March 11, 2016

Gardening gets a new lease of life through Saibai’s Mekem Garden

The Saibai Mekem Garden site was recently opened with a blessing ceremony. The Saibai garden site
has been re-developed over the past year and will provide an accessible site for traditional and
contemporary horticulture.
The Senator, Honourable Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and the Torres Strait
Regional Authority (TSRA) Chair and Chief Executive Officer were in attendance, with the Minister
assisting students from Tagai State College to plant mango trees at the site to commemorate the
After the official ceremony over 200 community members celebrated the event at the community
hall, with dance performances from Tagai State College students and the “Moeyngu Koekaper” dance
team from Saibai.
The TSRA Chairperson, Mr Joseph Elu, said Saibai people have had a long tradition of subsistence
gardening, however with the introduction of community stores and regular barge services,
traditional garden practices have declined in the last 50 years.
“As access to affordable healthy food declines across the region there is a growing need for access to
locally grown produce to improve the health standards of remote communities,” Mr Elu said.
The Saibai Mekem Garden project seeks to motivate people to re-engage with, and develop an
interest in, food gardening - an activity that was once a fundamental aspect of traditional daily life on
“The project will assist individuals, families and the wider community to gain the skills and capacities
required to access a wider range of fresher and more affordable fruits, vegetables and herbs than
what is currently available,” Mr Elu said.
“While the project acknowledges the current practices still occurring in some family groups on Saibai,
it also focuses on the use of contemporary horticulture techniques.”
Mr Elu said the project is structured and resourced to ensure there is a focus on increasing initiatives
such as awareness, motivation, promotion, education and capacity building through targeted
community workshops. “This will be in addition to the technical horticultural support services already established through
the project in previous years and complement services offered through other organisations like
Community Development Programme providers, My Pathway,” Mr Elu said.
“The project will be delivered through an integrated approach between multiple agencies working to
increase the uptake of sustainable horticultural practice and facilitate healthier lifestyles for Saibai
The TSRA has assisted in the development of the project through providing funding for the gardens
shed, fence and greenhouse, and will continue to provide technical support through the Sustainable
Horticulture project up until 2018.
The project is a partnership between the TSRA, Mura Buway Regional Native Title Body Corporate
(RNTBC), My Pathways, Torres Strait Island Regional Council (TSIRC) and Tagai State College.