Archive for December, 2014

Santa Teresa Orchard Development

AAAC Orchard 5 year Property Management Plan (2015-2020)

In response to the orchard falling into disrepair for several years, Atyenhenge-Athere Aboriginal Corporation (AAAC)  contracted Arid Edge Environmental Services to develop a 5 year property Management Plan for the site, funded by the Indigenous Land Council (ILC). This plan follows the reconnection of water and initial rehabilitation of the site by Arid Edge Environmental Services in 2013 (see below). Arid Edge worked closely with local residents and orchard workers, AAAC and Catholic Care NT (RJCP provider for the site) to develop a innovative plan for re-establishing the site as a social enterprise and work experience site for residents of Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa).

Based on the vision laid out by Ltyentye Apurte residents, the Property Management Plan lays out a 3 stage road map for the rehabilitation and development of the orchard as:

Please email to request copies.

  • A site where locals are involved in producing fresh fruit and vegetables for the community
  • A site where locals are involved in producing fresh fruit and vegetables for the community
  • A work experience farm, where locals can receive training and gain hands-on work experience in the horticulture sector.
  • A site where locals gain learn the horticultural skills needed to run and maintain the site themselves.
  • A site open to the whole community for recreation, learning, gardening and cottage industry activities.
  • A base for developing enterprise opportunities for AAAC and employment for Ltyentye-Apurte locals.
  • A training centre, with a long-term vision of AAAC Orchard workers being equipped with skills and experience to deliver accredited horticulture training to orchard workers and paying clients.
  • A site to explore the possibilities of a long term horticultural business venture, or to support long term horticultural business ventures being developed by AAAC on other nearby sites.

Please contact to request copies of the plan.


Emergency irrigation being laid at the Santa Teresa orchard (October 2013)Orchard Emergency Irrigation Design and Install (2013)

In mid 2013, the Santa Teresa Orchard had experienced several years of disrepair and neglect following the disconnection of water to the site in 2010. In response to community concerns for the site, Jesuit Social Services invited Arid Edge Environmental Services to start rehabilitating the site by reconnecting the water and installing an emergency irrigation system. With support from local workers, Catholic Care NT and the Mary MacKillop Foundation, Arid Edge completed this work in late 2013.

With the valuable fruit tree crops being irrigated again, routine work could begin again on site through the RJCP program, and the community was able to start a longer discussion around what they wanted the orchard to be. This eventually lead to the development of a 5 year property management plan (see above).

ABC Rural: Desert Orchard on Life Support (8 January 2014)


Permaculture students with teachers Lachlan McKenzie and Alex McClean at the Santa Teresa Orchard in October 2012.


Permaculture Design Certificate @ Santa Teresa Orchard (2013)

Arid Edge’s first engagement with the Santa Teresa Community Orchard came with a visit to the students from the 2012 Permaculture Design Certificate. Students learned about dry lands sustainable horticulture from local residents and the site’s long time caretaker, and used the site to develop design projects as part of the course.

Click here to find out more about Arid Edge’s Permaculture courses.


Tjuntjuntjarra Women’s Centre Permaculture Landscaping

Permaculture Training in the Desert

An article by Kirsten Grant (Women’s Centre Coordinator, Paupiyala Tjarutja Aboriginal Corporation (PTAC), Tjuntjuntjara, WA) published in Remote Indigenous Gardens News, June 2014

When I first mentioned the idea of running a permaculture course through the Tjuntjuntjara Women’s Centre many of the ladies looked a bit confused. “What’s permaculture?” they asked.

I remember opening my mouth to explain and then stopping. The in-depth theory and ethics behind this holistic style of gardening were unknown to me; all I knew was that you looked at all the elements that would affect your garden site. This included the site’s annual rainfall, prevailing wind and sun, was it hilly or flat and how would all that affect different plants from flowers to vegies, native plants and fruit trees.

We talked at length about those elements and the ladies started to get interested.

Tjuntjuntjara is Australia’s most remote indigenous community, located smack bang in the middle of the Great Victoria Desert in WA. Our nearest town, Kalgoorlie, is an eight hour drive away on unsealed roads, and the next closest community, Oak Valley, is six hours away.

Alex McClean, Manager at Arid Edge Environmental Services in Alice Springs, ran the course in Tjuntjuntjara. He explained permaculture like this:

“You are working with nature, not against it. Instead of cutting up the land like they do in agriculture, or arranging it just so it looks nice in as in horticulture. Permaculture looks at all the elements.”

He said the most useful aspect of permaculture is its contribution towards sustainable communities describing this as including food production, shelter, access to water and energy sources.

“But also considering meaningful employment, access to land in a sustainable way and the social and cultural strengths.”

The main ethics are care for the earth, care of people and a fair share, so whatever your garden produces is shared out fairly. There are also twelve design principles which Alex taught us as we built the garden. These included observing the site, using recycled materials, setting up a compost bin (with dog-proof cage) to reduce waste and companion planting. This we did within the vegie patch and around our young fruit trees to keep away pests and introduce more nutrients like nitrogen into the soil.

We started off with some interesting soil testing experiments, half filling some old jars with soil from three sites around the garden area, then topping them up with water. Alex advised to leave them for a few hours to a day to let the soil separate. In no time though, we had results. The jars mostly confirming what we already knew about the soil in Tjuntjuntjara – that we have a lot of clay with a bit of sand. During the ordering process and discussion of the site from afar Alex and I had discussed the high levels of clay present in our soils. Alex said as long as we had gypsum it would be fine.

“To help break up the clay,” gypsum was sprinkled over the clay layers in our soil mix, which also contained sand, compost mulch and coconut peat made from the husks of coconuts.

Tjuntjuntjara woman Anne Baird was integral in every stage of the creation of our garden.

“I can’t wait to see what all the natives look like when they grow up,” she said, smiling. Anne, 29, grew up in Tjuntjuntjara and is glad there will be more trees for shade, as it gets very hot in summer.

“Sometimes 50C and hotter.”

The work was hard but we all pitched in together and managed to plant five fruit trees, including two oranges, a mandarin, lemon, and a lime, plus a native garden including some bush tucker plants like kalgurla (bush banana or pear). We added native companion plants around them for protection and added nutrients.

Soon we will plant irmangka-irmangka (eremophilia alternifolia) used in bush medicine and soap, plus some wanjanu or quongdong. Hardy natives that will provide much needed shade and wind breaks around the Women’s Centre will include kurrajong, various eucalypts, wattles, saltbush, acacias, mulga and many more.

“Working in Tjuntjuntjurra was fantastic. It was really a pleasant surprise to turn up in such a remote community to find the Women’s Centre buzzing with activity,” Alex said. “Of course there were challenges too, remoteness being the biggest one. Making sure I and all the equipment arrived in the right place on time was quite a feat, one I certainly couldn’t

have achieved without the support of PTAC and the Women’s Centre’s dedicated staff.”

He said gardens can thrive in the desert.
“This garden has been designed to be as hardy as possible – it uses local native species as much as

possible, grows veggies and herbs in a water

efficient, self-watering wicking bed, and includes automatic reticulation to ensure more exotic citrus fruit trees get the right amount of water.”

He said at the end of the day, the success of a garden will depend on whether the people in Tjuntjuntjara feel they own it enough to be able to give it the care it needs. “It could be that success might mean a thriving garden at the centre, or thriving gardens at people’s homes.”

It was definitely worth the six months it took to organise the six day course with Alex. We now have the beginnings of an amazing community garden and a much deeper understanding of how to care for it. Local men and women have been involved in the design, layout, choice of plants, troubleshooting, and much more throughout the whole process.

Together, we built fences, installed an automated reticulation system, completed one raised vegie bed using recycled tin and planted it with mixed lettuce, spinach, garIic chives, spring onions, beans and parsley. We have another vegie garden ready to go in the form of an old water tank. Everyone was particularly excited about establishing our fruit trees.

All this in just six days. Now Alex has gone home to Alice, and the rest, is up to us.


Utopia Homelands Good Food Project

Sowing good seeds to harvest great attitudes

Original article published in NT PHN Primary Health Weekly e-newsletters.

There is much to be said when three generations of one family are involved in a community gardening project. Grandparents, Josie and Dinny, are proud green thumbs who insist on inviting their daughters and grandchildren to harvest the produce altogether to cook in the garden.

They are part of a dedicated community who has embraced the idea of growing and eating their own fruit and vegetables. Arid Edge’s Amern Mwerr project in the Utopia Homelands is behind the growing involvement and enthusiasm of families participating food gardens that improves peoples’ access to fresh produce.

The project started in 2009 in the Utopia Homelands; a collection of communities located 250 kilometres northeast of Alice Springs. With no central community and challenges to receive regular produce supplies, Utopia was identified as an area of need.  Arid Edge Environmental Services has been working with community members since 2014 to develop the gardens, and teach local families gardening skills and simple recipes to encourage healthy eating.

The seasonal fruit and vegetables continually harvested from the gardens is testament to the hard work and commitment invested by the community members. Summer yields melons, pumpkins, broccoli and mulberries – a popular fruit with the children, while oranges have become an anticipated fruit in winter. Kale is a year- round staple that features in many of the delicious and healthy recipes that have been created as part of the program to address chronic health conditions such as anaemia.

Over the years, communities have implemented water methods to suit the climate of Central Australia. In 2014, NT PHN commissioned Arid Edge Environmental Services to install wicking beds – an efficient bottom-watering system for garden beds that channels water directly to the roots to reduce evaporation.

Stories from the homeland communities include families adding fresh herbs to their bolognaise, encouraging their children to cook, silverbeet and kale being harvested for dinner, people sourcing their own seeds to plant tomatoes and even using a kale leaf to wrap around a sausage for a healthy hot dog.

The program also offers work experience opportunities in the homelands through joint funding with My Pathway (Community Development Remote Jobs and Communities Program) where residents harvest the fruit and vegetables, maintain the gardens and re-plant for the new season.

Regular cook-ups run by Arid Edge’s nutrition worker harvest produce from the gardens to teach simple healthy meals, with a particular focus on engaging women and children. As the popularity of the project grows, more families are cooking the projects recipes and requesting gardens.

Since it was first established in 2009, the Amern Mwerr project in Utopia has grown to support 13 productive gardens across 10 homelands – having been planned, designed and built with community members on different outstations.

In 2019-2020, the Amern Mwerr program supported:

ABC Radio article: Small scale farming in remote Indigenous communities continues despite the loss of direct government funding
(9 September 2015)

Amern Mwerr (Good Food) Project Partners:

My Pathways (RJCP Provider)

Primary Health Network (PHN)

Health Network NT

Garden Tune Ups

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For more information on water efficient gardening, check out desertSMART COOLmob’s tips on water efficient garden design in the video below:

To book your Garden Tune Up , contact Arid Edge today.

*Alice Water Smart website: