Inaugural Bob Hawke Landcare Award Nominee restores the ‘mekem garden’ tradition in the Torres Strait

Agnes Fox, QLD

Since 2007, Agnes Fox has selflessly given her own time, leads by example and is now a well-known name for sustainability on Horn Island in the Torres Strait. Agnes’ biggest achievement has been the planning, construction and development of the community Harmony Garden that is now a well-established asset for the local school and volunteers.

The garden has significantly improved the sustainability of food production on the island by raising funds through nursery plant sales and saving money by using recycled materials found on the island. A fantastic feature of the garden is the compost bin that was once a washing machine bowl. Agnes demonstrates self-sufficiency by using home-made mulch and continually experiments with water management and different food plants.

First incorporating horticulture into her work at the Island Child Care Centre, Agnes uses the community garden as a platform to educate students about the significance of the veggie patch on the island. Students of all ages learn about plant propagation and are given seedlings of their own to take home and care for.

Traditionally, the native islanders were a marine-hunting and trading society with a positive ethic towards horticulture and mekem garden (making gardens). The introduction of processed western food and grocery stores, however, has lead to a decline in self-sufficiency and a dependence upon expensive imported goods.

Significantly, the garden was opened on Harmony Day in 2007 and continues to inspire new generations of islanders to return to the sustainable and age-old practice of mekem garden. Campaigning for improved nutrition and health, Agnes shares her understanding of traditional knowledge and contemporary horticulture across an expanding network in the Torres Strait.

Her dedication to sustainable horticulture, her voluntary community gardening work and her tireless efforts to nurture social cohesion make her an outstanding ambassador of the Landcare ethic.