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Growing Bookyana Bush Foods

Your Yorke Peninsula News - Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Journalist: Kathryn Crisell 

Salt bush grown at Port Victoria's Bookyana Bush Foods is playing a dual role as part of a movement to nutritional "convenience" food for remote Aboriginal communities and giving employment to local Aboriginals.

The number of local jobs is set to grow with the company about to embark on a major re-development having signed a five-year contract to expand its supply of bush foods to Reedy Creek Nursery (in the State's South East).

Ron Newchurch, who started Bookyana less than three years ago, says the contract is very exciting and a $90,000 expansion at Port Victoria will focus on propagating more saltbush.

Currently, Bookyana employs six Aboriginal workers who are also doing horticulture training via Salisbury TAFE, a requirement of Ron's so "they don't just turn up to work and get paid - they have something to show for it".

"The most important thing to me is that my workers have training. They will be able to go anywhere with their certificate," Ron said.

Ron has just been appointed to the Australian Native Food Industry Council Board, a National committee looking at exporting a range of foods native to Australia.

His wife, Liz, who is on leave from teaching at Point Pearce, helps with tutoring.

Ron envisages, with more shade-house area and a new processing shed, the workforce will expand to 10 within the next year.

"We are the sole community growing saltbush in the Outback Pride program (that has Reedy Creek Nursery use saltbush, river mint, parsley and basil to produce a range of foods - a project involving other Aboriginal communities as suppliers).

"We have the right environment for saltbush. It has been used by us for thousands of years. It is a good anti-oxidant and a nutritional food, used as seasoning in place of salt.

"Business is going very well, but we couldn't have done it without seed funding and sound business advice from the Indigenous Land Corporation.

"By creating employment here, we can help keep families together by keeping some of our young people on Yorke Peninsula," Ron said.

A Real Aussie Pie

Designed to battle the negative affects of the ever-popular "pie and cola" diet, Vili's Bushfoods and Beef pie uses Port Victoria saltbush as a healthy alternative to salt.

Pie maker, Vili Milisits, says 12,000 of the nutritional pies have already made their way to Darwin and Alice Springs as well as a few cartons that have made their way to Port Victoria.

"There is quite a lot of interest in the pie," he said.

"One door opens the floodgates. I actually have some interest in Germany so I am looking for a distributor there. The Germans tend to like unusual tastes, they are quite adventurous and open to new ideas."

Vili says Aboriginal groups in Queensland are also interested, and he aims to sell the pie in settlements in Western Australia.

"I actually sell quite a few out of the café here at Mile End. I have only had one complaint from a woman (who said 'it was woeful'), which is pretty good. There will always be someone who doesn't like what you do - you can't make something that pleases everyone or we wouldn't need any variety. I think the bushfoods pie will take some time to market but I will be interested to see how this turns out."

With wholemeal pastry, a fat content under three per cent, thickening agent removed and replaced with vegetables, and one-third the normal levels of salt - thanks to Bookyana saltbush - the pie gives a "great nutritional boost".

"We were surprised when we got the nutritional figures back from testing", Vili said.

"Nutritionists like it, the Elders like it, and I think Aboriginal people will accept it even more once they find it is their own cuisine."

Interestingly, Vili says, after trialing the pie, lean beef rather than Kangaroo meat was the preferred option by Aboriginal Elders.

"Aboriginal communities have to tell their stores to give it a go - we are not introducing something foreign like a curry pie -- they are accustomed to the flavours. I really like the idea the Aboriginal settlements grow the produce and we can send it back, value-added, to the people who grew it."

Vili believes there is a bright future for native foods and will try to "piggyback" the pie onto marketing for his other offerings. And, with the cost of the pie just a few cents more than the high-fat and salt alternatives, he is thinking of trialing it in our schools.

How did this Hungarian refugee, turned Adelaide pie maker end up making food from the heart of Australia?

"Outback Pride's Mike Quarmby came to me with his bush food and asked me 'can you make anything with this?'. I laughed. I told him 'I'm busy. I've got things to do'. I took a bit of convincing," Vili said.

However, with "more courage than (he) needs", Vili gave it a go.

"Who would put bush raisins in a pie - only someone like me," he said. "But, they said I couldn't put Hungarian goulash in a pie!" 

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Ron Newchurch is looking to Bookyana to provide young workers with local jobs. From left, back: Wayne, Trischaye, Kirk; front: Ron, Janikah, Jaylon and Liz, all Newchurch.