: : : TASMANIAN STORIES

 

Olive's garden offers a window to outside world

By HELEN COOK | A circular herb garden, its paths laid out to create a mandala, grows peacefully in the shadow of towering concrete walls. The walls are painted with brightly coloured murals. The creation of this herb garden in the women’s section of Risdon Prison was part of a horticultural operations course completed a few years ago.

There was keen interest by the women who took part, as typified by Jo at the time: "I'd always liked gardening, but I never thought about doing horticulture."

Once she finished her sentence, Jo was planning to continue the horticultural studies which began with the building of the herb garden inside these walls.

Jo was one of nine women who participated in a horticultural operations course at Hobart's Risdon Prison. Under the guidance of a tutor, Steve Shaw, the group designed and built the herb garden and a series of compost bins. "Most opportunities for creative fulfilment are taken away from prisoners," explains Steve.

The olive, symbolic of love and peace, was chosen for baby Olivia, whose mother was a member of the horticulture class. Olivia was born in prison, and the garden is dedicated to her

"Gardening gives them the opportunity to nurture something. It allows a reconnection with the basics."

The herb garden, with its 50 or so culinary herbs, also means an improved diet. The women do their own cooking, and the inspiration of picking fresh herbs adds pleasure and meaning to meal times.

In an environment heavy with the weight of those great flat walls, and the ritual of endless key turning, the herb mandala embodies a simple message of hope and beauty. Its centrepiece, an olive tree, was purchased by the women themselves. The olive, symbolic of love and peace, was chosen for baby Olivia, whose mother was a member of the horticulture class. Olivia was born in prison, and the garden is dedicated to her.

When the idea was introduced, Sally Dabner, who was prison education officer at the time, expressed great enthusiasm for the potential of horticulture courses at Risdon. "Anything that you can use your brain and hands for is best for learning," she said. "There's a real art to coping with anything in prison. With this, you can do further training, but you can also go home and build your own little garden." Jo was in agreement, looking forward to doing both.

Plans are already on the drawing board for bigger and better gardening opportunities, and the herb garden will grow again.

And the herb garden at Risdon today? It’s still part of a pleasant outdoor environment for the women, and is kept maintained by one of them, although there is currently no horticultural or structured gardening activity.

That’s because 2004 sees the beginning of the demolition and rebuilding of the entire Risdon Prison site in several stages. But the plans are already on the drawing board for bigger and better gardening opportunities, and the herb garden will grow again, giving opportunities for the women within these walls to take part in nationally accredited vocational programs.

The plants used in the first herb garden at Risdon Women's Prison were generously donated by Island Herbs and Harmony Nursery. Herb expert and producer Lindy Campbell of Island Herbs says she’s looking forward to being involved once again in a program that brings pleasure — and a promise that the future may be better. ¶