Indigenous Garden

Indigenous tribes lived in the area around Benalla before the arrival of Europeans. In what has been called the Faithfull Massacre, seven white men and one aboriginal were killed in April 1838 at the Crossing Place on the Broken River. Several retaliatory massacres followed. The Faithfull Massacre led to the setting up of Border Police Stations at river crossings at Seymour, Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga. Over the years the indigenous tribes decreased in numbers due to European settlement.

There is a memorial stone dedicated to the Faithfull Massacre near Lake Benalla but this attempt to commemorate the event is not recognised by indigenous people.

Why create the Indigenous Garden?

Benalla is well known for its magnificent public and private gardens. Benalla also takes a strong interest in its history and heritage. These interests come together in the Indigenous Garden, created to recognise the history of the district before European settlement.

The idea for the Garden came from discussions with local indigenous people. They saw the potential of a community garden as a place for learning about Indigenous culture and the environment. The Indigenous people of Australia have used native plants for food, medicine, shelter and utensils for an estimated 40,000 years. It seemed very appropriate that a special garden featuring local plants should be the focus of a living memorial to the indigenous people who managed this land for so long.

The Indigenous Garden has been created by the Benalla district community, with the approval of indigenous elders, for the benefit of all.

School Groups

With plenty of advance notice, a guided walk through the garden with local indigenous artist, Mr Chris Thorne, can usually be organised. Chris has volunteered his invaluable skills over many years to help guide the development of this wonderful community garden. For more information contact Sally Gamble on 0428 755 138.

The Location

Water is a very important focus for the local indigenous people so it was essential that the location be alongside the waterway. Local indigenous people working with a landscape architect and advisory committee selected the site and a local elder gave approval. A lengthy process of discussion with the local community and then formal approval by Benalla Rural City council, to construct the garden at the chosen site, then followed.

The Indigenous 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.

The Design

At the centre of the Garden is a stonewall. Made from local granite, it is shaped like the edge of a Coolamon - the wooden food bowl used by Aboriginal people each day when collecting food. The wall symbolises the Coolamon tipped on its side with food plants scattered nearby. Landscape architect Mr. Chris Dance, of LandDesign Partnership, created the design concept under the direction of a local advisory committee.

Large 'seating' rocks in the sandy area embraced by the wall are another feature of the design. Led by indigenous elder Uncle Wally Cooper, Kevin Cooper and Chris Thorne have worked on a number of rock carvings which add an extra dimension to the garden.

Great care was taken in the design and location of the Indigenous 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.


The plants in this garden are local to the Benalla area. Once widespread, many are now threatened because of clearing, farming practices and urban development.

In September 2008 over one hundred school students and community volunteers planted the large garden beds that surround the stone wall.

Community Input

From the first idea in 2002 the Tomorrow:Today Foundation has taken the opportunity to talk with community groups, schools and individuals in the district about the Indigenous Garden. The Lions Club has had a long interest in Moira Reserve and have provided strong support for the project.

In 2005 the concept plans of the design were displayed for comment and later passed by Benalla Rural City Council. A local botanist joined the Advisory Committee for the project as a result of this public consultation.

Interested community members were encouraged to be involved in the building and planting wherever possible. Significant ‘in kind’ contributions of knowledge, skills, materials, equipment hire and labour are a feature of its development.

Residents of Odyssey at Molyullah provide ongoing assistance with the maintenance of the garden.

The Advisory Committee that oversees the project has indigenous advisors and representatives from various Benalla interest groups including Friends of Benalla Botanical Gardens & Riverine Parkland and Benalla Rural City Council.


The Tomorrow:Today Foundation was able to coordinate the original project development with a grant from the Ledger Charitable Trust. It has the invaluable skills of a volunteer indigenous project worker.

Local supporters of the project include:
Benalla Rural City Council
Lions Club of Benalla
Department of Sustainability & Environment
Extons Quarry
Mawsons Quarry
Monger & Tomkinson
T&C James Constructions

Assistance has also been provided by Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne.

The Tomorrow:Today Foundation recognises the enormous assistance provided by grants from:
Reichstein Foundation
FRRR - ANZ Seeds of Renewal
Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority

Such strong support ensures that the Indigenous Garden is a high quality addition to the Lake Benalla precinct that will bring heritage, environmental and tourism benefits to the district.