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Because of her we can - stories of success

13 July 2018

Poster 2018

Enngonia, a tiny town 40km from the Queensland border and 100km north of Bourke, is remote. It’s also the last resting place of the bushranger Frank Pearson, more commonly known as Captain Starlight.

The Captain’s grave is unmarked, 35km west of the town and although that might sound close and simple if you don’t want to drive around looking for it for hours ask the locals for directions. Members of the nearby Clara Hart community can also tell you about the bush foods they’re growing in their recently established market garden.

Clara Hart, after whom the settlement is named, was a local indigenous woman whose advocacy for Aboriginal rights led to a land grant to traditional owners back in the 1950s. 

This year’s NAIDOC week theme - Because of her, we can! – is a celebration of indigenous women and the extraordinary roles they play in their communities. NAIDOC Week, which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and provides opportunities to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is a place of stories.

Here, we trace one of many NAIDOC stories paying homage to indigenous women. Our story begins back in the mid-1900s with Clara Hart’s advocacy for Aboriginal rights and continues with another strong indigenous woman Tannia Edwards and her advocacy for more for her communities.

The Clara Hart community has experienced good and bad in its history. It has been identified by the State government as socially disadvantaged, and the village also had a problem with waste – large bulk waste and waste in general. In 2016 the community joined with a number of other agencies and Waste Aid to fix the issues – getting rid of the existing waste, such as old car bodies, dumped waste, etc. and implementing long-term waste solutions.

Inspired by the success of the clean up the community wanted to take things further by setting up community gardens to grow fresh food. The first issue to tackle was the need for soil improvement so that food crops could be grown. Education and training in composting and the supply of practical elements, such as compost bins, worm farms, etc. began the process. Clara Hart households and the community now produce the nutrients through composting needed to enrich the soil for their community gardens as well as to grow bush tucker.

Because fresh fruit and vegetables have to be brought into the community, making them expensive and unavailable to most residents, growing their own food and the super foods that are bush foods makes sense economically, financially and most importantly for community health.

At around the same time as all this waste change was underway in 2016, Tannia Edwards, the CEO of Murrawarri Local Aboriginal Land Council which oversees the area, was attending a bush foods conference in Dubbo. Tannia saw a presentation by South Australian business Outback Pride’s Mike and Gayle Quamby on bush foods. She was inspired. The Quambys are long-time supporters of growing and supplying native foods to the commercial market. Their Outback Pride Project supports a network of production sites within traditional Aboriginal communities, providing the often remote communities with access to jobs and training in the growing of native foods, as well as introducing them to other opportunities in the food industry.

The project also acknowledges the intellectual property and cultural ownership of the traditional uses of bush foods, further increasing indigenous ownership and the value of traditional knowledge in the industry.

Outback Pride “lit a spark” in Tannia, and she convinced the Quambys to come and assess the viability of growing bush foods at Clara Hart.

The outcome is a win for everyone and the Clara Hart community now has Kutjera under cultivation and is expanding into Munyeroo, Quandong and Marsdenia.

Kutjera are the most consumed species of the "bush tomatoes" of which, according to Mike Quamby’s work, there are around 100, six of which are edible.

Study of the plant shows it grows quickly after summer rains, and responds to and grows rapidly after soil disturbance (along roadsides) or after bushfires.

According to traditional knowledge the fruit has been a staple food for many thousands of years. It’s a rich source of minerals, particularly potassium, and is high in vitamin C. When it ripens in the cooler months to yellow it is described as having a vanilla-like taste, and when it's further dried it carries a distinctive smoky flavour.

Munyeroo (pictured below in a salad) is a salad like plant and, according to tradition, has a number of uses. The leaves and stems are eaten raw or steamed, and the small black seeds, which are high sources of protein, are collected, ground and cooked as flat bread.

Munyeroo Salad

Quandong makes great jam, is highly nutritious and, again, has various uses, including in traditional medicine.

Marsdenia has four different edible parts. The fruit is shaped like a small avocado. The flowers and leaves can be eaten straight from the vine and the plant’s sap is also used.

Tannia continues the tradition of indigenous women who strive to make a difference for their communities. Through her efforts members of the Clara Hart community are developing traditional knowledge, learning new skills, such as soil enrichment and horticultural skills, and building business confidence. The crops provide potential income sources as well as creating paths to health for those living in the community.