Northcote Cemetery (VIC) Becomes Outdoor Classroom for Horticulturalists

Northcote Cemetery in Victoria is proving to be an exciting outdoor classroom for a group of young horticulturists-in-training with intellectual disabilities. 

Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre provides a range of pre-accredited courses, including horticulture, to adults within the further education sector. 

The centre has partnered with NDIS provider Burke and Beyond, along with GMCT and Swinburne University to deliver an exciting horticulture education program at Northcote Cemetery. Post-secondary students with learning difficulties or disabilities are supported by these organisations as part of their transition into the adult world, and into further training or employment. 

Christine Wallis, Planning and Development Manager at Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre, says the opportunity to try out horticulture is a valuable one for the students.   

“Young people can make decisions about what they might like, and what they might be interested in,” she says.

“The students are understanding what it’s like to be in a workplace and to interact with the arborist and the maintenance crew. They get exposure to what employment pathways may be, and what the world of work means.”

With the support of their tutors and GMCT staff, these young students have been working on the garden landscape at the cemetery, which is one of GMCT’s oldest sites. Dating back almost 160 years, Northcote Cemetery’s final burial took place in 1971.

“At Northcote there’s a huge opportunity for our students to propagate the garden, to design it, and to learn in a broad sense what it means to grow a garden, and have it as a community project,” Christine says. 

Each week, the group is hard at work at Northcote raking, sweeping, weeding, selecting plants and learning about other aspects of horticulture in order to prepare for a potential career in the field. Those who discover a passion for horticulture may ultimately go on to further study at Swinburne University, or into the workforce. 

In the meantime, the project at Northcote Cemetery will allow the students to build on skills gained as part of their previous projects. Previously, the students did an exceptional job giving a fresh look to the garden at Kew Cemetery.

The students also recently enjoyed a field trip to GMCT’s largest cemetery, Fawkner Memorial Park, to gain new perspectives on cemetery landscapes and an understanding of the horticultural expertise that goes into maintaining their natural beauty. 

“It’s quite a long-term process. It’s a journey,” Christine says. “Their skill level is so impressive. It’s incredible to see their capability grow, and their interaction with one another. Being able to work as a team and problem-solve.”

“These students are the most wonderful group of students to teach. They are so enthusiastic - they literally run into class each week!”

“The partnership is successful because we have shared values, and a shared sense of purpose. The match is quite fantastic. There’s that generous sense of learning and support.” 


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