“If we keep looking backwards, we will never move forward. Learn from where you have been, but stay focused on the journey ahead.” Wise words spoken to Nadia Kiely by an Auntie over two decades ago.
“Culture and traditions are a critical part of our life journey,” says Paul Kiely. “They help us build strong foundations for our communities."
Nadia and Paul Kiely are the owners of Red Centre Enterprises, a business that gives Indigenous communities a path to market with crops and produce. It’s an industry that has had major ups and downs in the past and still does today. But as Nadia says, “the journey is just too important for our future generations”. Her future generations in particular are her three children Emily, 19, Zoe, 17 and Jasmine, 14.
Although not indigenous by birth, Nadia has strong family ties to the to the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) Indigenous community. She met her husband Paul (Yuandamarra is his tribal name) while he was on walkabout in Queensland and the rest is a story of love and really hard work on the land. Twenty years they have been married, and farming together for nearly the same.
Red Centre, established by Nadia and Paul in 2014, is an agribusiness business that works to give Indigeneous communities access to commercial markets for produce, and to generate employment; the Kielys also grow their own commercial crops of Australian native plants.
They have been growing and harvesting Australian natives for selected mainstream markets for more than 20 years, and are now sustainably commercialising their operations through Red Centre. They have further developed community networks that allow access to an ever-increasing range of harvest and value-adding opportunities.
“We were approached by community members - traditional owners and elders both from our own group and nationally - to establish an ethical business that created a value-chain for our communities across Australia. In the past there has been a lot of exploitation of our communities and in particular in the native produce and product Industry,” Nadia says.
Nationally, Red Centre’s partnerships are designed to directly involve communities in the decision-making process, ensuring effective delivery of the community benefits such as economic development, focused training and the creation of real, sustainable enterprise and employment opportunities.
“Culture and traditions are a critical part of our life journey,” says Paul Kiely. “They help us build strong foundations for our communities, families, youth and society. The remind us of where we have been, and guide us to where we are going. To ignore our culture and traditions crates great risks of damaging the oldest continuing culture in the world, and the very foundations of Australia’s identity.
“We must all learn to walk together, understand and accept that there are many different cultures in our world. There are no wrong or right ways for cultural and traditions to exist, there are simply different ways.”
“Sometimes we get so busy in life it takes the creation to remind us, that it is the different colours of the rainbow that make it so beautiful.”
Nadia explains that through identifying and implementing partnership and employment opportunities, Red Centre is linked to the business activities, knowledge and resources of their 60,000 and growing Indigenous community members. This includes more than 10 million acres of land reclaimed under the Native Title Act as well as the various partnerships and relationships already established with external businesses and entities. She calls it “Country to Consumer.”
Now is the biggest job of all, getting these foods into all Australians pantries.
The challenge is in part to their unique flavours. Many native Australia berries and herbs have astringent, tart or bitter qualities, appealing when used in dishes but not always instantly appealing to those unfamiliar with them.
But because of consumer interest in and awareness of source, provenance and supply chain of food, ingredients and local food things are definitely changing and consumers are curious.
“I would just say to people at home don’t be afraid to try them,” Nadia says. “Australian native foods are the original superfoods, they contain complex carbohydrates, fibre, high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and many other beneficial micronutrients. These ‘new’ superfoods were used safely for thousands of years and now finding their way back from the country to the kitchen. Food security is one of the biggest issues among the global community and in particular, at a household consumer level. Australian native produce and products are a solution to assist and meet these growing needs as this ancient ‘new’ super food finds its way back on the menu, backed by modern sciences and traditional knowledge.”
As an example traditional wild harvested Gubinge (Kakadu Plum) is the highest source of Vitamin C in the world. Finger Limes are high in folate, potassium, vitamins K,E and C. Davidson’s Plum are super high in Anti-oxidants. All of these super foods grow in our own backyard. Red Centre also brings less familiar plants such as cut leaf mint, river mint and sea parsley to market.
By working in collaboration with peak bodies such as Australian Native Foods and Botanicals (ANFAB) and federal, state and local government departments, as well as Indigenous communities, Red Centre hopes to help develop a certification that protects all Australian native ingredient producers and products while encouraging mutual benefits, respect, collective leadership, health and education.
“Things are looking good. Partly due to increased positive media attention we believe the further sharing of culture, native foods and products to Australians and the world [will] give better opportunity for our regional and remote communities. For all of us to develop a better understanding of our beautiful culture, and the unique gifts and contributions that Australia has to offer to the world. The oldest continuing culture that is here for us all to learn about, understand, respect and enjoy.”