Fund amount:

Program area:
Biodiversity Conservation

East Gippsland



Growing food on Country the traditional ways

3 Feb 2023

The Ross Trust is supporting an Indigenous social enterprise that is committed to Aboriginal food sovereignty, which is achieved through a diverse business model that includes traditional food growing processes and products. 

Black Duck Foods, based in East Gippsland, is the only commercial producer of native grain flour, one of a handful of producers of murrnong and munyang tubers, and returns economic benefits to its enterprise and supporting Indigenous people. 

The Ross Trust’s $106,000 two-year grant will be used for the ‘On Country biodiversity conservation and food sovereignty project’. 

Bram Mason is the General Manager at Black Duck Foods, which was started by Uncle Bruce Pascoe, author of the best-selling Dark Emu, and Uncle Noel Butler of Nura Gunyu Aboriginal education centre. Black Duck is based at Yumburra farm in Mallacoota. 

Bram says the project will first assist Aboriginal rangers connect with Elders on Country to learn and practice traditional ways of agriculture. Once gained, the knowledge will be shared with members of the broader community through programs that include workshops and cultural sharing experiences.

“It will also help non-Aboriginal community groups and industry to better understand food sovereignty and culture, and how it intertwines with biodiversity,” Bram says. “This sharing of knowledge is what our Elders term walking on Country together.

“To me, Aboriginal food sovereignty is having the ability and authority to control how food gained from Australian plants and animals is managed, grown, used, owned, and who gains profit from the production and sale of these foods. These are the intrinsic rights of Aboriginal people as this country was never ceded. These rights support Self Determination for Aboriginal people and once recognised by the broader community will help break through intergenerational trauma and inequity and heal the Country and its people through the sharing of food.”

Bram says the project will involve Aboriginal Elders explaining how to work with and manage threatened grassy ecosystems by retelling traditional knowledge that is passed down through generations in song and dance. At the heart of this knowledge of the Country is how to care for the plants and animals so that there is a sustainable food supply that can be shared among all nature’s creatures. This knowledge and practice include understanding the timing of cultural burning or when plants are ready for harvest. 

“We are the only commercial producer of native grain flour and munyang tubers, which generate an alternative income for our on-farm Aboriginal rangers,” Bram says. “We share the knowledge of harvesting, thrashing and milling with other Aboriginal people and groups that have an interest in also being a leader in the production of this highly nutritious flour.

“We also offer cultural immersion experiences for school and business groups that include staying with us at Yumburra to learn about Aboriginal food sovereignty food and systems.

“The network among Aboriginal groups helps us to connect, share knowledge and experiences, and to practice caring for Country at Yumburra where we share food, fibre and medicine stories and products.”

The Ross Trust CEO Sarah Hardy said the project’s success would be measured by improved staff skills in traditional and western resource management, the establishment of a traditional dig garden, and increased connections between Elders and rangers.

She said Black Duck Foods had experience of delivering similar projects but now would deliver something new. 

“Black Duck Foods has mainly worked in areas of the farm with intact native vegetation – but this project aims to apply Traditional Owner knowledge to restore a grassy ecosystem,” Sarah said.

“There is clearly a need for Traditional Owners to care for country and undertake restoration for biodiversity as well as native food production and comprehensive explanation of need. We’re very excited to be involved with this project that will see Traditional Owners reclaim knowledge and practices and develop their leadership in cultural and ecological land management.”

Image by: Black duck foods