The First Garden, based on Olive Pink’s life, played at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney as part of their 2013 Autumn Gardens program. The season opened on International Women’s Day, running from the 8th until the 17th of March 2013 to coincide with Australian Women’s History Month.

The First Garden was also performed to sell out seasons in the Northern Territory at both the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in Alice Springs and the George Brown Botanic Garden in Darwin during the 2013 Alice Springs Desert Festival and Darwin Festival respectively.

Currency Press Synopsis

Olive Pink (1884 -1975) was a botanical illustrator, anthropologist, gardener and a trailblazing Aboriginal land rights activist and environmentalist. In October 1956, at the age of 72, Olive Pink set up her tent on the grounds of what is now the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and from this tranquil location she vigorously lobbied Northern Territory politicians to establish a Flora Reserve to protect native flora and provide a site where locals could visit and learn about desert environments. The First Garden is her story. The story of a woman who took no prisoners in her quest to develop her life’s dream; it is also the story of how diverse cultures have valuable lessons for each other.

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A Description of the work

The First Garden is a fictional work based on real characters and real events driven by Olive Pink’s vast correspondence with politicians, anthropologists, administrators, missionaries, pastoralists and her anthropological colleagues.

Set in the 1950’s, The First Garden explores the harsh and oppressive conditions experienced by the indigenous people of central Australia. Not only is the play about Olive Pink, the woman who took no prisoners in her quest to develop her life’s dream, it is also about how diverse cultures have valuable lessons for each other. Olive Pink’s life and character is the narrative heart of this work, a brash, no-nonsense woman born before her time. Forty years before Amnesty International first raised the awareness of human rights, Olive Pink was deeply distressed by what she read and heard about the massacres and brutal treatment of the Warlpiri and Aranda people who live in Central Australia. She sought to carry into reality her own idea of true equality for the tribal Aborigines of central Australia, a fairness firmly underpinned by full human rights and by cultural and economic independence.

After many years around Central Australia Olive Pink attempts to create a distinctive take on botanical gardens. She began with collecting all plants but became more specific over time, focusing on local plants and ecosystems. It is her relationship to the people who helped her succeed in her vision that is pivotal. Captain Harold Southern, her guardian angel who died on the slopes of Gallipoli, her Warlpiri friend Johnny Tjampatjimpa and the young Communist, Henry Wardlaw, guided a woman who wouldn’t be led, survived her sharp tongue and eccentricities, and allowed her to see her dream unfurl into reality.

Developed as a site specific production conceived for the Olive Pink Botanical Gardens, ‘The First Garden’ script tells a local story with universal elements. The play was performed twilight to dusk, accompanied by live music with three actors performing five characters. The play has been conceptually developed to be performed in a  garden.

Listen to audio excerpt from The First Garden  a play by Chris and Natasha Raja: