Australia's first bush food symposium begins in Sydney

Peter Cooley, First Hand Solutions co-founder, in the IndigiGrow bush foods nursery at La Perouse Primary School.
Peter Cooley, First Hand Solutions co-founder, in the IndigiGrow bush foods nursery at La Perouse Primary School. Photo: Renee Nowytarger

Australia's first symposium aimed at increasing Indigenous participation in the native bush food industry begins in Sydney on Wednesday. 

More than 150 people are expected to attend Barangaroo International Towers for the National Indigenous Bush Food Symposium, which will include workshops and information sessions identifying barriers faced by Indigenous people as they enter the Australian native foods industry.

"The bush food market is  valued at $20 million annually but it is estimated  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 1 to 2 per cent of the market presence," said Bidjigal man Peter Cooley, chief executive of First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation.

"A new bush food collaboration is hitting the market almost on a weekly basis, such as Something Wild's Green Ant Gin and Connoisseur Ice Cream's Australian Native range. I can see this industry absolutely exploding, but our people need to be part of that explosion." 

First Hand Solutions coordinates leadership programs for urban Aboriginal youth and operates IndigiGrow, a native plant nursery  at La Perouse Primary School. The corporation is presenting the two-day symposium in partnership with the University of Technology Business School, with funding provided by the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation.

The conference will cover topics such as market trend analysis, establishing supply chains and asserting legal rights and knowledge over bush foods such as lemon myrtle, rosella, finger lime and Davidson's plum.

Mr Cooley said it can be challenging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become involved in the bush food market for reasons including finances, remote location and the responsibility of holding cultural knowledge.  

"Knowledge belongs to the people and, when you have been given that knowledge, you have a responsibility to ensure it is being used in the right way," he said.

"If you look at the non-Aboriginal side of the industry, a lot of those businesses have no cultural connection to knowledge or country, so they don't feel the pressure of that responsibility. It's a lot easier to develop a business idea and run with it." 

UTS Business School's associate dean, Professor Robynne Quiggin, said the symposium  also aims to build a greater working knowledge of relevant Commonwealth, state and territory legislation, in addition to domestic protocols and international mechanisms relating to bush foods.

"This information enables us to make informed choices about knowledge, species and country, and insist on proper processes for consent and equitable sharing in any commercial benefits," she said. 

The symposium will be followed by the Twilight Blak Markets on Thursday evening at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern.