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Fertile Grounds for Faith

At Kingston Gardens (Vic.) the emphasis is on God, growth, grace and green thumbs.
There’s a garden swell, to touch and smell. There’s vegies to eat, and swings as well. Open wide, come inside – it’s Kingston Gardens.

On Wednesday, 23 July the corps opened the ‘Dingley Village Sensory Garden and Play Area’ to great acclaim from parents, volunteers and friends – and happy general mayhem from the kiddies.   

Kingston Gardens Garden Play area opened

See this place through children’s eyes, if you will. A gruff grenadier guards the gate, a lifeguard oversees the garden, and luminaries like the Tin Man (complete with heart), Alice’s mate the Mad Hatter, and assorted fairies, clowns, pirates and gnomes etc. populate the environs. It’s as if you’ve arrived at Melbourne Airport or the Geelong foreshore to find the olde worlde tourism bollards going feral and festive.

The avid aromas of satay chicken, skewered for your convenience, and barbecued sausages, ensconced in bread and drowned in dead horse, commingle with laughter and gratitude.**.

Majors Charlie and Narelle Jacobsen are doing the rounds, and on fire catches them for a chat.

Narelle explains the vegetable plots planted and funded by local Bunnings staff pre-dated the rest of the wonderland, and that Bunnings staff suggested the sensory garden.

Charlie adds that ‘the vegetables get given to families and eaten in community meals, the community program and in some corps catering. Twice now we’ve had 80 people join us in the gardens for “messy church”*, with fun and craft activities.

‘And we are already having calls from people in the community asking to come and use the gardens – we’re delighted. We hope to have educational opportunities with children, and have already received offers from kindergarten teachers who want to come and help voluntarily.’

Young mums, energetic kids, the rosellas, kookaburras, magpies, etc. assembled above are drawn to a semblance of order as Narelle, speechifying, says the sensory garden has been ‘a long time in planning and development, and it will continue to evolve. With the garden, and the safe, enclosed play area, we now have achieved greater community participation and service, and we are working with a higher number of volunteers.’

The gardens and the surrounds, Narelle notes, ‘reminds us of God, the creator of the universe’. 

Narelle’s words are drowned out (more than) occasionally by the sounds of children determined to play. They scale buttresses and slide down again, laughing and yelling and pointing and chasing mates all the while.

‘Many hands make light work,’ says Kingston’s mayor, Councillor Paul Peulich, on hand to cut the ribbon and acknowledge the council’s grant of $4,607. ‘That sentiment is true.

‘I’m glad to be able to support the Salvation Army,’ he adds, ‘as volunteerism is in short supply and we really need as many volunteers as we can get to help.’

The Kingston Gardens focus, happily, is on ‘others’. Senior chaplain at the Moorabbin Justice centre, Graeme ‘Moose’ Hallett, says that ‘some court funds have been put into this project, as part of our interaction with the corps’ community programs; we have a great relationships with Charlie and Narelle, and David, and we are pleased to see members of the local community embracing this place.’

Good news spills over into many lives. Garry Brennan, The Salvation Army Employment Plus’s Victorian work experience coordinator, confirms that 14 jobseekers who participated in the 26-week work experience activity project period (that included the garden project) went on to gain employment.

Major David Brunt AM says that ‘as well as helping provide the lunches for the Tuesday community group, the Mainly Music kids and mums, it’s hoped that local schools will utilise the facilities, such as Parkdale Secondary College, whose students contributed many volunteer hours.

‘This is bigger than the corps community, and longer than the two-year fundraising project,’ he explains.

‘The council’s seed money has been augmented by a huge amount of donations of money, goods and services and voluntary labour – everything from the rich soil, to the plants, to the painted tyres framing the plant bed, and the sculptures…this place is a tribute to hard work, friendship and compassion.’

*While format and (lack of ) structure varies, ‘messy church’ often includes music and games, craft activities on a set theme, celebratory and reflective worship, and shared meals, conversations and experiences.
** Among the individuals and organisations thanked publicly and informally were: the City of Kingston, Bunnings, Taubmans, the Rotary Club of Mordialloc, Parkdale Secondary College, and Red Cloud Bamboo. Companies such as AGL have also sent teams of volunteers in to help with the project.