South Eveleigh Community Rooftop Garden
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Increases pollinator insect species richness on the previously bare rooftop, with a total of 131 pollinators representing at least 13 pollinator species observed over 3 days in spring 2020. The pollinator trellis feature attracted 36% of the pollinator insects observed (and had the highest vegetation volume at 54%). There was a 116% increase (from 30 to 65) in the number of native plant species from initial planting to 2 years after construction.
- Diverted 5.16 tons of food waste, equivalent to the weight of 2.4 Grand Jeep Cherokees, from landfill within the first year of operation through collecting food waste from 3 local cafes. 7 on-site worm farm bins produced 89 gallons of liquid organic fertilizer for the rooftop garden (saving an estimated $560 USD) and 2,778 lbs of solid organic fertilizer for other precinct gardens (saving an estimated $300 USD) within the first year of operation.
- Promotes, celebrates, and shares Indigenous cultural knowledge and practices through a calendar of 192 cultural workshops, classes and social events with 4,069 in-person attendees during the first 9 months of operation.
- Supports community use and enjoyment, with 80% of 10 surveyed visitors reporting that they had visited the rooftop garden more than once, while 90% said they were impressed with the garden. 80% of visitors said they believe the South Eveleigh Community Rooftop Garden is an important place within the South Eveleigh Precinct.
- Improves understanding of Indigenous Knowledge, with 60% of 10 surveyed visitors reporting that their understanding of Indigenous Knowledge and Indigenous plant use had improved since visiting the garden. 70% of those respondents said their understanding of Indigenous relationships to self, others, and place had improved since visiting the garden.
- Positively communicates Indigenous cultural knowledge via social media, with 37% of Instagram posts from the first 9 months of operation being related to Indigenous Knowledge. Indigenous Knowledge posts received 60% of "likes” (4,266).
- Provides a variety of learning opportunities and experiences related to Indigenous Knowledge, with 10 external educational program providers and 185 visitors from educational institutions visiting in the first 9 months of operation.
- Provides employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. The rooftop garden’s installation created 16 hours of work over 2 days for 4 people. Since its second year of operation, the rooftop garden has offered 16 hours per week of ongoing employment for an Aboriginal person trained in horticulture, maintenance, and operations at a salary of $11,467 USD per year.
At a Glance
Yerrabingin Pty Ltd. (co-founders Clarence Slockee and Christian Hampson), now Jiwah Pty Ltd
Former Land Use
2 Davey Road , 4th floor, South Eveleigh Community Building
Eveleigh, New South Wales 2015, Australia
6,028 sf (rooftop area)
This case study was undertaken in collaboration with Indigenous practice partner Jiwah. One of the core principles that have underpinned the development and collaboration of this case study is the concept of ‘give back’. Give back is a core principle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Our research partners are committed to sharing the knowledge that was shared with them, with other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Our partners see themselves as custodians of this knowledge for a short period of time. They have an obligation to share their knowledge, to ensure other Indigenous people learn from their knowledge and that this knowledge is not lost. The principle of ‘give back’ recognises that Indigenous knowledge does not belong to an individual, because knowledge has been derived and accumulated from the knowledge of others.
We recognise and respect the ethical and moral responsibility we have when collaborating cross culturally with our Indigenous partners and acknowledge and respect their right to self-determination. We have been guided by their ways of sharing knowledge with us, and we support the way they choose to share the results of the case study with others.
Key principles of Indigenous Knowledge, collaborative design, and permaculture underpin Australia’s first native rooftop garden. South Eveleigh Community Rooftop Garden is located on the fourth floor of a new community building in an inner city neighbourhood in Sydney. The neighbourhood is has a long history of industrial use and is currently undergoing urban redevelopment. It also has a long and sustained connection with Sydney’s Indigenous community. After a high initial cost projection for a conventional rooftop garden, the developer looked for more cost-efficient solutions and began to consider the social and cultural benefits of creating a native edible garden. An Indigenous company that was already commissioned to design a cultural garden within the broader South Eveleigh precinct was engaged to create a rooftop garden for the community building. The garden is planted with culturally significant native medicinal plants and bush foods and is managed by an Indigenous owned and operated company. The garden delivers an array of ecological, educational, and other social benefits and displays Indigenous Knowledge in a contemporary application. The garden addresses social disadvantage through its diverse and inclusive programs that promote Aboriginal cultural heritage and engage the local Aboriginal community through employment and training. The garden supports local biodiversity and delivers ecosystem services while reducing the building’s energy use.
- Support an Indigenous start-up company to develop and manage a productive farm on the roof of the precinct’s community building.
- Provide a space for precinct workers and the local community that promotes and celebrates Indigenous Knowledge and culture.
- Create training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
Site operator goals:
- Develop and trial a prototype for future Indigenous rooftop farm projects across the country and share knowledge.
- Contribute to urban biodiversity and species diversity and provide habitat for pollinators, birds, and insects.
- Combine the principles of permaculture, Indigenous Knowledge, and environmentally sustainable garden practices.
- In keeping with the principles of Indigenous permaculture, plant selection focuses on companion plantings along with nitrogen-fixing and pollinator-friendly plants. The plant selection is based on wild ecosystems for a palette that is adaptable to extreme wind and weather conditions and is drought-tolerant (although subsurface irrigation is provided). Plants are also selected to increase urban biodiversity.
- 2,000 native edible plants are cultivated on-site, with 30 species at first planting increasing to 65 species within the first two years. Rare species such as the Murnong yam daisy (Microseris lanceolata) are grown alongside other edible species like Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides), muntries (Kunzea pomifera), native raspberries (Rubus parvifolius), midgen berries (Austromyrtus dulcis), and river mint (Mentha australis).
- A perimeter planting of 70 finger limes (Citrus australasica) provides multiple functions for the garden. The finger limes will grow above the fence height, and their sharp thorns reinforce the safety barrier around the rooftop. Finger limes attract pollinator insects, and in the future they will provide a high-yield, high-value crop with potential for future revenue generation.
- The layout of the garden is largely focused on function rather than form. In areas with shallow soil depths under 500mm which are unable to accommodate larger vegetation and trees, 2 x 3-metre iron “tree” trellis structures support climbing plants, creating shade and vertical height. The iron trellises give a vertical element to the garden design and maximise opportunities for attracting pollinators. The trellises are located at opposite ends of the garden because they are load-bearing and require the support of the columns located beneath them within the building. A seating circle or “yarning circle” and firepit are located at the centre of the garden. Sharing knowledge and stories orally is an important process within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
- Waste from precinct cafes is composted on-site, and no-fertiliser and pesticide-free gardening is also practiced. Waste organics, such as coffee grounds and vegetable offcuts from several surrounding cafes, and plant debris from the rooftop garden’s operations is processed by 7 worm farms on the roof and reused on the rooftop and in gardens across the South Eveleigh precinct.
- The material palette is informed by Sydney’s natural landscape and cultural heritage. Permeable, crushed, and compacted sandstone paths are reminiscent of Sydney’s sandstone ridges, and rusted Corten steel garden edges and spotted gum timber reflect materials used in the area’s heritage railway yards. The seating circle was created by a local artisan from recycled spotted gum timber, with handcrafted iron detailing depicting gumnuts and leaves. The seating circle and pollinator trellises were made by local craftspeople from the South Eveleigh heritage blacksmith workshops located within the precinct.
- Permeable path surfaces and a network of subsurface pipes hold and channel water that is collected on the rooftop and return it to a central water storage, treatment, and recycling centre located in the building basement for reuse as greywater throughout the building (e.g. flushing toilets).
- On average, at least 20 events per month were scheduled during the first 9 months of operation including garden tours, cultural workshops, permaculture and garden workshops, exercise classes, music performances, and food and drink events. The events are attended by local community members, employees from the precinct, external education providers, and more. The garden also hosts private events such as meetings, weddings, and private social functions with catering that showcases the produce harvested on site. The public can access the garden by elevator Monday through Friday during working hours.
- The site is managed by a team of full- and part-time staff who are responsible for the development and maintenance of all gardens in the South Eveleigh precinct. The site provides a place to train Indigenous apprentices in horticulture and hosts educational programs for local K-12 students that embed Aboriginal Knowledge and cultural values in the New South Wales (NSW) curriculum syllabus through links with the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG).
- The rooftop sits adjacent to canopy trees in Eveleigh Green Park and creates 392 sq metres of stepping stone or patch habitat to support the urban wildlife corridor in the surrounding area in accordance with the City of Sydney’s Urban Ecology Strategic Action Plan (2014). Bird species such as Willie Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys), Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) and honeyeaters (Meliphagidae) visit the rooftop frequently.
- The rooftop garden provides a green view for users of the adjacent office towers.
Yerrabingin is situated in South Eveleigh, an inner city area of Sydney with a long industrial history and a strong Indigenous connection. Prior to invasion (colonisation), the surrounding swamplands were used as a food source by the Indigenous Gadigal language group of the Eora Nation. More recently, South Eveleigh has become known for its role in the modern Indigenous land and human rights movements. The Eveleigh rail workshops were one of the first areas where Indigenous people in Australia received equal rights to those of their non-Indigenous coworkers. Nowadays, the area is acknowledged as the land of the Gadigal, and their past and ongoing connection to the landscape is embedded into the precinct.
Eveleigh Precinct History:
- Pre-1788: The area now known as South Eveleigh was sandhills and wetlands, and it provided an abundance of fauna and flora for the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation prior to the European invasion in 1788.
- 1887: The “South Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops,” the largest railway workshops in the southern hemisphere, opened and became the largest employer in the state.
- 1900s: An increasing mix of culturally diverse people, including many Aboriginal workers, were drawn to the area for employment.
- 1930s: The area experienced high levels of unemployment and homelessness during the Great Depression.
- 1950s: The Aboriginal Housing Company began purchasing land in the area for public housing.
- 1967: A referendum for improved social policies for Aboriginal communities was held in Australia.
- 1970s: The neighbouring suburb of Redfern became a focus for activism around civil and land rights, with the first Aboriginal housing collective and the first successful land rights claim by an Aboriginal community occurring there. The local Aboriginal population exceeded 35,000.
- 1988: Closure of the railway workshops. The area was referred to as a slum due to the high unemployment rate, “crime”, and negative media coverage occurring at the time.
- 1990s: The area remained significant for people who had lived there for many generations and for those who identified with the area’s political symbolism as a place of workers’ and land rights.
- 2000s: Development of the Australian Technology Park (ATP) master plan as a business and technology centre with start-up tech companies, biotech firms, spin-offs from university research, venture capital companies, banks, and legal firms. ATP was a collaboration between the NSW state government and three Sydney universities. There was opposition for the project from the local community, the Council of the City of South Sydney, Department of State Development, and the Department of Planning.
- 2000s: Rapid gentrification placed renewed pressures on the Aboriginal community and disadvantaged families in the area. An influx of young professionals saw the development of cafes and bars, as well as the conversion of industrial spaces into studios and apartments.
- 2016: Australian property development group, Mirvac, commenced redevelopment of the business park and renamed it South Eveleigh precinct. Mirvac’s corporate commitment to a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) aimed to build relationships with Indigenous groups and promote cultural learning and community engagement as part of its social sustainability goals. One of the conditions of the City of Sydney’s Development Approval (DA) required the provision of a community building with a green roof.
- Mid 2018: Clarence Slockee and Christian Hampson, co-founders of small Indigenous-owned company Yerrabingin Pty Ltd, were invited by Mirvac to submit a proposal to create a community facility on the roof of the precinct’s community building. Requirements included a market garden, recreational and educational classes, and for the business to be run by an Indigenous start-up.
- Late 2018: Yerrabingin Pty Ltd was awarded the contract to manage the public domain of the 5-hectare (12-acre) precinct site, including the design of a green roof on the community building.
- Early 2019: Construction of the South Eveleigh precinct community building, Yerrabingin House, was completed. The rooftop was officially opened in April 2019 and named the “Yerrabingin Rooftop Farm”.
- April 2020: A change in direction for Yerrabingin business owners caused the dissolution of the business, with Clarence Slockee taking over management of the rooftop farm under the business name Jiwah Pty Ltd. The rooftop was renamed “South Eveleigh Community Rooftop Garden” in November 2020. (Christian Hampson has remained trading under the name Yerrabingin Pty Ltd, however is no longer associated with the ongoing management and maintenance of rooftop garden.)
$26,624 USD is budgeted by the developer for annual maintenance, and this figure is subsidised by income from workshops, events and tours on the rooftop. The original budget for a conventional (not native) rooftop community garden was estimated at $140,730 USD in annual maintenance costs. The South Eveleigh Community Rooftop Garden represents a savings of $140,730 USD annually or 84% in maintenance costs compared to the proposed budget for a conventional rooftop green roof garden which would not have been able to contribute to its own upkeep costs.
- Lucerne (alfalfa) was utilized as a high-quality, thick mulch layer to protect the rooftop garden’s soil from drying out at first planting; however, this resulted in a weed infestation from the seed bank within the lucerne. To address the issue and eliminate weeds without using chemicals or intensive labour while new plants were established, Warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonoides), a quick-growing, easily-managed, and popular edible native species, was planted throughout all the garden beds to act as a living mulch. The dense, low cover from the Warrigal greens halted the growth of unwanted weed species while protecting the plants, allowing them to establish. The Warrigal greens provided abundant and early harvest used to create a native pesto for event catering, with the excess being composted and returned to the gardens as organic matter.
- The 116% increase in native plant species since construction, many from different climate zones, has created a new ecological community on the rooftop which has proven to be very resilient to the harsh conditions, adapting and coping with both the very dry weather in the first year and also extreme rainfall events in later years. In the first 12 months there was less than 1% mortality among the plants.
- The planting mix to attract pollinator species is based on the greatest diversity of flower shapes (e.g. flat, tubular) and colours to attract the greatest variety of pollinator species, as well as a diverse range of plant forms (e.g. climbers, shrubs, groundcovers, grasses). Local plant species are preferred to attract local pollinators; however, a diversity of form is considered most important for attracting pollinators.
- Permeable compacted crushed granite on the paths allows for stormwater to be captured and filtered down to the biofoam substrate. However, the high level of compaction required for wheelchair access has meant the paths are holding water for much longer than was expected. This creates weight issues and potential structural damage on the rooftop after heavy rain. Strategies such as test drilling into the paths to aerate and facilitate quicker water movement are being investigated as potential adjustments to the rooftop garden, and alternative permeable path surfaces are being considered for future garden designs.
- Workshops and classes operated by Indigenous people share Indigenous cultural practices such as basket weaving and medicinal and food knowledge. Sharing knowledge orally is of paramount importance to Aboriginal people. Access to this knowledge takes time and trust, and some aspects may not be fully disclosed.
- Implementing a rooftop garden using Indigenous Knowledge and edible native plants has presented many unexpected opportunities for activities that engage the local community and offer an income stream for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. For example, the roof has featured cocktail making classes using the native botanicals on-site hosted by mixologists from a local bar as well as general social events such as live music evenings.
- Unexpectedly, the biggest source of revenue has proven to be rental of the rooftop space for events and functions. With this in mind, any future design would create a better integration of the social and event spaces with the garden. The existing pavilion design is long and narrow which is suitable for business-style meetings but not for larger social events. There is no covered area for wet weather and the large pavilion doors must be closed in windy or wet weather, creating a disconnect with the garden.
Iron “tree” trellis structures and seating circle iron frames: Eveleigh Works
Recycled spotted gum timber seating circle: Ikkyu Joinery
Worm farms: Hungry Bins
Plants and seeds: Muru Mittigar Native Nursery, Barkers Vale, NSW; Gondwana Native Plant Nursery, Llandilo, NSW; Bunya Native Nursery, Dural, NSW
Design: Yerrabingin Pty Ltd (Clarence Slockee, Christian Hampson, and Matt McKay); now Jiwah Pty Ltd
Documentation: Kaylie Salvatori and Paulina Isaza
Client/Developer: Mirvac Projects Pty Ltd
Design Advice and Construction: Jock Gammon, Junglefy Pty Ltd
Horticulture: Matt McKay (Project Manager) and Lyle Hunt (Site Manager)
Building Architect: Sissons Architects
Role of the Landscape Architect
Indigenous consultants Yerrabingin (now Jiwah) were responsible for the initial concept and coordinating design workshops with the local community, stakeholders, and collaborators. Yerrabingin appointed an Indigenous landscape architecture undergraduate student to progress the concept design to the design development and documentation stage. The Indigenous landscape architecture student worked with Yerrabingin and the building architects to document the concept for construction. Building the capacity of an Indigenous landscape architecture student affirms a commitment by the project team to support Indigenous self-determination through the revitalization, use, and development of traditional knowledges to future generations.