A Day in the Life of Learning Facilitator Lenka Vanderboom

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne are located on significant Kulin homelands. The indigenous and native plant species growing in the Gardens are largely culturally and historically significant to the Kulin and other nation groups across Australia. Plants, such as the Princes Lawn Biel (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) has been growing where it stands on the edge of the Birrarung wetlands since before European contact. When it comes to the Gardens, there's a wealth of Indigenous knowledge and history shared by our First Nations’ staff and guides who are passionate about connecting our many visitors and local Melbournites to Country, be it through cultural tours, programs, and activities or ceremonies. LenkaVanderboom, a multi-cultural Yawuru woman, has been a Learning Facilitator with the Engagement and Impact Team at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria since 2016 and gave us some insight into a day in her life at the Botanic Gardens.  

What is the role of Learning Facilitator at the Gardens? 

"I’m a part of the Participation and Learning focused team so there are a number of different programs I’ve been trained up in but need to always do my research and be aware of the latest data and resources. We work with a diverse array of students of all ages from kinder groups, schools, TAFE and tertiary universities as well as private groups who can use our programs, resources and the natural environment as learning tools to achieve their curriculum needs. We are seeing schools and organisations increasingly striving to embed First Nations’ content into their curriculums or working strategies as a means of addressing our shared history and also to support strategic wellbeing and sustainability practices. Schools come to the botanic gardens to give students the opportunity to gain knowledge around First Nations’ perspectives. Our programs enable students to use our beautiful space and interactive activities to hook into Boonwurrung and Kulin knowledge systems that First Nations’ guides and staff have been directed to discuss by elders including Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir."

Run us through a typical workday 

"A typical day for me will involve ensuring we have the right resources for the programs we will be running over that week or fortnight. It involves the team setting up each day for the programs running throughout the garden, so a clear line of communication with other departments, such as the horticultural, arboricultural or herbarium teams is imperative.  The day may also involve an Acknowledgment of Country. We really support the Boonwurrung and Kulin nations efforts to educate visitors to this land, and by acknowledging where we are and what our purpose is together for a program we are helping people understand that we're not just in Australia, we're working together on a distinct part of the Kulin nation." 

What made you want to work with the Botanic Gardens?

"I started in 2016 as a casual Aboriginal Heritage Walk Guide, under Benjamin Church and Uncle Den Fisher. I'm from another part of Australia, so in choosing to be an Aboriginal Heritage Walk Guide, in my heart I needed permission from the First Peoples as much as I needed to sign my working contract. It was really important I had permission from Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, who was our Kulin adviser at the time. The Royal Botanic Gardens is just such a sensational space in the heart of the city, and I'm a country girl, so being in nature and with vibrant people is really important and ticked a lot of boxes. I am Yawuru, from Broome, and our family have always been traders. As a kid I really enjoyed the oldies telling stories, learning about bush medicines while having fun on Country and eventually learning to share this knowledge with next generations. There's a lot of those elements in my work here. We also have a really good team of people working across the Gardens, who are generous and inspiring to work with." 

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

"The most rewarding part of the job is generating a sense of love for the natural world. Getting to see children and students and parents and teachers walk away from a program with a slightly broader perspective on how we're connected and impact the earth." 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

"One of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my role is group work - your communication skills have to constantly evolve because we work with so many different types of people. Interpreting content and figuring out how to best deliver it to the group I'm working with in a way that will resonate and connect with everybody is a challenge, but also really exciting. It's also about finding space for important content with a balance of playfulness and generating wonder." 

Why is it important that the Gardens runs indigenous programs?  

This is such a significant place and its important to educate people about the land management practices that the first peoples across Australia practiced. Biodiversity was built into their social systems, through totems to be protected and valued in and around Country - this could be a body of water, an animal, insect, element or plant. When we value nature as much as ourselves and see how connected we are to it and each other and, we develop a deep connection to the world around us. I think that our scientific practices are gradually catching up with First Peoples knowledge systems, and that's important because of the impact we've had since contact on the environment. It’s such a short period of time, so by running indigenous programs we help people to comprehend that we are also a part of nature and can't survive without looking after country." 

What does NAIDOC mean to you?

"To me, NAIDOC means pride in a connected community."

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