Where gardening grows a sense of community

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Members of Hackett’s Gilruth Street’s Transition Streets program. Standing at left is Liam Lilly, the executive officer at SEE-Change, and innovators Antonia (back row middle) and Sasha Basic (front row) with daughter Rosa, 4. Photo by Danielle Nohra

WHEN one family started the Canberra Honesty Box, a shed that sells chemical-free vegetables to the public, it wasn’t long before another house joined in and then another, turning a small cul-de-sac in Hackett into a mini community of friends.

It started a year ago with Antonia and Sasha Basic, a couple from Croatia who have made Canberra their home.

Sasha, an agronomist, transferred his planting skills into the front yard, which then saw a surplus of tomatoes one year.

“We started selling them and then a few other houses joined,” Antonia says.

“It’s not for an income, it’s a community thing that brings people together through chemical-free produce.”

It expanded when Liam Lilly, the executive officer at SEE-Change met Sasha and Antonia at a local food co-op.

Liam introduced them to Transition Streets, a program set up by SEE-Change as a way for neighbours and friends to come together and support each other to reduce their ecological footprint, save money and be more connected.

SEE-Change helped the street fund a small shed with an “honesty box” system used for payments. It’s an unattended shed where food is put out on Saturday and is always left empty by Sunday.

“We collect produce on Fridays, leave prices up and a piggy bank out so people can leave money and then go happily home,” Sasha says.

After arriving in Australia three years ago with two children, Sasha and Antonia felt as though they’d landed “on the right spot”.

But there was just one thing missing, community. And now with a teenager in year 10 named Mara and four-year-old Rosa, both Sasha and Antonia wanted their neighbours to become their family as it was back in Croatia.

“Neighbourhood and community are very important. Our neighbours are more like relatives,” Antonia says.

“In Croatia we felt safe to leave our kids with the neighbours, we would even celebrate birthdays together.

“Our intention is to bring that spirit from the Croatian community here.”

And it seems as though their spirit has already started to spread. The couple, guided by the Transition Streets program, has already hosted crepe nights and has brought together other neighbours through gardening.

Visitors hoping to get their hands on some chemical-free produce will most likely see Rosa running back and forth in between her parents’ house and the Croatian lady’s house across the road.

The street is slowly becoming a family that continues to grow and Liam believes that this will add to a stronger social well being for people living in Gilruth Street.  

“The isolation that some people can feel leads to many problems,” he says.

“You hear about those stories when people die in their house and they’re not found for weeks.”

Liam says that anyone can begin a Transition Street: “All you need is someone willing to champion the project for your neighbourhood and to kick-off the first meeting.”

Transition Streets work like a book club where each month the groups meet and decide what changes they can make together to their lifestyles.

To start a Transition Street visit see-change.org.au or call 0403 764230.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.


  1. Cul-de-sacs are wonderful in generating a community feeling. Pity they have been banned in new developments for the last 20 years or so.

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