It used to be a mission for children of the Stolen Generations, but now a thriving bush food operation is running out of Roelands village in WA’s South West, providing opportunities for local Indigenous people.
- Demand for bush foods such as wattleseed and boronia in WA’s South West is thriving
- More than two dozen local Indigenous people are working on the farm, with some gaining formal qualifications
- Aboriginal groups say growing WA’s bush food industry could help curb Indigenous unemployment
It started with just two wattleseed plants, but now there are more than 100 trees harvested every December, as well as other bush products like boronia and lime.
The native wattleseed can be used to make flour, as an additive to ice-cream, or even used in beer.
Michael Bulley helps run the farm, 35 kilometres east of Collie, and said demand for Indigenous food was thriving.
“We’re being asked to provide wattleseed to local groups [and] community groups to use in their cooking, but we also use it as a tourism venture here,” he said.
Jobs, training for Indigenous people
More than two dozen Aboriginal workers help keep the operation alive, with some gaining formal qualifications in a job where they are working on country and connecting with their heritage.
Corey Northover has been a trainee at Roelands for 10 months and will walk away with a certificate in civil construction that he says will put him in good stead for the future.
“You learn about new skills and development through machinery and, as a Noongar man, it’s all about love and connection and culture,” the 23-year-old said.
Out into the workforce
One of Australia’s major employment agencies has placed several clients at Roelands village.
MAX Employment South West regional manager Pete Palmer said the trainees were already starting to put their skills to good use on projects around the region.
“And there are a number that will be utilised with other contracts that are happening in the South West.”
About 15 per cent of the company’s Western Australian clients are Indigenous.
In 2018, the Indigenous employment rate was about 49 per cent, compared with about 75 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.
Roelands Village chief executive Les Wallam said growing the bush food industry could help increase rates of Indigenous employment.
Mr Wallam said while it was early days for the bush food industry in WA there were big opportunities for Indigenous-run start-ups in the state.
“We have shown the interest is there. We’ve got the workers there. And at some stage we will be able to set up these systems where you’re harvesting the whole year around.
“There are many herbs, we’re only scratching the surface.”
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