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Planting Your Kangaroo Grass Seeds

Thank you for helping to recultivate Indigenous grasses in Australia. While kangaroo grass itself isn’t endangered, the Temperate Grassland communities it grows in have declined by over 90%. By planting this Kangaroo Grass you are helping to promote the continuation of this iconic native species.

Kangaroo Grass has thrived in the Australian Climate for thousands of years. Requiring less water than introduced grasses, and no fertiliser, Kangaroo Grass thrives in the low fertile soils that already exist.


To plant:

  • Place seed and awn 15mm into soil.
  • One of its survival skills is staggered germination, this may take between 2-8 weeks depending on the season or conditions the seed is planted.
  • Regular watering will speed up germination.
  • Do not fertilise
  • Water in the morning as needed.

This Kangaroo Grass Seed packet was created in collaboration with TERRAIN.

The Story of the Kangaroo Grass Seed

Cristina Napoleone,
Director of TERRAIN

TERRAIN create playful physical and digital spaces to remind humans that we are embedded in a more-than-human-world.

Below we hear from Cristina speaking about Kangaroo Grass history, its use by First Nations people to make bread and fishing nets, as well as the importance of preserving these Ingidneous grass species (and their seeds).

Along with the Recultivate installation, TERRAIN also had a hand in developing native seed packets with kangaroo grass (also known as Themeda triandra) for you to take home. Draw your attention back to the seed, to beginnings. To understand our place and role in the world when many of our human intelligences appear to be showing their cracks and deep flaws, let us turn to the intelligences of our more-than-human world, to what seed intelligences are offering to teach us, but first we must attune to this wisdom.

 

Salmon Creek Farm located in Northern California say that: “a garden that values only living plants is a denial of reality. The story of a plant continues long after moisture stops coursing through its roots, stems, and leaves. As the plant dies and dries, the seeds hanging out in the sun and wind gradually become ready to disperse, while the desiccated plant material breaks down into mulch and cover for new life. The resulting complex seasonal landscape welcomes death into the centre of the garden as the foundation for new life to come up beneath it.”


Indiginous populations globally have carefully cultivated and developed their native seeds over generations in harmony with cycles of life and death, and are passed down from generation to generation. It is sad today how few of us know how to grow or cultivate a plant from seed, or how to instinctively think in these cycles, or to have an opportunity in our busy lives to plant our hands into the Earth.


As one of over 1000 documented species of native grasses in Australia, kangaroo grass has been a dominant crop for Indigenous and broader Australian agriculture for thousands of years and is one of the most widely distributed grasses in the country. Although kangaroo grass itself is not endangered as a species it does grow in Temperate Grassland communities - which have declined by over 90% in their extent and are listed as either endangered or critically endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.


Part of the recultivation and revegetation of kangaroo grass allows us to shine light on the history and story of this plant. Bruce Pascoe, of Bururong, Yuin and Tasmanian heritage, conducted research for his seminal book ‘Dark Emu’ published in 2014 that showed the harvesting of grain in kangaroo grass was made into flour to make damper and porridge. This grain was especially relied on in arid areas and is a process that dates back at least 30,000 years, with grinding stones found in archaeological sites in Cuddie Springs and the Darling River. As Pascoe’s book ‘Dark Emu’ revealed, prior to European settlement, Australia had a wheat belt that covered a vast proportion of the country and sustained Indigenous nations with cultivated and prepared breads - who began these processes at least 20,000 years before others anywhere else in the world came up with the same kind of enterprise, invention and chemistry - making Indigenous Australians the first people on Earth to bake bread.

 

The whole plant had other uses too, the leaves and stems were also used to make cords and string, especially for fishing nets. Kangaroo grasses embody a long living history, not only with regard to sustainability and the future of food for Australia, but for reconnecting with culture through a return to what this land remembers and listening to the knowledge and wisdom of our First Nations people. Bruce Pascoe is today still leading the way as one of the central figures with Australian universities and the CSIRO in what is one of the most exciting environmental developments taking place in Australia. Growing and learning about our native plants helps recognise our Indigenous history and the misconceptions of the oldest living culture on Earth, that Aboriginal people were the first agriculturalists and engineers of this land, and we still have so much to learn.


Speaking over to environmental health, these grasses are perennials, so once the crop is established you don’t have to plough the land again with harmful tillage or add fertiliser or pesticides - and so the CO2 emissions are going to drop dramatically because you’re not turning the soil over and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Dr Kate Howell, a biochemist of The University of Melbourne, says we should be cultivating native grains, not European grains, and that when you talk to people about this research, they have a certain fire in their eyes.


Vandaya Shiva, the Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, ecofeminist and anti-globalisation author writes and speaks on how all the pesticides and chemical fertilizers of today have ancestries in Zyklon B2 poison gases, with ancestries in explosive factories. Rachel Carson revealed this decades earlier in the pivotal novel ‘Silent Spring’ of 1962 on the use of pesticides, stating: “all my work has shown me again and again that the agrochemical industry is a war industry—it’s a continuation of the war industry, and it is engaged in war against the earth and its species. When we talk about the sixth mass extinction, we need to remember that we have designed these chemicals to exterminate, pushing some human beings and other species to extinction. It is because we’ve defined other species as our enemies, our competitors.”


Today, some 50% of greenhouse gases come from this oil-based, poison-based, globalised food system and reliances on nitrogen-based fertilizers. If we want to find our way out of this ecological crisis and sixth mass extinction then we have to make peace with the seed and, through the seed, make peace with the earth.


When we eat, there is consciousness of how the food was grown. Did it regenerate biodiversity or did it destroy it? When you realise the culture of seed saving is deep within all cultures, then conserving and saving seeds becomes a regeneration of cultural diversity; and biodiversity and cultural diversity cannot be separated. For Mexico it’s the culture of corn. For the cultures in India—they evolved 200,000 rice varieties—it’s the culture of rice. For Australia, there’s a culture of grains, cultivated for well over 30,000 years. With the fast emergence and corporate patents of GMO and hybrid seeds, where they are being privately protected under intellectual property laws - what is actually being seen is that some of the best innovation is being seen in the field, on Country, not in these labs. Local and native seeds have been shown to be outperforming these GMO varieties in various trials in extreme climatic conditions. This further tells us that these native grasses have naturally adapted over millennia for the tolerances required at this point in time we find ourselves.


It is important to mention here that what should be cultivated in this space are projects that are led by First Nations people, as Indigenous spaces that non-Indigenous people can actively get invited into and join forces via active partnerships.


As generations of these cultivated seeds lovingly persist as iterations of resilience, through their biological programming and co-evolution with the human experience - we can view seeds as the blueprints for sustainable and livable futures - with each seed a direct reflection of the investment that the previous generation packed into every endosperm. Writer Suzanne Pierre articulates this aptly in saying “seeds like people, would be woefully unprepared for the world ahead without the relationship that exists between the past and the present.”


Around the world what is concerning is that we are seeing private companies making it illegal to grow, save and exchange seeds - especially those for food. There are many seed activists, by farmers and other members of communities who are fighting to keep local native seeds in the hands of the many - because corporate control of these seeds become tools to extract profits, not feed and nurture people and restore biodiversity. To describe this with an expression from the global seed sovereignty movement: seed in the hands of the few is dependency; seed in the hands of the many is freedom. 


Returning to the words of Suzanne Pierre: “seeds anticipate unwelcoming conditions, competition and a long journey before finding a safe haven.” Additionally, nature expects that not every seed will fall on fertile ground, which is a lesson in cultivating our personal attitudes to align them with life as it truly functions. While not every seed can fall on fertile ground, we can invest in a shared strategy for nourishment, for the seeds that may potentiate fertility.” 


Whether you decide to go and plant all of your seeds, or choose to carry them around with you in your wallet, let them be a symbol of hope. Keeping seeds as a seed keeper, described by writer Owen Taylor, means there are ways to look at seeds as metaphors; the fact that we plant this one seed and sometimes we can receive a further thousand or tens of thousands of seeds from just one plant, really speaks to us about abundance and allows us to believe in abundance rather than continually succumbing to a scarcity mindset of lack and loss - one that only further digs us deeper into our current crisis.


Rowan White, the seedkeeper and founder of Sierra Seeds and the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne says that “We are all indigenous to somewhere, and we’re all called in this time to be in inquiry about decolonizing ourselves and our relationships; and that process is multisensory. We can’t just think our way out of the predicament that we’re in. It really requires us to reimagine the way in which we engage with the world from a multitude of senses.”

It is time we step away from reductive perspectives of nature, and see the true value in all the abundances that surround us every single day in even the most urban places. As the world’s seeds are becoming increasingly locked into giant institutional ‘vaults’ and ‘banks’ catering to only an elite few, it is apparently clear where there is still so much work to be done. We don’t need museums to preserve varieties, we need everyday people to grow them.


When we ask ‘what does shifting power look like’, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to sketch the silhouette of a seed, and a sprouting stem. Reestablishing native grasslands and the life they sustain, that in turn sustain and nourish us, all trace back to the generosity of a single seed.

Tait acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work, and pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging.