In Hellene Underwood-Nincsics’ case, leading a group of Year 7s to design a sensory garden that comes infused with Indigenous culture and teachings has proven to be the ultimate cross-curricular operation.

“We wanted to create a space where not just the Aboriginal community but the Port Macquarie community could have a space they could share and  ... learn about culture, to learn about identity and to learn about plants and sustainability,” the educator from Hastings Secondary College (Westport campus) in New South Wales says.

“So we took the opportunity to find something that was a really, really rich task.”

Her ‘Zenith’ class of high-achievers quickly rose to their challenge.

Liaising with local Indigenous elders, the children plotted bush tucker gardens for future food technology classes to use, yarning circles for drama students to light up and garden aesthetics that spoke of a cultural history defined by a deep love for the land. 

“They needed to tell a journey or a story throughout the garden as you walk through, because the Aboriginal elders came out and said it needs to say something about the land, the place, the people,” Underwood-Nincsics says. 

Part of the brief was to ensure the space would be self-sustaining and offer other students the chance to “buy in” to its operation.

Principal Ian Ross says the project has had a profound impact on those involved.

“You could see the cultural growth in … both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, so it was a very authentic way of increasing their cultural knowledge around the local area.”

For Underwood-Nincsics, the sense of shared purpose that’s developed between students and elders has really struck a chord.

“It sounds corny, but there was that spiritual sort of oneness, the elders are really pleased and excited that we are doing this,” she says.