• Robert Dann is an Indigenous bush-food entrepreneur. (SBS)
For thousands of years our iconic Boab trees have provided Indigenous people with food, shelter and medicine. The tree is symbolic of Australia’s north-west and its fruit is now on the menu at some of Australia's top restaurants.
By
Sandra Fulloon, Sarah Dowling

16 Jan - 4:32 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan - 12:06 PM

Like many Indigenous kids in Australia's top-end, Robert Dann would often feast on boab nuts. 

“When we were small and hungry, we’d walk around and if it was in season get the boab,” Broome local Robert Dann recalls.  

“We’d climb the tree, break it open and eat it straight up. Sometimes we’ll take the fruit back home and put it into a pot and make ice tea or porridge,” he added.

Decades later, a business idea evolved out of his tour company, Kimberley Cultural Adventures.

“I would make my version of boab iced tea and a customer tasted it and said you should take it to next level.”

Robert also runs the bush-food business Bindam Mie, grinding boab nuts to create a powder that can be added to cakes or muesli, iced teas, even boab ginger beer. It has a slightly tangy, lemon flavour.

In the boab nut season from March to October, Robert processes and packages the flesh at a workshop in Broome, employing young Indigenous workers.

Jaylene Lawford, 17 started casual work with Bindam Mie in 2019. The Broome high school student helps to grind the boab nuts and bag the powder for sale.

“A lot of people are doing this, mainly [Robert’s] family and sometimes he employs tourists as well," she said.

Lots of [local youth] are looking for jobs some aren’t qualified, so this helps out people around town,” Jaylene explained at the Bindam Mie workshop in the Broome PCYC.

 

“With the knowledge I am teaching younger ones, it empowers them to take it further as well,” Robert added.

“It’s creating economic development for the whole of the Kimberlies. It’s caring for country.”

The market for Boab nut products is growing steadily, with scientists reporting on its health benefits. Robert says it’s high in vitamins, iron, potassium and calcium.

Despite rising demand Robert harvests sustainably, leaving plenty for local families who rely on nuts growing on thousands of wild trees.  

“What we have to do is keep in balance where we the Indigenous people keep control of it and it doesn’t get out of our hands,” Robert said.

Bindam Mie is among hundreds of indigenous businesses receiving support from Indigenous Business Australia.

“Robert is a true Indigenous entrepreneur, and it’s exciting to hear that his products are being served in some of Australia’s top restaurants,” explained IBA Regional Manager, Nini Mills.

“Robert is currently investigating export markets to take Australian bush foods to the world.”

The Indigenous business sector is booming, however operators in remote and rural communities like Robert face particular challenges.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote and regional locations face challenges of access to information and resources, so our approach is one-on-one,” Ms Mills added.

“We go out to their [businesses] and meet people in person and develop a close relationship so we can then provide the best response.”

“We also provide external business support through a number of different workshops”.

Robert has attended the IBA Accelerator program which, he says, helped his business diversify and grow.

Robert still runs a tourism business in the Kimberley, teaching people about Indigenous history and local cultural practises. By alternating between businesses, and moving down to Perth during the wet season, Robert's work continues year-round.

He also plays music and sells his own DVDs to tourists on Saturdays at the local markets.

 

An accomplished didgeridoo player and performer, Robert has travelled the world with his music.

“I am actually self-taught, I taught myself when I was 31”, explains Robert.

“[In the wet season] I go down to Perth and I do busking and take all the products I make in Broome.”

Bindam Mie is growing steadily and Robert has big plans for the future.

“It’s a young business so it’s got a lot of potential, like Kakadu plum, Gubinge which is going out of this world at the moment, hopefully boab is in the same category”.

With a one kilogram bag of ground boab nut powder retailing for $400, Robert hopes his business will soon turn a profit from harvesting nature’s bounty.

For more information about IBA's Accelerator program visit www.iba.gov.au