As a child growing up in Broome in Western Australia, Robert Dann collected boab nuts for his mum to cook. Now the entrepreneur has created Bindam Mie, a company that turns boab nuts into beer and other products.
“As kids, we weren’t well off,” says the 49-year-old Nyul Nyul man. “There were days when we didn’t have any food. We would collect the boabs in the dry season and eat the flesh. We would also take it back home and mum would put it in hot water, add a bit of sugar and make a porridge.”
Growing up in the Kimberley region, the father-of-one never imagined that one day he’d be turning his knowledge of wild boab nuts into a business. Today, as he shows his Indigenous employees how to prepare the nuts at a commercial kitchen in Broome, he smiles at the unexpected course his life has taken. “My mum would be very proud of me, I’m sure,” says Dann, one of the traditional custodians of the Winnawall Country – an area of Beagle Bay on the Dampier Peninsula, north of Broome.
Dann is also an accomplished didgeridoo player and performer, and the idea for Bindam Mie evolved out of his tour company, Kimberley Cultural Adventures. “I was giving my guests a taste of the boab iced tea on my tours. Often they would ask where they could buy the boab powder that I used to make the tea. That got me thinking about creating my own products."
With the help of Morrgul, a not-for-profit offering business development to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, the entrepreneur was able to further develop the Bindam Mie label (the name means bush food). They helped in various ways, including paying for The University of Queensland to conduct an analysis on the bush food. “It came up trumps with everything. The boab flesh has vitamin B6, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin C, energy, protein and good dietary fibres. It turns out we were eating something really healthy as kids and we didn’t even know it.”
Now the beverage line-up includes boab iced tea in three flavours (original, lemon and peach), a non-alcoholic ginger beer featuring bush ginger and bush lemongrass and a soon-to-be-released boab beer that will contain between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent alcohol. The boab beer, which will be available from March, is being brewed at Fremantle’s Billabong Brewery.
As a teetotaller, Robert does not taste-test his boab beer but says his friends have described it as delicious. After witnessing his father’s battle with alcohol, he resolved upon his father’s passing to never drink alcohol. "I don’t drink, because my dad passed away of alcohol poisoning on my birthday. I made a promise to him that I wouldn’t touch it.”
"The boab flesh has vitamin B6, potassium, iron, zinc, vitamin C, energy, protein and good dietary fibres. It turns out we were eating something really healthy as kids and we didn’t even know it.”
His father was Nyul Nyul and mother was Nyikina Mangala from Derby and a survivor of the Stolen Generations. The knowledge passed down by his mum about bush medicines has inspired him to make ointments using bark from the jigal tree.
“We call it the jigal ointment and it’s good for eczema, psoriasis, mosquito bites, sunburn, insect bites and itches,” he says. This is part of the Bindam Mie range, too.
This year, Dann expects to pick up to four tonnes of nuts from the 3000-odd boab trees that are dotted around the Kimberley region to make the boab powder and beverages. “We are creating employment for the younger ones – if we get three tonnes this dry season, they’ll have a job for two months, Monday to Friday for five hours a day,” he says.
While Dann's start-up is not yet making enough profit to cover his own salary, he hopes that “in the not-too-distant future Bindam Mie will grow”.