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Indigenous pride drives food project

31 Jan, 2012 02:00 AM
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BUSH TUCKER: Mike and Gayle Quarmby's Outback Pride Project is promoting Australian native food by developing a network of production sites within traditional Aboriginal communities.
BUSH TUCKER: Mike and Gayle Quarmby's Outback Pride Project is promoting Australian native food by developing a network of production sites within traditional Aboriginal communities.

A LIFE-CHANGING moment has led a South East couple to develop a business that is changing the lives of many young people in remote Aboriginal communities.

Mike and Gayle Quarmby, Reedy Creek, near Kingston, were devastated by the death of their 20-year-old son, and after much soul-searching looked for a way, says Gayle, "to take a positive journey and make a difference in the lives of other young people".

Born from this challenging, personal time, the couple developed their Outback Pride Project, aimed at promoting the Australian native food industry by developing a network of production sites at traditional Aboriginal communities.

Gayle's family has been involved with such communities since 1932, when her father Rex Battarbee travelled in a Model T Ford to the central Australian outback settlement of Hermannsburg, south west of Alice Springs.

"He was a watercolour artist in search of the great outback landscape, but while travelling in the regions was deeply moved by the plight of indigenous Australians," she said.

While at Hermannsburg, Rex met Albert, a young camel team worker, with whom he developed a strong friendship and also trained as a landscape artist.

With Rex's mentorship Albert Namatjira and kin became known around the world as the Hermannsburg Watercolour Movement. From those beginnings, the Aboriginal art industry was created and has provided valuable careers for many remote indigenous artists.

Gayle grew up with the Eastern Arrente people of the Hermannsburg and Alice Springs area, and fondly remembers gathering bush food with the women and children.

Mike has had a lifetime of experience in the commercial horticultural industry. His talent for innovation in species development, plant propagation, cultivation and new-product development has been an integral part of Outback Pride.

"Together, we felt that our combined skills could provide a platform for a unique development in the bush food industry," Gayle said.

"We believed that the bush-food industry could - and should - be operated in parallel to the aboriginal art industry.

Their journey over the past six years has taken the couple on a complex and interesting path. Initially, they spent time in the outback with Aboriginal people researching bush food species with support from good friend and botanist Peter Latz.

The next step was to create systems of propagation and cultivation for up to 64 bush-food species, put into practice on numerous trial sites across South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Species include bush cucumber, desert lime, kutjera (desert raisin) and lemon myrtle. The ingredients are then used to create an extensive variety of sauces and dressings, cordials, pastas, dried herbs and seasonings, pickles, relishes and spreads.

The Quarmby home is the commercial base for research and development of all facets of Outback Pride.

Mike and Gayle decided initially to self-fund the project and in the process, have volunteered five years of their time to indigenous communities.

*Full report in Stock Journal, January 26 issue, 2012.

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