Author Archive

Amern Mwerr Nanyem Pip-Antem (Good Tucker Cooking Stories)

The Amern Mwerr Cooking Stories book was created as part of the broader PHN funded Amern Mwerr Project in Utopia. Using a Healthy Living NT grant from Bill Raby’s Diabetes Foundation the team were able to produce a colourful resource showcasing the fruit and vegetable garden, cooking and narratives from the Utopia Homelands. This project saw a successful co-authoring process between AEES and Utopia community members to produce a culturally appropriate nutrition resource and cookbook. Language workshops occurred to develop content in both English and local languages.

The cooking stories book is a collection of favourite recipes from the Amern Mwerr Project and includes stories to accompany them. The book also includes key nutritional messages from the Utopia Homelands.

On completion of the book in April 2019 a big community launch BBQ was held to celebrate and disperse the book.  Community elders spoke briefly about their involvement in the project, a local band played, and three recipes form the book were cooked up on the BBQ for all to eat. The event was attended to by the local school and students, and many other organisations in Utopia.

The cookbook was a great opportunity to consolidate all of the work completed in the Amern Mwerr nutrition program and to create a lasting resource for the community and other nutrition workers.

The Moreton family displaying their new cookbooks
The Moreton family displaying their new cookbooks
Did you know ‘Amern Mwerr’ translates to Good Food? Here are some other food-related Alyawarr words from our Utopia Homelands Garden cookbook.

Tuvalu National Compost Feasibility Study

In Tuvalu, where low soil fertility and sea-level rise due to climate change is affecting people’s ability to grow food, Arid Edge’s research shows how composting can provide a much-needed nutrient boost to sandy soils and help people to access to more nutritious food.

Tuvalu, located in the Pacific, is one of the smallest nations in the world. A collection of low-lying atolls, Tuvalu is particularly vulnerable to food insecurity due to climate change and low soil fertility. Arid Edge, partnering with Live and Learn Environmental Education, was contracted to undertake a feasibility study for increased compost production as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Tuvalu Food Futures program.

Compost production is an important climate adaptation and food security strategy because it increases soil fertility for land-based agriculture and supports the development of more innovative raised bed horticulture that is less vulnerable to saltwater intrusion from sea level rise. The final report will be launched in late 2020.

Pulaka, or swamp taro, is traditionally grown in pits, close to the water table. Increasing sea levels are threatening pulaka pits and this important food source.

Hermannsburg Heritage Precinct

The Hermannsburg Heritage Precinct in Ntaria Community, central Australia is an iconic site, capturing both the Aboriginal heritage of the area and the colonial heritage of the early missionary era.

As part of a broader plan to preserve and develop the site, Arid Edge and Tangentyere Design jointly developed plans for the development of outdoor areas, shaded pathways, lawns, irrigation and shaded seating, as well as the re-instatement of heritage garden
beds, market gardens, and date palm plantations.

Preserving the heritage values of the site as well as providing an inviting and engaging experience for visitors were the focus of the design. A wide range of traditional and innovative, arid appropriate design approaches were implemented to both preserve and enhance this important historical site.

Tangentyere Design Architects

Landscape design


Good Food in Alice Springs Town Camps

Edible gardens are being established in eight Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs, brining a source of fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables alongside a nutrition education program.

Food security is a fundamental human right and an essential component for self-determination as it relates to health. Food insecurity for Aboriginal people is often described in terms of remote communities, where people buy food from a single community store and prices are often hiked up beyond affordability. What many people don’t realise is food security is also an issue for Aboriginal people living in urban and regional area, including in Alice Springs.

Building on the success of the Amern Mwerr Good Food Gardens approach that was developed in the Utopia Homelands, the Amern Mwerr program is expanding to build food gardens (and associated landscaping) in eight Aboriginal communities in Alice Springs, in partnership with Tangentyere Council, NT Health and PHNNT. The program will also provide support to gardens located at Red Cross, Alice Springs Women’s Shelter and other locations.

These gardens will become a site for producing home grown food, for socializing and for learning about heathy eating and hygiene practices. Crucial to the project’s success is Arid Edge’s approach of providing long term fortnightly/monthly support to gardens and gardeners, organising working bees, training gardeners, providing maintenance support and most importantly cooking up produce together in the gardens.

“The Ilperle Tyathe / Warlpiri Center community garden began to take off at the start of summer with all the young people coming in to water the plants and each other to cool down. The Centre was closed around Christmas and new year and we opened back up to see a little watermelon factory after all the rain and lightning. The plants had around a dozen watermelons at different stages of growth and everyone was pretty excited about this.  We have spent the last month harvesting a watermelon at the start of every week and a couple of rockmelons now and then. There are also a few pumpkins growing that we are working out ways to cook up. It’s been really special growing, harvesting and eating the produce together with everyone at the community Centre,” says Spandana, from Tangentyere Council.



Tangentyere Council, NT Health and PHNNT

Project scope

Amern Mwerr Good Food, landscaping


multiple locations, Alice Springs

Larapinta Valley Community Centre Gardens


Fruits harvested from the ” little watermelon factory” at the Ilperle Tyathe / Warlpiri Center community garden

Braitling Primary School

This award-winning project saw Arid Edge involved from the concept to the final build, delivering designs with Sue Dugdale and Associates and on site construction with Probuild NT.

In keeping with the client brief for engaging, durable and child friendly playgrounds, the innovative designs included; rainwater harvesting dry creek beds linked to storm water services, water efficient native landscapes, a fruit tree orchard seating area, and a design that engages students to interact with and have connection to the landscape.

This project took out Best Educational Facility and Best Sustainability Design at the 2019 Australian Institute of Architects NT awards night.

Braitling Primary School

Landscape design

Braitling, Alice Springs

Location: Braitling, Alice Springs

Santa Teresa football oval

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In the community of Santa Teresa was a red dirt oval made up entirely of clay. That is until Arid Edge took up the challenge of grassing the ground and bringing to life the ‘MCG of the Desert’. In partnership with Atyengenhe Atherre Aboriginal Corporation (AAAC) and Melbourne Football Club, Arid Edge transformed the once rocky football oval into a lush, green paddock. 

Project details 

Working in partnership with Melbourne Football Club and Santa Teresa Aboriginal corporation (AAAC), Arid Edge designed and constructed the irrigation system for resurfacing of the Santa Teresa football Oval.

Located 80km south of Alice Springs on the edge of the Simpson desert, this is a major project in a remote arid climate. Arid Edge developed designs in collaboration with project sponsors Hunter Irrigation and Think Water NT and uses the latest water efficiency techniques to deliver a local sports field quality finish with only 60% of the water use of comparable pitches in Alice Springs.

Client: Atyengenhe Atherre Aboriginal Corporation 

Location: Santa Teresa, Central Australia

Project Partners: Melbourne Football Club

Kintore Community Hub MasterPlan

The Kintore “Town Square” Masterplan project is focused on improving the amenity and outdoor infrastructure of public spaces in the centre of Kintore community.

As part of MacDonnell Regional Council’s strategy of developing community Infrastructure plans for each of the 13 remote communities within the MRC Regional, this plan provides landscape design solutions for social and environmental needs including heat mitigation, dust suppression, screening prevailing winds, vehicle management and engaging the community in the “town Square” space.

Proposed works included mounds and plantings for wind break, vehicle control, stormwater harvesting and shade, as well as stormwater harvesting and shade, as well as increased shade structures, meeting spaces playgrounds, fencing and public memorial plaques.increased shade structures, meeting spaces playgrounds, fencing and public memorial plaques.

MacDonnell Regional Council

Landscape design, consultation, participatory design


Community consultation with Kintore residents and MRC facilitated by Arid Edge Manager Alex McClean. Credit: MacDonnell Regional Council.

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