Garden’s secret history

HIDDEN HISTORY: Visitors can discover the Indigenous uses of plants like this and more at Geelong Botanic Gardens on Sunday.

By Luke Voogt

Visitors can travel tens of thousands of years back in time at Geelong Botanic Gardens with the right guide, according to Ocean Grove’s Liz Bennetto.

The volunteer guide shows how the Wathaurong people used native plants for food, fibre, medicine, weapons, instruments, ceremonies and more.

“The local people used plants for about 70 per cent of their food so a lot of work went into collecting them,” she said.

“We look at the plants around the garden and their use by Aboriginal people. We can learn a lot from them in terms of land conservation.”

Bennetto had run the tours for several years, she said.

“I’ve always been interested in plants and I was very interested in Aboriginal people.

“They have lived on this continent for 60,000 years, depending on native plants and animals for all necessities and managing the limited resources well.”

The former librarian and teacher tailored the tour to each group.

“If they’re interested in history I’ll spend a lot of time on that,” she said.

“It’s great to see the way people appreciate learning more about the plants and Aboriginal people. Sometimes the people on the walk contribute too.”

The knowledge of how Aboriginal people lived and later interacted with settlers had increased significantly since Bennetto taught history in secondary school, she said.

“Their skills and how they cared for the land are much more recognised now.”

Bennetto consulted a local Indigenous elder before putting the tour together, she said.

But she may have to update her next tour after Deakin University archaeologists recently discovered Aboriginal fishing remains near Warrnambool possibly 120,000 years old.

The archaeologists found charcoal, burnt stones and shellfish remains at a site Bennetto had visited herself, she said.

“I’m constantly on the lookout for more information about the way they used the land, plants and animals.”

The First Australians tour begins on the steps Geelong Botanic Gardens at 2pm on Sunday for a gold coin donation.

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