Langford Aboriginal Association, in Perth’s eastern suburbs, is making healthy changes to combat type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statics, these two chronic illnesses are the biggest health problems for Indigenous Australians.
LAA has just finished making a community garden that includes a range of organic fruit and vegetables, bush tucker plants and native shrubs and trees.
The garden has been developed for the Aboriginal community to access and learn about preparing healthy foods.
Raelee Cook, member of LAA’s Beat it! Live longer program, was excited to see the garden completed.
“That was our main aim to have a garden,” says Ms Cook.
“You talk about it and talk about it and suddenly it’s all happening.
“It was a really, really big achievement for us here at Langford.”
On May 26 LAA held a launch for the garden, where more than 200 people attended.
The launch was hosted by young local Cheviena Hansen, who has been volunteering at Langford for more than five years.
Ms Hansen has organised the project as part of the ‘One Sky, Many Pass’ Indigenous Youth Leadership Program through Challenger Institute of Technology.
“The project started in August last year and was supposed to be finished by Christmas,” says Ms Hansen.
“I had to deal with some personal problems that came up and that slowed the process a bit.”
Several volunteers from Relationships Australia WA, the City of Gosnells, Big Help Mob, and both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community members got on board to help finish the project.
Over two weekends of volunteer busy bees the site was completed.
LAA member Jean Boladeras, known to the community as Aunty Jean, says it’s a fantastic community activity.
“When you’re all doing it together it’s something that has far-reaching affects for the whole community, I think,” says Aunty Jean.
When the garden was completed, the launch was used to promote healthy eating, community involvement and engagement with Noongar culture.
Entertainment was provided throughout the day which included a petting zoo with koalas and snakes and an Aboriginal dance group, from the Halo Leadership Development Agency.
During the launch, Aboriginal celebrity chef Mark Olive provided an animated cooking demonstration.
“A lot of people baulk at eating our native wildlife, but it’s natural and so good for you,” Mr Olive said.
He said there were so many benefits of eating local, native Australian foods and spices that people just did not know about.
“When you’ve got that time of the month, ladies, kangaroo meat is great to keep your iron levels up!”
The garden launch, along with the Beat it! Live longer program, have attempted to change the eating habits of local Aboriginal people.
Margy Dia, another member of the Beat it! Live longer program says she has changed the way she thinks about food.
“I have learnt about the basics, like planning food for the week and using smaller plates for portion control,” Ms Dia says.
“I don’t buy the kids ‘Nutrigrain’ anymore.
“I buy them healthy cereal without all the sugar”.
She says that last year her weight was out of control.
“I was putting on two, three kilos a week!” Ms Dia says.
“I became short-winded doing any type of activity.”
She has found many parts of her diet were very unhealthy, but she wasn’t aware.
Aunty Jean says many people don’t get taught about what is healthy; they just follow what others do.
“I have seen babies with bottles in their stroller filled with Coke,” Aunty Jean says.
“If you don’t know, and everyone around is drinking Coke, it’s easy to just put some in the bottle and hand it to the baby and the baby drinks the Coke.”
She says once some people know about what is healthy and what’s not, the facts can start spreading to other people in the community.
Christine Stott, from EON Foundation, says the foundation has been setting up similar gardens in remote Aboriginal communities since 2005.
The foundation primarily set up school-based gardens, but has begun getting the wider community involved.
“In terms of outcomes, when community have got on board there’s more depth,” Ms Stott says.
“When community are engaged and are doing the workshops with us, the healthy eating workshops and gardens, the message that kids get at school is being supported at home.”
She says the foundation can teach kids one thing at school but if it’s not being reiterated at home, then there’s a gap.
“The real critical aspect, particularly in Aboriginal culture, is how families are very holistic,” Ms Stott says.
“If you want to make a change it has to be a whole change.”
Photography: Jess Keily