Gamilaroi man Les Knox said he received ‘positive feedback’ about a training, yarning, and networking day held at the IA Watson Grains Research Centre.

“Everyone was pretty happy and by the end of the day everyone had a smile on their face,” said Mr Knox. “All we’ve got to do now is start to get it all moving along.”

More than 30 people attended the networking and knowledge sharing day, which was all about connecting Indigenous people, industry, and growers with the latest research to support an economically, culturally, socially, and environmentally sustainable native grains industry.

Mr Knox owns and operates Garaah Gundal, which means bush bread in Gamilaraay.

This summer, he hopes to lead a harvest collaboration with local farmers as part of a project to modernise Indigenous native grain processing and produce flour from the region’s traditional grain varieties.

Provided there is a break in the wet weather conditions, Mr Knox and other native grain growers around North West NSW are expecting a bumper harvest in January.

“There’s not going to be a better season for locals to sample and enjoy the delicate flavours of the normal bush foods that have served locals prior to European settlement, and everyone is invited to join the fun,” Mr Knox said.

“Each of the native grain species adds a unique taste to bread, biscuits, pizza and crackers.”

Mr Knox said it was great to meet with farmers who have Mitchell grass and native millet on their land and were willing to work with him, and he is keen to meet with more ahead of harvest time.

“I want to work with the local community and property owners who have Mitchell grass so we can all benefit,” he said.

Mr Knox said he is passionate about achieving his business dream because native grains offer such huge health benefits.

He also thinks it would have a positive impact on the Narrabri community.

“If you look at photos from the old days, they were all trim, taut and terrific – they didn’t have an ounce of fat on them because they were eating bush tucker.

“This would be for the town too, getting businesses involved, workers – putting Narrabri on the map.”

Mr Knox thanked Dr Angela Pattison for her support and guidance.

Dr Pattison has led research projects assessing the best ways to support the native grain industry, through the Sydney University’s Planting Breeding Institute’s Indigenous Grasslands for Grain project.

“Angela is absolutely fantastic; without her I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“And she’s a great presenter.”   

Mr Knox said a highlight of the event was a presentation by proud Wiradjuri man, Aboriginal elder and entrepreneur Herb Smith.

Mr Smith is the man behind a small native bush food company that took off when airline giant Qantas wanted a taste of its sensational flavours.

And like Mr Knox, Mr Smith is also a big believer in the power of good food and good stories to bring people together. 

His company Dreamtime Tuka is based in Wellington and supplies Qanats and other corporates with native Australian flavoured snacks.

“I think having Herb Smith get up and talk about his venture was very inspiring,” said Mr Knox.

“He’s a country boy, he started from nothing and now he’s grown it into this great business that supplies Qantas.”

Dr Angela Pattison said the goal of the native grains project was ‘to bring together ancient knowledge with modern knowledge in a respectful way so we can revitalise the practice of eating and growing native grain foods that are local to this area’. 

“By doing the research we’re helping to support from the paddock all the way through to the plate the bits that are missing in the puzzle,” Dr Pattison said.

“What we need to do is find out what things need to happen to allow this to be happening economically, environmentally, and socially and culturally.”

The event was the culmination of years of local groundwork including trial harvests, cultural heritage research, business development and on-farm extension.

“Northwest NSW (Gomeroi and Yuwaalaraay Country) has an international reputation for producing high-quality grains, and it is expected that the locally grown native grains such as guli and ganalay will also quickly gain a reputation for their quality,” Dr Pattison said.

“Indigenous people have sustainably managed native grain fields around here for thousands of years and their oversight is vital as this industry emerges,” she said.

Dr Pattison said the harvest collaboration will form a basis for partnerships with landholders, industry, processors and retailers to ensure the benefits are shared.

“Native millet (guli in Gamilaraay) is worth hundreds of dollars a kilogram,” she said.

“However, this grain is more than a commodity – it has the potential to sequester carbon, preserve biodiversity and yield an edible grain from the same hectare of land.”

George Truman of North West Local Land Services explained how the revitalised native grain industry is gaining momentum in the region.

“The project is looking to promote or look at the opportunities for using native grains, particularly native millet for food production.

“Working with researchers, businesspeople, landholders, the Indigenous community – looking at different opportunities about how we can utilise these grains into commercial operations.”

The project is supported by North West Local Land Services through funding from the Australian government, AgriFutures Australia, Regional Development Australia and The University of Sydney.

AgriFutures Australia’s Emerging Industries Program is supporting the development of the native foods industry through research to build production, attract investment and drive market demand for native food products.

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