First Nations help bring native foods safely to market

First Nations help bring native foods safely to market

As Australia’s native food industry develops, an RMIT researcher is working with local communities and government to help make it an Indigenous-led industry.

RMIT Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Research Fellow Luke Williams is evaluating the dietary safety of Australian native plants and collaborating with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

FSANZ is looking to revamp regulatory frameworks for assessing the safety of traditional food items as they are developed for commercial markets.

Williams said current frameworks don’t acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander connection to native plants, including their knowledge, cultural connections and their long history of use.

“Alongside FSANZ, I want to help develop these new frameworks that  acknowledge all of this cultural knowledge and pay respect to the interests of Traditional-Owners,” he said.

Williams, whose mob is from Gumbaynggirr Country in the Nambucca Heads region of New South Wales, says he’s always been interested in natural products and the power of plants.

“My grandma, an Aboriginal Elder on Gumbaynggirr Country, would pull me into the bush to show me what they used to eat as kids – so it’s always been a part of my family,” he said.

Luke Williams cooking kangaroo stew at Black Duck Foods Farm on Bidawal Country in the southern part of the Yuin Nation near the Wallagaraugh River. Luke Williams cooking kangaroo stew at Black Duck Foods Farm on Bidawal Country in the southern part of the Yuin Nation near the Wallagaraugh River.

Williams says he’s looking forward to going on Country and working alongside the community – not just having community as the subject.

 “I’ll be working with various Aboriginal groups to hear their stories, which will inform my safety studies in the lab and ultimately the bigger risk assessment which can be developed for FSANZ,” he said.

“Eventually this work will go back to the Traditional-Owners, so that they can use this information to help get their food safely on the market or provide marketing opportunities.

"Hopefully this will set the scene for future Indigenous businesses to successfully develop their traditional products with ease.”

 

  A plot of murnong (yam daisy), a plant Luke Williams is investigating as part of his research, on Bidawal Country in the southern part of the Yuin Nation. A plot of murnong (yam daisy), a plant Luke Williams is investigating as part of his research, on Bidawal Country in the southern part of the Yuin Nation.

Journey from Vocational Education student to postgraduate researcher

Luke Williams’ journey at RMIT started more than six years ago when he came to RMIT to complete a Diploma of Lab Technology before moving into a bachelor’s degree of Pharmaceutical Science.

While he completed his Honours year at another University, he says the support available at RMIT keeps him coming back.

“I think RMIT has a lot to offer for supporting projects like the one I’m doing and the support I got through the Ngarara Willim Centre from day one was amazing,” he said.

“Ngarara Willim is a place of respite when you’re at university, a culturally safe place that you know is always there.

"The staff are also really great and supportive and have provided a lot of opportunities.

“That was a big key player for me wanting to come back – there’s a great community here at RMIT.”

 

RMIT-Indigenous-Pre-Doctoral-Research-Fellow-Luke-Williams. RMIT-Indigenous-Pre-Doctoral-Research-Fellow-Luke-Williams.

Williams is passionate about supporting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to follow in his footsteps.

“I’ve taken part in initiatives like the Deadly Day of Science, a mentoring program for Indigenous kids from around Australia to get experience with science at University,” he said.

“I’ve also been involved in the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme (ITAS) tutor program, helping an Indigenous student with her final year studies.

“Now I’d love to see the development of a native foods hub at the University, which I hope can help attract more First Nations students into STEM,” he says.

RMIT Indigenous Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowships are part of RMITs commitment in providing early career opportunities for Indigenous research students, and to further build and develop Indigenous academic capability, knowledges and perspectives at RMIT. 

Ngarara Willim is RMIT’s dedicated support service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Story: Jasmijn Van Houten

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Acknowledgement of Country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer