: Ali Blogg- Erko’s community garden advocates making their point