Farm ~ Paradise Reclaimed
Ten minutes walk from the Perth GPO is a garden
grown by many hands that has, in return, planted
seeds of hope in many hearts.
We sat down in a quiet leafy glade. Under the
rumble of nearby earthmoving machinery lay a rich
blanket of birdsong, and beneath that a silence
that seemed to rise from the damp earth and dance
in the patches on sunlight filtering through the
A crew of boot-clad shovel-bearing volunteers
and work for the dole people were peacefully tending
the orchard and the herb beds, serenely in tune
with their surroundings.
This remarkable inner city haven, where plants
and people are nurtured with equal loving care,
is the great achievement of Rosanne Scott and
her eclectic collection of enthusiastic friends.
Cityfarm grew out of a dream that was first a
The idea had its roots in a talk given in North
Perth in 1989 by the Men of the Trees. Rosanne
heard the talk and along with her friend Joanne,
she signed up immediately.
She said: “We were the only two youngsters
in the group but we just loved them. All of life’s
problems just seemed to fall away as we became
immersed in life and trees and soil”.
Wanting to share the experience with others,
Roseanne and Joanne formed a subgroup called Children
of the Trees. They were heady days full of mad
adventures, like taking 38 kids and 10 adults
725km north to spend a bit of time with the people
of the Wadjiri Tribe.
Back at home, she was working part time in the
city with young unemployed people and feeling
that a bit of garden medicine in their lives would
go a long way.
She started to talk to the people around her
about incorporating a city garden that was more
than just a garden. She wanted it to also be an
education facility where young people could overcome
problems with literacy and numeracy and where
valuable work on self-esteem and motivation could
Rosanne said: “We even started looking
for bits of land, but everyone found the concept
a bit too big and hard to get hold of, people
wanted to help but it was hard to conceive of
what they could do that would be constructive.”
Then an opportunity arose through Men of the
Trees to write an application for a WA Dept of
Training education grant. Rosanne was excited
about the prospect of marrying land care and education
and wrote a successful submission. Then with colleague
Chris Ferreira, she started a programme for fifteen
young people at the Men of the Trees nursery in
The DET programme was successful and the concept
was picked up by the Federal Government and given
Australia-wide funding. Rosanne scored a second
grant out of the process and spent six months
with another group of 15-20 year olds.
By this time Chris was starting to talk excitedly
about changing the urban landscape by changing
the basic forms of transport, away from cars to
cleaner and more social forms of transport like
trains and bicycles.
His enthusiasm, and the energy of Neal Bodel,
a graduate from one of the earlier projects, reignited
Rosanne’s Cityfarm dream and prompted her
to send off a pile of letters to individuals,
companies and local councils, seeking support
for the project.
Mike Toobey, an architect with the East Perth
Redevelopment Authority (EPRA) responded and introduced
Rosanne to Rueben Kooperman, the EPRA operations
manager, who had been thinking about the possibility
of there being a permaculture garden on the old
Vacuum Oil Company site in Claisebrook
The site, with its historic buildings, toxic
lead-rich soil, and thick concrete paving, was
formerly used as an engineering works by the company
now known as Mobil. It was also at some stage
a workshop/depot for Perth’s trolley buses
and at other times an engineering foundry.
Rosanne took Rueben and Mike to meet the Men
of The Trees in late 1993 and Reuben suggested
that the EPRA would allow Men of the Trees LEAP
programmes to run on the site for a two years
~ on the up front condition that Rosanne, the
kids and the plants would up and leave when the
time came for EPRA’s other plans for the
site to unfold.
It was the break they needed and Cityfarm was
Since then, year-by-year the lease has been extended,
and the gardens have grown lusher and the trees
taller, with the gentlemen’s agreement about
moving on when the time comes still in place.
Over the years hundreds of people have pitched
in and contributed labour and supplies to the
They have included the original LEAP scheme students,
people referred by the justice system on community
service orders, school truants on special programmes,
mental health rehabilitation clients and people
with all kinds of disabilities ~ as well as scores
of garden-loving volunteers who have wielded shovels
and shifted dirt.
Reflecting the farm’s organic nature, the
relationship between the workers and the garden
is not straightforward. Rosanne sparkles as she
describes the way the garden affects its visitors.
She said: “We had a busload of terribly
disabled kids in the other day, so disabled that
the only thing they could do here was to tear
up paper to make compost, so they did that and
they were delighted to come and be part of it
all for a day.”
Some of the visitors are harder work though.
Rosanne and her husband Thom, who now works by
her side, have no formal training in youthwork,
although it is central to their work.
Rosanne said: “Everything we do comes from
the heart stuff. You come through that door and
you are respected for who you are, no matter where
you’ve been. We are strict with ourselves
on that and it is often misunderstood as weakness,
but it is what makes the difference in the end.”
Thom added that they have learnt to try to live
by the saying: “Be wise as a serpent and
innocent as a dove”.
“Clever but loving, not judgmental but not
stupid,” explained Rosanne.
She said: “The way we work is by throwing
people in at the deep-end, through working on
the projects, whether it is making a garden bed
or running our annual Sprout festival, crises
will come enables development and learning.”
Cityfarm currently has 42 Work for the Dole people
working two days a week each. Rosanne and Thom,
laughingly say that at Cityfarm it’s “Work
for the Soul” or “the soil”
but not the dole. It’s a kind of wordplay
that can strike deep cords in angry young hearts.
Thom also welcomes spray-can “taggers”
to the farm and by asking them to plan and work
on “legal pieces” he helps them shift
from graffiti to Art making and to make self-image
adjustments from vandals to artists.
Tucked away in what was, in Cityfarm’s
early days, a communal art studio, craftsman Wayne
Holton and his wife Sue make beautiful pieces
of furniture out of recycled iron and wood.
Thom and Rosanne share with Wayne and Sue, responsibility
for Brendan, a young man working five days a week
on a disability rehabilitation programme.
The work done over the years has included building
up garden beds on top of the thick concrete paving,
firstly with tyres that are now being replaced
with limestone retainer walls. Then there was
the challenge of the contaminated soil that needed
to be moved out (to a contained site at Red Hill)
before fresh organic soil could be brought in.
Thom estimates that 1000s of cubic metres of
organic material have been added to the block
including tonnes of lawnclippings from contractors
and 800 cubic metres of straw, sawdust and manure
from the Royal Show.
Special attention has also been given to establishing
micro-climates by using the thermal mass of the
buildings and planting windbreaks in strategic
places. The result is that tropical plants like
bananas, coffee and papaw are delivering several
crops each year, even through the winter.
Other crops from the farm include mulberries,
passionfruit, henna, olives, curry leaves and
The farm also grows a wide range of kitchen and
medicinal herbs and the gardens are dotted with
scented geraniums and wormwood to keep away unwelcome
There are also several native plants to attract
birds to the site. The birdsong testifies to the
success of the mission and Rosanne proudly said
“We have owls too and a nesting pair of
black shouldered kites”.
As the roar of a passing train momentarily shatters
the serenity Rosanne smiles. She likes the trains.
She says: “They’re part of the place,
they enable us to be visited by people from all
over Perth. And they remind us that we are part
of the urban centre.
Cityfarm is not just a place for gardening. It
is also a regular venue for dance parties, hip
hop nights, Artrage and WAMI events. Thom says
we often have five to six hundred people here
Don’t the gardens get trampled?
“No,” says Thom, “when people
come here they respect the space, they don’t
want to damage it because it’s soothing
on their minds”.
There have also been several art exhibitions
at Cityfarm, including the Pride Art Shows, and
the latest group showing interest is the Skateboarding
association, keen to use the garden as a venue.
At last though, despite the good work, it seems
that Cityfarm’s bell is tolling, Rosanne
and Thom have been told that the garden has to
go in June 2000 ~ it’s time for the site
to be redeveloped.
It’s hard to think about bulldozers in
the leafy glade.
Asked what will happen if the eviction notice
does arrive, Rosanne looked wistfully around at
the peaceful garden and whispered very quietly:
“I don’t know.”