2 minutes with Dale Tilbrook
Occupation: gallery owner, native produce providore and Wardandi Bibbulmun woman
Business: Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery
Lives: Upper Swan Valley, WA
How has the Australian native food industry changed over the time you’ve been working in it?
When I put my first jar of Quandong jam on the shelf 18 years ago, I thought it looked a bit lonely so I looked around for other products. There wasn’t much. Small manufacturers were starting to include a few bush food ingredients in products but I really had to hunt and pick and choose amongst their ranges. All that changed with Outback Pride coming online. Their range is by far the most comprehensive still, though it was sometime before they had a distributor in WA. I was always looking for the herbs and spices, fruits and vegetables. Sourcing and supply was haphazard and can still be problematic today. Bush tomatoes were once easy to get, now they are difficult and the prices have gone through the roof. It is a time of great interest and growth but it is still a fledgling industry with a fair reliance on wild harvest. Investment in plantations has generated mixed results. I’ve heard stories of people pulling out their crops because they can’t sell them. Makes me tear my hair out because I think to myself – I would have bought that, I wanted to buy that but couldn’t connect. Pathways to market are still not well established and the early players jealously guard their position.
What would you like to see happen in the field into the future?
As this industry develops, it is imperative that Aboriginal people are able to participate at a higher level. After all, it is our knowledge, our intellectual property, that is being utilised. At the moment there is not a great deal of benefit sharing. Aboriginal participation is centred on wild harvest and rates of pay do not reflect the effort, and knowledge of species, growing cycles and locations. It is changing though. There is more support from organisations such as the Indigenous Land Corporation and Australian Native Foods and Botanicals.
What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?
The most rewarding thing about what I do is taking the food and the information and history to people of all ages. I love to amaze them with the array of food available and how clever we are at caring for country and managing the land.
What could the rest of Australia learn from the aboriginal approach to food and land?
The rest of Australia would do well to think about the land as we do. If you care for country, the country will care for you. Our land management practices were harmonious with the environment. Burning the land, for example, achieved different outcomes including creating pasture to attract game, reducing fuel load and encouraging regeneration. We burnt on a mosaic pattern. We collected food on a mosaic pattern, kept the impact low.
What do you see are the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenges for the bush food industry at the moment is keeping up with demand and keeping our foods here, not letting others race them off overseas for exploitation. Food tourism is the fastest growing sector globally and this is our unique offer to the world. We need to protect it.
Regarding the education of future generations, how are you involved in sharing your knowledge of native foods?
I am very actively involved in educating future generations now. I have recently developed an education programme for year 4s and 5s with Whiteman Park, a local attraction and conservation reserve north of Perth. Also, I just loved being asked by Alice Zaslavsky to film and make podcasts for Phenomenom (a free online food education resource for kids and schools). I just stood there all day and talked; it was great.
What do you like to cook at home?
We follow the old ways at home - eating mainly a plant-based diet and looking for local seasonal produce. We often eat kangaroo at home. I like to experiment with different flavour combinations and will often buy ingredients on impulse with just a germ of an idea in my head and set about creating. I own an Aboriginal cultural business with one of my brothers and through that, we do a lot of bushfood catering. He is also an excellent bushfood cook. He makes the best kangaroo sausage rolls and emu curry puffs.
If we’re visiting you in the Swan Valley, where should we eat and drink?
When you come to the Swan Valley, you are going to be spoilt for choice. There are so many gorgeous eating places and it is the oldest wine growing region on WA, with vineyards since 1829. I have some personal favourites: Edgecombe Brothers - especially in spring for the fresh asparagus paired with their own wines, Taylors Art and Coffee house for decadent cakes, Patisserie St Honore for authentic macarons, Talijancich for amazing fortified wines, Mandoon for an eclectic offer of food, wine and beer, Old Youngs (Australian Distiller of the Year two years running) who make a beautiful Six Seasons gin with six native botanicals, and of course pop into Maalinup and try our bushfood tastings.
You can follow Dale ato learn more about native bush foods on Instagram and Facebook @maalinup
Interview by Amanda Kennedy. Amanda is an artist currently doing a writing degree. You can find her on Instagram @artbyamandakennedy