(Left to right) Sam Weaner, manager of the Drill Hall Community Garden at a recent delivery of donated plants with horticulturist, Sam Davis and Lord Mayor, Sally Capp
As one of the very first residents to move into Melbourne’s social housing addition to the Drill Hall building in 2011, Martin Mulvihill has been instrumental in building a sense of community among its residents and neighbours.
He and Mark Brown founded the Drill Hall Residents Association (DHRA), to bring together all the residents of 30 Therry Street for community events and projects.
‘Martin has a very organic way of building community and getting people involved, which has been fascinating to watch over the years,’ said Mark.
Mark describes the DHRA as unlike any other kind of group he’s ever been a part of.
‘It’s such a colourful cast of characters - it reminds me of a David Williamson play where people from all different backgrounds find themselves with some common purpose.’
Mark said the DHRA has created important connections among residents so they can support one another.
‘When there’s been little moments of crisis, or local issues come up, the fact that those connections have been there, it’s been extraordinary how much of a difference that’s made,’ Mark added.
Keen to integrate into the wider neighbourhood, DHRA - with City of Melbourne permission - established a community garden that's open to all, in nearby public space in 2014.
Martin said the community garden and DHCGA have empowered many local residents with a sense of purpose and engagement.
The garden has been enhanced through art projects by a talented resident artist, supported by City of Melbourne Connected Communities Grants.
Funded projects included indigenous-inspired artworks painted on plant boxes by another local area resident, and this year, a similar revamp of the childrens' climbing block and nearby Citipower kiosk, again by a resident artist.
Martin explained that while the DHCGA has faced some challenges and project delays with COVID-19, vandalism and people who are sleeping rough gathering in the garden, they want their space to remain open to all.
‘We have residents who have experienced homelessness, so there’s a community sympathy for that situation,’ Martin explained. ‘People who are sleeping rough are already isolated, and stigmatised and we want our space to be accessible to everyone.’
An informal chess club at the Elizabeth Street Pop-up Library has also connected Drill Hall and local residents with international students who share a love of chess.
Other local area residents were encouraged to participate, and eventually we formed the incorporated Drill Hall Community Garden Association (DHCGA),’ Martin recalled.
A decade on and the Drill Hall Community Garden is now a thriving urban oasis, run by residents of the Drill Hall building and residents from nearby private apartment buildings.
Martin described the way the garden works as ‘organic anarchy’, with everyone putting plants where they like, but said that this self-organising approach works well and makes it more inclusive.
While the garden started out with donated plant boxes and second-hand gear, it’s gradually grown bigger and better with support from the City of Melbourne.
‘When City of Melbourne people arranged to make a big investment in the garden, that changed everything. We also received significant community funding from local federal MP Adam Bandt and our social housing provider Housing Choices Australia (HCA) funded the renovation of the heritage brick wall perimeter, which encloses the garden,’ explained Martin.
Martin - a retired history teacher, with experience working with people with disabilities – said the garden is designed to be welcoming and accessible to everyone.
Do you have an idea for how to promote a sense of belonging for international students in Melbourne and ensure they are valued for their contribution to the city?
This year, the theme for the City of Melbourne’s Open Innovation Competition is ‘an inclusive city for international students and alumni’.
Find out more about the Open Innovation Competition.
All visitors are welcome at the Drill Hall Community Garden, which you can visit at the corner of Victoria and Therry streets in the Melbourne CBD.