Bruce Pascoe, Victorian author, activist and winner of this year's GT Outstanding Contribution to Hospitality award, is one of the featured speakers at Rootstock, Sydney's artisanal wine festival, this weekend. Last year's Rootstock launched Gurandgi Munjie, Pascoe's crowd-funded Indigenous agriculture project. Here, Pascoe shares what has been achieved in the past 12 months, and the organisation's plans for the year to come.
"It's been an incredible year for Gurandgi Munjie thanks to the food-lovers who supported our Pozible campaign, which was promoted by the 2015 Rootstock Festival. We were able to employ a young Aboriginal Yuin woman, who had just endured an awful trauma. Her work in the garden was energetic and thoughtful, but it also became part of her recovery. As a result, our greenhouse has been constructed and is full of seedlings to be planted this spring.
"We've developed our plantations at Berry, Genoa, Mallacoota, Apollo Bay and elsewhere. Many of the contributors to Pozible last year have reported success with growing plants from the seed they received as part of their reward.
"The media have been really interested in our program and you might have seen or heard some of those reports. We hand-harvested some kangaroo grass in January. John Campbell milled that for us and we were able to prepare a loaf on the Channel 10 morning show. I received the flour from John the night before so there was really little time to prepare, but it was obvious the flour had a wonderful aroma and a great texture. I won an award from Gourmet Traveller for my contribution to Australian cuisine and baked a loaf of kangaroo grass bread for Ben Shewry, who was named Chef of the Year at the same awards.
"Ben ate a third of that loaf and raved about it. This summer we have plans to harvest a few hundred acres of kangaroo grass and our aim is to produce 100kg of flour and to sell that to some prominent restaurants, including Ben's Attica, and Brasserie Bread in Sydney, who have been so supportive of our campaign. These prominent chefs and bakers will bring our flour to the attention of the public and we hope to build from there.
"One of the Gurandgi, Cooma, rode his motorbike from the alps to Bermagui where we were discussing our agricultural plans with the local enthusiasts at Il Passaggio. Cooma brought a bag of Panicum decompositum [native mullet] grain and some seed heads. It looked like a drug deal but was actually an incredible moment in Australian history. This grass produces a flour that is light in texture, dark in colour and bursting with aroma.
"We think we will all be eating these grains and tubers in the near future so please help Aboriginal people get a foothold in the market by supporting the Gurandgi Munjie Pozible campaign.
"Abalone were disdained by Europeans for the first 180 years of settlement in Australia despite the fact that they were a staple of the southern Australian coastal diet. Once the market for the shellfish took off in Japan, however, Aboriginal people were shut out of the fishery and many of our people were imprisoned for fishing for it. One young man is still in prison for harvesting his traditional food.
"Please help us to avoid this inequity this time around by supporting Aboriginal participation in the growing and marketing of our traditional foods. This year we need to purchase a small Bandicoot harvester to help us collect kangaroo grass and Panicum decompositum seed and to employ people to undertake the heavy work of harvesting, bagging and grinding. Your help will be not just encouraging for our people, but, in the long term, part of Australian history."
Catch Bruce Pascoe speaking at Rootstock Sydney at noon on Sunday 27 November at Carriageworks in Sydney. Hit Pozible to contribute directly to Gurandgie Munjie: pozible.com/project/grow-the-seeds-gurandgi-munjie