It’s late on a Friday afternoon in November when Gippslandia has the opportunity to chat with Charles Solomon Junior (Monero/Ngarigo), the Aboriginal Business Development Manager at Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC).
Charles and the team at GLaWAC have been busy!
The new project announcements from GLaWAC over the past three months alone are mightily impressive – we’ve got a list of new business opportunities to gather details, and during our call Charles suggests that there could be more openings in the near future too.
“Traditional Owners have always been business people but we have been excluded from participating in the economy for 230 years”
In announcing the release of the Aboriginal Economic Development Strategy Gippsland, GLaWAC highlights that, “Traditional Owners have always been business people but we have been excluded from participating in the economy for 230 years”, adding that it’s time to “put Aboriginal business back in Aboriginal hands”.
GLaWAC is the host organisation for the strategy, but it has been developed collaboratively with, “a full invitation for the whole of Community, its organisations and Aboriginal business to contribute during the consultation phase”. Given the pandemic, a ‘living strategy’ has been created: one that “will grow and allow ongoing engagement with those wishing to contribute to the economic future of Aboriginal Gippsland”.
The purpose of the strategy is to “facilitate and progress the economic development aspirations of the Gippsland Aboriginal Community and to support established businesses to grow and flourish”.
Sure, the aspirational strategy seeks to drive economic advancement, but it also describes the core values when pursuing this growth. This includes “drawing on their vibrant cultural heritage and knowledge systems, encouraging Community connectedness, and establishing productive partnerships and collaborative ventures”.
Recently, GLaWAC and the Victorian Fisheries Authority have entered into a partnership to grow oysters in the waters surrounding Lakes Entrance.
At the announcement, the General Manager for GLaWAC’s On Country team and incoming CEO, Daniel Miller, said the project would help create jobs in his community by growing a food source that had long nourished Indigenous people.
Charles adds that the project is in its early stages with stakeholder engagement underway.
But, it’s an exciting opportunity, especially when you consider that Tasmania produces 36 million oysters worth over $20 million per year. It’d be great if a Gippsland-based initiative could take a bite out of that delicious market.
GLaWAC was one of seven successful applicants to the What’s Your Food or Fibre Challenge, Gippsland? program, delivered with funding from the Victorian Government’s Gippsland Regional Partnership and in collaboration with key partner Food & Fibre Gippsland.
Charles is leading a team of researchers and industry experts, including Federation University environmental scientist Dr Jess Reeves, and representatives from Food & Fibre Gippsland, TAFE Gippsland and Regional Development Victoria for this project, which aims to bring optimum Traditional Foods to market through First Nations–run enterprises.
The team is currently surveying leading chefs and food manufacturers in Gippsland and Melbourne, and the Gippsland community, to determine the market demand for particular Traditional Food ingredients and which products are most likely to be economically feasible to produce in the region.
Charles explains that the Traditional Foods project will also examine the infrastructure requirements to best grow the local ingredients and bring them to consumers in a way that highlights their cultural significance, and that GLaWAC is already fortunate in having their Bush Café to taste, experiment and utilise potential foods.
Federation University environmental scientist and Traditional Foods Project Control Group member, Dr Jess Reeves, shared that, “The hunger for knowledge about Traditional Foods is growing rapidly, as we can see by the diversity of indigenous ingredients featured on menus. It is critical that Traditional Owners benefit from this. As we look to more sustainable food production systems, it only makes sense that we learn more about foods that are native to our regions, from the people who have been growing them for millennia.”
Finally, as Charles is describing the ‘current buzz in the younger mob’, given the new projects and employment opportunities opening up, especially in tour guiding and landscape design projects, we touch on GLaWAC’s exciting new purchase – a 103-hectare parcel of land in Yanakie, South Gippsland, next to Yiruk Wamoon (Wilsons Prom National Park) and the Corner Inlet Marine and Coastal Park.
This land purchase is a wonderful opportunity for our members to maintain a connection to this area. In addition, it enables GLaWAC to continue to protect cultural values and uses, gain economic independence, and heal Country – as a healthy Country leads to a healthy mob.
The property, just 500m from the entrance to Yiruk Wamoon, presents a unique cultural tourism opportunity, and will be known as Gunya Yanakie Nanjet Brataualung, which means ‘Home beyond the sandhills of the Nanjet, people of Brataualung’ in Gunaikurnai.
Closing our yarn with Charles, we empathise with the eagerness for the weekend’s pending arrival. Cultural tourism, landscaping, oyster farming trials, a Traditional Foods research project and a stunning new home beyond the sandhills – there’s a lot happening, and we haven’t been able to cover it all!
Not only can these projects provide new economic opportunities for Traditional Owners and their communities, but they stoke a deeper sense of pride for our unique region in all Gippslandians.