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It’s Time To Switch Up The Narrative on Australian Native Botanicals and Bush Foods.

March 11, 2019

I don’t know how to start this. I’m suddenly feeling very much the white girl trying to tell a story about black culture and frankly even I’m cringing.   I’m over digging and digging in shallow, monotonic ground with only one underlying narrative that’s passed off as truth.  A narrative born in Europe – the Roman Empire probably (did you know that the reason why it is so hard for Australian law to truly value nature for natures sake is because our law is based on a Roman system of individualism and ownership and backed up by western individualistic philosophy)? A narrative that favours Masculinity,  frames the natural world as ‘survival of the fittest’ as if it’s all just some grand competition. A narrative that related to nature in a tame-and-control/ dominate way.  This way of thinking (and it is only that, a way, one way) permeates every aspect of my reality and while I can see that it is not worthless, it’s as colourless as my own skin. I don’t mind my own skin but let’s face it it’s blank (maybe that’s why we get so many tattoos these days…).  And not like a blank canvas, anticipating the passion, energy and vibrance of an artist, not like that at all.  I mean it’s blank like a shroud that is hurriedly and carelessly flung over a scene we’d rather forget – push it under the carpet darling, keep remembering it’s you vs the world, divide and conquer, if we don’t take it someone else will.  Yep, that’s about how it feels.

And I’m OK with sitting with that, in that and with that history. It’s just that I no longer want to perpetuate that into the future.

It’s time.

Time to switch up the narrative.

And with that in mind I’ll tell my story, the only story I have a right to tell, and will leave the rest to you and your brilliant individual minds to work out what to do next.

So, I was invited to speak at a conference on bush foods/ bush botanicals for Aboriginal Women in Business and I went and participated in that this week.  When the invitation came through, being a privileged white girl I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes, excited, let me in, I would LOVE to do that’.  I mention this because these things should be laid out on the table for what they are. I’ve had my own fair share of ‘shit-life-syndrome’ but, the bottom line is that it’s likely been easier (note: not ‘easy’ just ‘relatively easier’) for me, compared to many others, to skim over and through that because of how society views me and one of the consequences of that has been that I’ve been able to keep hold of my ego somewhat, enough to feel worthy of opportunity.  That has to be remembered when we are talking about women in business as feeling worthy is only one of the hurdles that women have to traverse and that’s all women and that’s before you start piling on everything else. Some women quite literally have to scale a mountain before they can even say ‘right oh, I’m here now, let’s think about starting’.

Anyway, I went along with my talk and I gave it my all in order to demonstrate that I was happy to be there for them as a deliverer of some information and opportunity rather than being just another outsider/ business person who wants to come along and take things for my own profit.

And that’s what we’ve done before you see, people like me, we’ve gone into these spaces and dominated them, taking ownership of what we’ve been told, taking liberties with precious information, stripping it of its cultural roots and whoring it for profit.

It sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it?  However, it has been my experience too. I remember having a conversation with a client of mine from the past, a client that was happy to sell products that capitalised on the Australian Native Extract story but was adamant that they didn’t want to draw attention to the Aboriginality of that as it ‘was problematic, THEY get all difficult and start restricting what we can do, wanting money and all that.  I remember, as someone relatively naive to that type of racism and cultural blindness just thinking ‘oh, OK then, that must just be how it is around here then. That must be OK’.

But it’s not OK.

At the conference I was touched by one fact, a fact that I couldn’t get over.  Aboriginal business participation in the Australian Bush Foods Industry is 1%.  1% of a $22 million dollar business that just can’t get enough of indigenous food stuff either for its novelty value or its ‘super food’ status.  An industry that is hungry for more but sadly, not more culture by the looks of it, just more stuff that we can shove down our throats.   The Aboriginal population of Australia is currently counted at 3.3% and growing thanks to their stubborn resistance to dying and giving up (thank goodness) so even if we reflected that woeful statistic in this business Aboriginal business should still be taking another $0.5 million directly.

Not all bush foods / medicines are even grown here any more.

Sadly, like most indigenous crops the seed stock left the building long before the local elders had the power to do anything about it and it is now possible to find Kakadu Plum and other ‘big hitting’ bush foods like our Finger Lime growing outside of Australian soil. Not that this is unusual, seeds are spread all over the world and crops have grown far away from their native lands since the beginnings of human trade but it is worth mentioning that it looks likely that while someone benefited financially from this bio-piracy (stolen seed) or bio-trade, it likely wasn’t the people who gave it its value, understood it the best and have a deep connection to it.

That wasn’t the only thing that struck me at the conference as to be honest, that’s just money talking and while it was true that the women at the conference all deserved the opportunity to be part of that, I’m sure that most of them, including all that I talked to, were more interested in the first instance in just gaining a better connection to their indigenous knowledge and building connections and networks around valuing that and being valued in their entirety, not just focusing on making millions.

My fear for those women is that they won’t catch on fast enough, won’t close the gap that’s already excluding them and seeing them as immaterial.   I fear not because I think these women aren’t capable, more because I know what my people are capable of.

The last thing I’d like to say is that the women at the conference were, just like my non-indigenous clients, all looking for authenticity, honesty and realism in a world that has forgotten what it’s here for.   These women all have stories to tell that sit outside of my western narrative, stories that consider and value different ways of connecting to and interacting with nature.   The women remind me of this land, a land so unlike my native Northern Europe with its cold, mossy and damp forest floor and rotting leaves.  These women are hard seeds, protected by a casing that let’s them sit dormant through long dry summers that seem never to end. These woman have a resilience and strength that can only be ignited and germinated by wildfire.

It might just be time to light the match.

Amanda x

PS: Want to be part of the solution?  Ask about Indigenous business ownership when buying your extracts and take an interest in and support Indigeous Business Initiatives, Culture, Cultural Workshops and Cerfied Merchandise. Let’s stop selling our people short.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The slide show includes pictures of two species of Davison Plum, a Finger Lime and Warrigal Greens, Australia’s Native Spinach equivalent.

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