New Reserve Highlights Kaurna Culture

The redeveloped Felixstow Reserve in Adelaide’s east has been awarded for outstanding landscape design, including its recognition of Kaurna culture at the 2019 SA Landscape Architecture Awards.The Reserve’s design received three awards; the Award of Excellence, Landscape Architecture Award and the inaugural winner of the category, ‘Healthy Parks and Healthy People’ for the project’s quality use of open public space.The jury said that the park is a “celebration of rich local history and living culture from a bi-cultural perspective” and “the jury commends the project team for delivering a great outcome for the Kaurna and broader community”.Kaurna elder Lynette Crocker told Aboriginal Way that the new reserve is an important recognition of Kaurna culture.“This is a beautiful natural space not only for the people who live in that area but also a space that Kaurna people can go and feel like they belong” “Its step towards Norwood Payneham council acknowledging past occupation of Kaurna people in particular in this area” she said.Project Manager Jared Barnes explained that just before the development the area was a derelict open paddock.“I think maybe 10 years ago when we had the droughts, the council turned off the irrigation to the reserve, and so it became quite bare, dusty, and weedy in the summer. It wasn’t very well used and the condition of the facilities, there wasn’t anything to offer” he said.The scene at Felixstow now is very different.“Now, it’s lush and beautiful, particularly with the wetlands that have been built there and the native vegetation, indigenous plants that have gone in. There’s a real richness of facilities there; there’s a pavilion, there’s a basketball court, ping pong table, bocce court. There’re also walking trails and nature play, and you can hear the sounds of wildlife and other things. There’re people there using the space, so it’s really active now” Mr Barnes said.The reserve is located not far from the River Torrens (Karrawari Pari) and Fourth Creek (Marriyarta Pari) which are both connected to traditional Kaurna seasonal activities and dreaming stories. It is also home to a scar tree, which was used by Kaurna people to make a canoe more than 200 years ago.The identification of the scar tree was a central reason Kaurna people became involved in the park’s development.“There’s not that many trees like that. There’s some smaller ones, that have been used as for example coolamons, but because of the size, we assume that it was a canoe tree” Ms Crocker said.Mr Barnes said that engagement with Kaurna people was crucial to the project, and commenced on finding the scar tree.“When the canoe scar tree was found, we consulted with the Kaurna community, and the elders gathered their people and youth.“They had options of what they could do; they could leave it in place, they could move it to try and preserve it in some other way, or it could be moved to another site. The Kaurna elders listened to their youth, who wanted it to remain there, and I thought that was pretty important and special.“Taking on that advice, we were then able to work with them with options around how the canoe scar tree was designed around. They gave us input on how families might be able to go down there and teach about some of the cultural uses that are appropriate for Kaurna men and women to know as they grow” Mr Barnes said.The tree is now clearly marked with signage and a seating area. It is just one of a series of cultural markers and language signs connected by an interpretive trail at the park, created by Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna Landscape Architect, Paul Herzich.Mr Barnes explained that the cultural markers speak about traditional practices, flora and fauna from the area.“One represents weaving, tankyaldi and traditional uses of witu, the common reed. There’s also a fishing spear. There’s an ibis and also a digging stick” he said.The ibis features in the Tjilbruke story, which is of great cultural significance to the Kaurna people. Digging sticks were used by Aboriginal women and has cultural links to the Karrawirra pari. The fishing spear was used by Aboriginal males and has cultural links to the river. The cyperus gymnocalus (Spiny Flat-Sedge) was a favoured sedge for weaving used by Aboriginal women. The reed spear was used by Aboriginal men.Paul Herzich also designed interpretive information that uses Kaurna language for the park.“We felt it was really important to involve and use the language of the Kaurna people. It’s really become rich that way. There’s also interpretive signage around plants and their uses, and the Kaurna seasons. We have a marker there with a calendar which is obviously different to our four seasons that we know” Mr Barnes said.The cultural markers and signage are significant, Ms Crocker said and mean a lot to Kaurna people.“The cultural markers we don’t see much of it in the city at all to say that we were once here” she said.“The use of indigenous plants is also significant to Kaurna” Ms Crocker said.“It’s good to see some of the flora and fauna that was there before colonisation, before the councils were even developed and so it’s bringing back that cultural knowledge.“Some of our customs, some of the plants that we used as bushtucker, like the wattle for example.“The wattle was crushed up and made into damper and some of the medicinal properties of wattle seeds – it lowers your blood sugar levels” Ms Crocker said.The park design includes a nature play space on lower ground near the river.The space incorporates a number of steel cubbyhouses, inspired by wardli (huts) and other natural features.Mr Barnes said that design team from Aspect Studios wanted to ensure that there was a strong connection with the river in the park.“Obviously, the river was very important to the Kaurna as they used it for transport, food, other uses. There were traditional camps as the Kaurna moved about.“So, they did some interpretive pieces in creating a nature play space with rocks and logs that can be climbed on.“But these wadli, they have reinterpreted those into cubby houses for kids to play in, and things like that.“Hopefully people are using their imaginations and making some sort of connection with how people traditionally used the river and the encampments of the Kaurna people” he said.Ms Crocker gave some insight into how the new area near the river was reflective of Kaurna traditional ways of life.“Kaurna people moved, they moved up into the hills in winter, and that was like winter camp, and in summer they moved down to the beach, so part of that river area was like a cultural corridor where people went backwards and forwards along there. So they would have camped near wherever there was water. So this was in an ideal position for where people might camp” she said.Overall, Ms Crocker agrees with the assessment of the SA Landscape Awards jury, and feels that the reserve creates a positive space for all community but particularly Kaurna people.“In the consultation and negotiation for Felixstow, we have developed a beautiful natural space not only for the people who live in that area but also a space for Kaurna people” she said.For further information about Felixstow Reserve, visit the Council’s website at

By Lucy Kingston

SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.