06 August, 2021

New Ngunnawal Garden to connect RG Casey building to local landscape

The Spirit Super owned RG Casey building in Canberra is set to forge stronger local connections through a new Indigenous-designed concept garden — the Ngunnawal Garden.

Announced by building tenants the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of their 2021 NAIDOC week celebrations, the project will see the building’s central courtyard garden redeveloped to celebrate local connections to land.

A spokesperson for DFAT said the project was a fitting way to celebrate NAIDOC Week by “committing to care, heal, and celebrate the country we are on every day.”

The Ngunnawal Garden has been designed and will be developed by Ngunnawal Elder and artist Adrian Brown with support from the National Aboriginal Design Agency.

Adrian is a proud Ngunnawal man who has maintained a strong connection to Ngunnawal culture — knowledge that has been passed down through his mother’s and father’s families over many generations.

A former ACT Parks and Conversation ranger, Adrian has spent decades sharing his knowledge about traditional land management and healing practices. He's also a celebrated landscape designer, having won Canberra's prestigious annual Floriade design award three times. 

Upon seeing the proposed site for the new Ngunnawal Garden, Adrian said he knew exactly what story he wanted the site to tell. 

Spirit Super CEO Leeanne Turner and Ngunnawal Elder and artist Adrian Brown

Spirit Super CEO Leeanne Turner and Ngunnawal Elder and artist Adrian Brown

"It's the story of the Mullian and the dreaming. The story goes that the Mullian — the wedge tail eagle — was sitting down resting, and the dingo – the Mirigan – came up and scared Mullian. And when Mullian got scared, she flew and took off, and all the dust came off her wings, and she created the Milky Way,” he said.

The garden will feature three landscaped tiers representing different parts of the story, each brimming with native plant life, revamped seating, and sculptures designed and created by Adrian and local Ngunnawal artists.

The design of each tier is inspired by ceremonial sites from around the region. Each site forms part of a traditional journey to gain knowledge about caring for country and its people.

Referenced sites include Jedbinbilla (now known as Tidbinbilla), “where boys become men”; Gudgenby, “where the waters meet”; and Dhaura Mulan, “The Dreaming — the Spirits in the Sky”.

Adrian said the garden will allow visitors to experience the Mullian dreaming story firsthand and to feel more connected to the land and sky.

“We kind of use different concepts to tell that story and make that story effective so that people sitting in the landscape feel like they belong to it and feel like they belong to something that's a bigger picture,” he said. “It’s the bigger picture we don't often sit and think or listen to or understand much about."

The RG Casey Building has long been a key asset in Spirit Super's property portfolio.

The building was purchased by Spirit Super (as MTAA Super) in 1998 and is the long-term head office of the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Currently, it is managed on Spirit Super's behalf by JGS Property.

Spirit Super CEO Leeanne Turner said the redevelopment was a fantastic opportunity to strengthen the building’s connection to a proud local history.

“As a super fund, we invest in property to secure strong long-term returns for our members. But we know we also have a responsibility to make sure those assets enhance and support local communities and cultures. I have no doubt the Ngunnawal Garden will be a beautiful and meaningful space, not only for DFAT staff to relax and connect but for the entire community.”

The Ngunnawal Garden design was unveiled as part of DFAT’s 2021 NAIDOC Week celebrations

The Ngunnawal Garden design was unveiled as part of DFAT’s 2021 NAIDOC Week celebrations

Leeanne was also quick to acknowledge the role of onsite JGS Property Asset Manager Leighan Scurr in getting the project up and running.

“The site for the garden is currently a large fountain that was switched off during the drought a few years ago. Leighan saw the sites potential and began scoping consultations with local Indigenous experts to create a more sustainable and connected outdoor gathering space. I applaud her passion and perseverance in making this happen. She has gone above and beyond to make sure the space is being used in the best way possible."

Construction of the Ngunnawal Garden will start in late 2021/early 2022. It is expected to be completed in time for National Reconciliation Week in May 2022.