Keeping bushfoods benefits in the desert 

Dec 2006

From the Desert Knowledge site

Aboriginal people have thrived on desert bush foods for tens of thousands of years. Only about 30 years ago they began to sell their harvest to outsiders, starting a bush foods industry worth an estimated $10 million nationally per year and growing rapidly. Bush tomatoes and wattle seeds, hand-gathered by people from remote communities, are its star performers. The Merne Altyerre-ipenhe (Food from the Creation Time) Reference Group wants to make sure Aboriginal people benefit from the industry. Eight respected cultural experts and business women from the main desert language groups with strong links to harvesters are working on a set of protocols for researchers and, eventually, the whole industry. 

They are planning workshops about the bush foods industry with harvesters in different language regions and are promoting the employment of Aboriginal people and the recognition of their knowledge in bush foods enterprises, research and development. Part of the Desert Knowledge CRC’s research into the development and sale of natural resource products from the desert, the group wants the industry and consumers to respect Aboriginal knowledge and people, and to raise awareness of the spiritual and cultural significance of bush foods.

Reference group member Veronica Dobson, an Eastern Arrernte elder, says bush foods and the plants they come from are more than commodities: “People are related to country and plants are related to people because they come from the country.” “There are stories for the plants and plants are totems for people. They respect the plants when they collect seeds and fruits from them. People need to care for their totems so they don’t get destroyed. It’s a spiritual thing.”

For more information contact


Merne Altyerre-ipenhe (Food from the Creation Time) Reference Group: Rayleen Brown (Eastern Arrernte), Lorna Wilson (Pitjantjatjara), Bess Price (Warlpiri), MK Turner (Eastern Arrernte), Veronica Dobson (Eastern Arrernte)

and researcher Josie Douglas. Absent: Gina Smith (Warumungu), Maree Meredith – Central Land Council staff.


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