Fermentation is known to have been practiced in Aboriginal culture for thousands of years. Whilst the practice of viticulture, or winemaking is relatively new to Australian soil. It was only 18 years ago that the very first Aboriginal community owned vineyard was established and began the story of winemakers whose connection to land gives them a unique standing in the market place.
Canada may have established the first Indigenous winery in the world with Indigenous World Winery in Kelowna, but Murrin Bridge Connections came the second in 1999 setting up shop in New South Wales, near Lake Cargelligo.
It first started as community vineyard by 16 men, who at the time were working as part of the former Aboriginal unemployment program CDEP and TAFE, and were convinced by one of their teachers to have a go at viticulture. Many scoffed at the idea at first, but as one of the original creators Craig Cromelin told The Sydney Morning Herald, "you don't get anywhere by sitting on your backsides doing nothing", and they set to work. Up until only a few years ago they worked the vines, coming up with a product that was true to the land and part of a wider story of community growth and economic development.
Whilst there have been some setbacks for the winery, which is not producing at the moment, Murrin Bridge was a pioneer project and will be a part of the continuing story of Indigenous winemakers in Australia and abroad.
Most recently, Gondwana Wines has taken the path and vision a step further by aiming to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, whilst also producing top shelf wines.
This month, the community-focused brand produced by Boab Tree Estate Vineyards launched it's 2016 McLaren Vale Shiraz into Liquorland, after a successful 3 year run predominantly in the corporate sector, where they have built a steadily growing fan base.
Portions of each sale go to an initiative called Leading The Way, which provides employment, training and also capacity building programs which benefit Indigenous Australians.
CEO of Gondwana Wines, Alisi Tutuila, who is also the Chairperson of the Board of the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) which founded Leading The Way , told NITV that the group who started Gondwana Wines wanted a vehicle to give back to community, "The people behind Gondwana Wines were inspired to create a brand that brings people from all walks of life together and utilise the platform to showcase Indigenous artwork and invest back into local community initiatives."
The idea was that the bottles, which showcase Indigenous artworks, were an easy way to place culture in more Australian homes. Speaking at the launch Tutuila said, "We wanted a way to bring people together over social occasions, while also giving back to the community and bridging the gap. Australians who enjoy a glass of Gondwana Wines value closing the cultural divide, instilling cultural understanding and embracing reconciliation and diversity."
She has enjoyed being part of the label's progress so far and credits mentors to help the idea off the ground, "The process of creating the brand was an exciting journey for me, as I was able to learn a lot from our wine industry mentors as well as have a great support system in place from the community, right through to corporates."
"I hope for us to be a leading supplier both nationally and internationally, so we can broaden our support to communities all over Australia."
Also adding a unique flair to the wine industry is Noongarr/Yamagii artist Brett Andrew Hansen, whose range of wine glasses are a unique combination of a genuine Emu Egg half fused with a wine glass. The eggs are hand painted with dreaming stories by Aboriginal artists and his own work on the glasses are influenced by the wild nature he grew up around in Western Australia. The range is divided into the elements of earth, ocean, desert and forest.
After leaving the corporate world and returning back to his place of birth, Hansen says that he started out 'etching Emu Eggs with Aboriginal Dreaming Style Stories' onto small bowls, beginning his journey in making more tangible art. From there, the idea grew and Yalabiddy Collection was born.
With Australia producing some of the world's best wines, more First Nations' people are bringing their skills and culture quite literally to the table.