UniServe Science

Our Indigenous Garden: The University of Sydney

To start your study of native plants used by Aboriginal people, take a walk through the grounds of The University of Sydney:
  • starting at the Baxter's Lodge Gate (L2) on Parramatta Road;
  • following along the fence line with Victoria Park;
  • visiting the foyer of the Carslaw Building:
  • crossing City Road using the pedestrian bridge; and
  • exploring the Darlington Campus.

Map references stated on this page, refer to the printed map which may be collected from one of the information boards around campus. Please note: the online maps have used a different co-ordinate system.

Moreton Bay and Port Jackson fig trees (Ficus sp.)
A dominant feature of the vegetation within The University of Sydney and the adjoining Victoria Park is the large number of figs trees - both Port Jackson figs (Ficus rubiginosa) and Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla). Very similar in appearance, the Port Jackson fig has a rust-coloured underside to its leaves.

Fig trees can be found along the fence between the University grounds and Victoria Park, along the City Road fence line, car park near St Paul's Oval and near the University Ovals.
Aborigines found these species of figs trees extremely useful. Although not particularly tasty, the fruit of many species of figs is edible when ripe. Twine for dilly bags and fishing nets was made from the inner bark while the timber is relatively easy to work to produce items for food collection. The milky sap of figs is quite sticky and was used as a natural latex to cover wounds.
Bunya Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii)
Arguably the most impressive tree in the grounds of the University, the Bunya Bunya Pine is a relative of the recently discovered Wollemi Pine. The Bunya Bunya Pine is a native to Queensland and the northern areas of NSW. It is easily recognized by its unique foliage. The trees produce large nuts which may weigh up to 4 kg. They are particularly tasty and nutritious.
There is a Bunya Bunya pine is growing near the lower gates, on Parramatta Road (Map reference L2).
Mat-rush (Lomandra sp)
Lomandras have become a very popular plant for planting in public areas such as council parks. There have also been extensive planting around the University. Lomandras can be found beside the footpath near Baxters Lodge (Map reference L2) and Butlin Ave (L8), in the garden surrounding the Botany Lawn and in various gardens on the Darlington Campus. 
Lomandra belong to the same family as grass trees (Xanthorrhoeaceae). They are clumping plants with long slender leaves which are excellent for weaving and making mats, baskets and other food collecting utensils and were also used to produce tight-fitting bands used as bandages. The base of the leaves were eaten raw. The flowers occur along long spiky stems and are highly perfumed during spring and early summer. The flower heads were soaked in water to collect nectar to produce a sweet drink. You may notice that the berries form on only some of the plants that is because Lomandras are dioecous, having male and female reproductive organs on separate plants. It is uncertain as to whether the berries were eaten.
Illawarra Flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius)
The Illawarra Flame Tree is easily identifiable by its characteristic seed pods which are tough and leathery opening to reveal rows of seeds. These seeds are edible and quite nuitrition, but should be roasted before eating. Care must be taken when removing them from the fibrous material which surround them as it can be quite irritating. The seeds can also be used to make a beverage similar to coffee. The fibre from the bark was used to produce twine for the making of fishing nets. Twine was also made from the bark. The tubers of young trees were also eaten.
The Illawarra Flame is related to the Kurrajongs of which there are many representative native to Australia. Many of these were used in a similar way. Illawarra Flame trees can be seen in Victoria Park (Map reference M2 & M4), in the garden surrounding the Botany Lawn and on the corner of City Road and Butlin Ave (near the Wentworth Building K7). There are also two Illawarra Flame trees near University Oval No 1.
Gymea Lilies (Doryanthes excelsa)
Gymea Lilies are also commonly called Gigantic Lilies or Spear Lilies. They are becoming more common as a landscaping plant around Sydney being used extensively around the Olympic site at Homebush. They are easily identified by the long, straight spear up to 4 metres in length with a cluster of red flowers at the top. You will find them in many locations on the University of Sydney campus: near the Madsen Building (K6), in front of the University Sports and Aquatic Centre (L8) and Maze Crescent (M8). Others on campus are near the Griffith Taylor Building (G3). 
 The Gymea Lily provided many resources for the aborigines. The flowers were soaked in water to produce a sweet, high energy drink; the young flower spikes were eaten while stems and roots were roasted before eating; and the leaves were split and used for weaving and string making.
Flax Lily (Dianella sp)
Dianella are easily identifiable by their long stems of small blue flowers, followed in summer by striking blue berries. The berries of some species were eaten. They were also used as a source of dye for colouring weaving materials. The leaves were themselves used for weaving and string making. 
The path through the Darlington Campus towards the Old School Building (M7) features Dianellas. The variegated variety can be found planted near the tennis court near Parramatta Road.
Tree fern ( Dicksonia sp)
Young fronds and the pith of the ferns were cooked and eaten. Methods were used to reduce the tannin which gave an astringence to the food.
Specimens may be seen growing near Fisher Library (on the Parramatta Road side). Elsewhere on campus you will find then near the Griffith Taylor Building (G3) and in front of Veterinary Science Building (D3).
Lilly Pilly ( sp)
There are a number of species that come under the broad term of lilly pilly. These include Acmenia species, Syzygium species and Waterhousea species. All produce fruit which vary from species to species although most are pink to red in colour. Most are crisp. pithy, fleshy. acidic and aromatic and can be eaten raw or used to make jams and jellies. They contain a little Vitamin C.
A new planting of lilly pilly trees has been completed in front of the Griffith Taylor Building (G3). They are also to be found near Church Lane (Map reference M8) and in the pedestrian area on Darlington Campus
Paper Bark (Melaleuca sp)
There are two splendid paper-barks growing outside the Old Geology Building on Science Road. Trees may also be seen at L8 near the parking area opposite the University Sports and Aquatic Centre and near the swimming pool in Victoria Park at M4. Sheets of bark peeled off the trunks of paper bark trees were used for shelter, blankets, cooking wrap and food containers. They were also used to make bark canoes, stiffened with short branches.
 It is a small to medium-sized tree which can reach 25 metres but is usually up to 12 metres in cultivation.
Cabbage Tree Palm (Livistonia australis)

"The growing tip, known as a ‘cabbage’, was eaten either uncooked or roasted by Aborigines and early settlers. Unfortunately this killed the tree. Cabbage palms were once common in the Sydney area, but their numbers have been greatly reduced." (from Royal Botanic Gardens website)
A specimen can be seen in Victoria Park (M5).

The original south coast rainforest habitat has been removed from the area photographed, but the palms manage to survive
Bottle tree (Brachychyton sp)
Many parts of the tree were eaten including the seeds, stems and roots. As with its relatives, the Kurrajongs, the seeds are surrounded by hairs which are very irritating and must be removed by roasting in a fire. The trunk and roots are a good source of water. The fibrous inner bark was used for making rope and twine for fishing nets.

There is a bottle tree on the Darlington Campus near the Taxonomy Garden
Banksia sp
Flowers of many species of banksia and bottlebrush (callistemon) were soaked in water and the resulting sweet liquid was drunk.

Banksia can be found all around campus.
Macrozamia ()
These are not palm trees but more primitive plants called cycads. Aborigines called this particular species Burrawang. The seeds are rich in starch but are very poisonous. Before they could be eaten they were soaked in running water in a dilly bag for several days, then crushed into a powder and shaped into a cake and roasted.

Macrozamias can be found near the Botany Lawn (Parramatta Rd) and on the Darlington Campus, near Engineering
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Last Update: Monday, 30-Apr-2012 14:28:30 AEST
URL: http://science.uniserve.edu.au/school/curric/stage4_5/nativeplants/walk/index.html