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Aquaponics in Alice – supporting the Purple Garden Project, from RIG News, Sept. 2013

2014 January 3
by anthea

Workshop participants at the  Purple House Garden - caring for people on dialysis

Workshop participants at the Purple House Garden – caring for people on dialysis

Aquaponics training in Alice supports the Purple Garden Project

 Aquaponics is a clever, water efficient way to produce fresh fish and edible plants in the one system. In July the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) in collaboration with the Purple House hosted a weekend aquaponics training course in Alice Springs during which participants created a small aquaponics system for the Purple Garden Project.

 The Purple Garden Project is a part of the Wellbeing Program that is a social enterprise project of the Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (WDNWPT) that is more affectionately known as ‘The Purple House’ in Alice Springs. WDNWPT is a not-for-profit, non government, Indigenous Governed, Community Controlled Health Organisation.

The ‘Wellbeing Program’ is a social enterprise in bush balm products and catering, as well as arts/media projects and the Purple Garden Project. The aim of the Garden Project is to establish a sustainable space for dialysis patients and their families and staff of WDNWPT to enjoy and partake in. This includes bush tucker and conventional vegies that are used in the catering service, bush medicine plants used in bush balm products, an outdoor earth pizza oven, a recycled tyre & rubbish seating area for workshops and events, and the introduction of an aquaponics system.

The Purple Garden Project has got into full swing with a series of public working bees and workshops (such as the aquaponics course) and an entourage of amazing international and interstate volunteers contributing to the project.

Aquaponics is a water efficient way to produce food in small spaces and is increasingly popular in arid and remote areas. Alice Springs uses more water per household then any other place in Australia and receives less than 300mm of rain per year (on average). Coupled with this, about half of all water in Alice is used domestically and two thirds of this is used in the garden. Much of this water is wasted on leaks and over watering – water pumped up out of the ground and put to no good use!

ALEC’s Arid Zone Adaptation project is seeking ways to grow food efficiently using less water and so they were keen to offer local people the opportunity to learn about aquaponics. Aquaponics uses 80% less water than conventional gardens. It is a closed system that means everything is recycled and reused, the only input being fish food! The outputs are beautiful edible plants and large fresh fish.

In brief, aquaponics is a closed system that has two main components. The first of these is a medium to large tank that contains fish. These fish can range from gold fish to edible fish such as silver perch and barramundi. The water from the fish tank is pumped up to a ‘grow bed’ (the second major component of the system) that is filled with gravel. The water floods the grow bed and once the grow bed is full, drains back into the fishpond. The two elements of this cycle are symbiotic. The fish provide nutrients necessary for plant growth and the plants provide a natural filtering system that cleans and oxygenates the water returning to the fish.

The weekend training course focused on backyard aquaponics and was delivered by Murray Hallam from Practical Aquaponics in conjunction with ALEC. At the workshop a group of fledgling aqua gardeners built two beautiful systems. On the first day, participants made a bathtub system at the Purple House Renal Dialysis clinic after learning some of the benefits and techniques of aquaponics. Day two provided more technical detail as participants worked on converting a backyard swimming pool into a large and hopefully abundant aquaponics oasis. Later that day the group visited an existing system and feasted on silver perch, freshly caught and smoked using a wood fired oven.

Although aquaponics may seem a lot more technical than conventional in-ground gardening, it can have amazing results. For more information about how to set up an aquaponics system, visit Murray Hallam’s website:

Information and pictures kindly provided by Cassandra Douglas-Hill, ALEC, and Christy Vanderheyden, the Wellbeing Program, WDNWPT.

For more info on any of the Wellbeing enterprise projects please email



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