Right in the centre of the city of Newcastle in New South Wales is a community garden with a twist. Fig Tree Community Garden doesn’t have individual allotments. It’s one big garden where anyone and everyone are invited to get involved and enjoy the rewards of the harvest.

Craig Manhood, one of the main instigators of Fig Tree (pictured right, centre), explains how the garden came about.

‘We advertised in the local Landcare newsletter, inviting interested people to a working bee at the Morrow Park Bowling Club, where the garden was initially established. Unfortunately we had to relocate the garden after the Bowling Club closed, but it offered us an opportunity to learn from the mistakes made in setting up the original garden. We conducted a workshop with about 25 of the regular volunteers from Morrow Park and identified our goals and set some priorities,’ Craig says.

The garden was then relocated 500 metres away to its current site at the Croatian Wickham Sports Club.

A number of organizations got behind Fig Tree too, including Newcastle City Council, Hunter TAFE, Hunter Water, and of course the Croation Wickham Sports Club. Fig Tree also established strong practical links with other organizations, such as Links to Learning, Toogoolawa School, Migrant Resource Centre, TAFE Outreach and Baptist Community Services.

The new site is alongside a busy street, but in what Craig describes as an ‘interesting experiment’, they left the garden unfenced.

‘It seems that if something is fenced off, people think there must be something worth stealing inside,’ he says. ‘The result is we’ve had no theft at all. In fact, some produce goes to seed because people aren’t inclined to help themselves.’

The new site has been established for 14 months now, and is continually gathering momentum.

‘Work for the dole people helped out a lot,’ Craig says. ‘They are responsible for much of the infrastructure, such as the nursery work space and the cubby house in the children’s play area.’

Bill Robertson, who has also been an integral member of Fig Tree, says that the garden offers people a way to connect with each other in a way that suits them.

‘People come in and help out the way they want to. They can garden, build, work on the mosaic – however they want to work, we’re not prescriptive,’ Bill says.

Fig Tree has recently applied for a grant to establish an International Kitchen, which could include a wood-fired pizza oven and stone barbecue. With people from different nationalities visiting and working at Fig Tree, the variety of herbs and vegetables has increased dramatically and the interest in different nationalities’ food.

‘It’s not just different foods,’ says Bill, ‘we’re also experimenting with companion planting with these different plants.’ Needless to say, Fig Tree gardening follows organic principles.

The community they have established is a tribute to true multiculturalism in Australia, but even more so is the atmosphere of Fig Tree, which Bill sums up eloquently.

‘Fig Tree gives people a space in which to breath in a very supportive environment.’

Photographs are courtesy of Fig Tree and provide a glimpse of the people and the garden they have created.