Northbank Community Garden temporary reprieve

The meeting, attended by about 40 people, was facilitated by Gull Herzberg (centre)
The meeting, attended by about 40 people, was facilitated by Gull Herzberg (centre)

Wednesday's public meeting to discuss the future of Northbank Community Garden was attended by about 40 people, including current landowner John Lavis.

Mayor Dominic King, Cr Jennie Fenton and the prospective owner of the land, Dominic Bertucci, were also present.

At the start of the meeting, which was facilitated by local doctor Gull Herzberg, John and his partner Hilary were thanked for their "amazing generosity" over the years.

Northbank Community Garden Inc has been paying $1/week rent for the five acre space since the garden began in 2008.

John said the original agreement was that either party could give three months' notice, which is what he gave in August after agreeing to sell some of his land to Dominic, whose property adjoins the garden space.

However, finalisation of the sale requires a boundary adjustment, which may take 12 to 18 months to pass through local and state processes.

People at the meeting questioned why the garden committee was dealing with Dominic, whose ownership was still some way off, instead of John, the current owner.

But by the end of the two-hour meeting, John had agreed that he would not terminate the lease on November 25.

I'll leave you here, doing your own thing, until I get the final payment

Current landowner, John Lavis

"I'll leave you here, doing your own thing, until I get the final payment and the contract off the solicitor," he said.

However, he said there were issues that he'd like to see rectified.

"You walk up there, there's old cars, old bits of broken machinery, caravans. I never approved this as a tip," John said. "It was to grow vegetables and put in fruit trees."

He also spoke about wanting to see the space used more productively, keeping weeds under control and growing food like lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes that "you could make a meal out of".

Someone at the meeting suggested this pointed to a clash of ideologies.

"That's pretty mainstream market gardening," he said. "But we have to realise that this is more of a food forest permaculture style of gardening."

"But you can do both," John said, and people agreed that crops of conventional produce had been cultivated before in sections of the garden.

Caroline Joseph noted that part of the reason the garden has been struggling relates to a broader problem with community groups being short of volunteers because people are doing more paid work to make ends meet.

"There's not a lot of people here to run the organisation or do the gardening," she said. "If we want the garden to survive, I think we'll all have to put a bit more energy in."

Dominic then pointed out that his affordable housing proposal would establish a village nearby of about 150 people, mostly over-55s, who might swell the gardening workforce.

"In my report here, I'm saying we would not only encourage people to come into the gardens, I was going to build an artisan shed here [and] buy machinery for people to use here, like little rotary hoes."

As part of his project, Dominic is also offering to gift the community garden land to council.

He invited Crs King and Fenton to meet with him to discuss the proposal and said he would bring "all the evidence to show you why it can work".

However Cr Fenton said councillors aren't allowed to meet with developers. "You have to go to the front counter and you have to talk to staff," she said. "Talk to the planners in council because they are the people who interpret the law around planning."

She added that personally she thought a garden of this size should be on public rather than private land to ensure its longevity.

"If it was donated to council or if council bought it from John or Dominic, it would end up being managed by a Section 355 committee, which is how council manages all their halls and other [community] assets. I think that's where the long-term future of the garden lies."

Earlier in the meeting, Cr King had said if the lease termination with NCG Inc went ahead, council would consider establishing a garden elsewhere and transferring the assets.

"We will look for somewhere else on council land or Crown Land to put a new community garden. That would be the next step for us as councillors."