Warndu connects indigenous culture and bush foods with the world

In many ways, Rebecca Sullivan and Damien Coulthard’s multi-faceted indigenous food, botanical body products, farming and education business, Warndu, found them.

Warndu – or “good” in Adnyamathanha language – was founded on tradition, sustainability and authenticity, and is now thriving across Australia and online internationally.

“It really came about through necessity,” Rebecca said.

“When Damien’s Pop was diagnosed with dementia, we saw an urgent need to protect his Adnyamathanha culture and language and knew food was a great way to do so.”

For Damien, Warndu is an opportunity to share what he describes is truly a “celebration of First Nations stories”.

Damien is passing on his cultural knowledge to his children as well as local school children.

Family and food connections

He said food enabled strong connection, re-connection, storytelling and experience, just as he was able to with his mother, aunties and uncles harvesting fresh urti (quandong) and other food on country as a child.

“Connection to family is the most important thing to me,” Damien said.

“It is something that has been taught to me from as early as I can remember – family comes first.

Food is always the glue, in any family. In mine it was camping on country. Sitting together and eating.

“Pop would find things like witchetty grubs and nori (sweet sap that grows on acacia trees).

“He would share them with us, and with that came a story that was from his childhood.”

Based with their two young sons in South Australia’s Clare Valley – just a hop, skip and jump to Damien’s cultural homeland in the Flinders Ranges – Warndu was established in 2016 with Sydney-based business partner Siobhan O’Toole.

Ever since, it has been making in-roads in the indigenous food industry.

Rebecca is passionate about showcasing indigenous ingredients.

A pairing with Australia’s oldest family-owned chocolate brand, Haigh’s, offering a native-flavoured chocolate range, and increasing media and event appearances to showcase their indigenous ingredients and traditionally-inspired recipes is playing a part on the front-line of cultural food awareness.

“Warndu is many things,” Rebecca said.

But our mission is to regenerate culture, tradition, health, seas and souls by championing Australian native foods and botanicals.

“We have a bountiful online store and ship to the world the truly local flavours of Australia.

“Our produce is sourced from all over Australia, and from our home base in Clare’s Armagh valley, we grow produce for use in our catering and education.

“It is amazing seeing people try these indigenous flavours, often for the first time.”

Granny skills and sustainable agriculture

Rebecca, known for her Granny Skills movement – a ‘back to basics’ approach to food and home life – is a food educator, regenerative farmer, Yale World Fellow, television presenter and writer.

She has a Masters in sustainable agriculture, worked in the United Kingdom Slow Food movement and has taught natural living and cookery at River Cottage UK and The Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania.

Damien leads Warndu’s cultural awareness and education, drawing on his Adnyamathanha and Dieri heritage of the Flinders Ranges.

He is an artist, and teacher who is now sharing his culture with local school children.

Together, the couple have written two indigenous food cook books – Warndu Mai (Good Food): Introducing Native Australian Ingredients to your kitchen, and First Nations Food Companion: how to buy, cook, eat and grow Indigenous Australian Ingredients – adding to Rebecca’s collection of 10 books, to date, focussed on sustainable and natural living.

Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis with Damien.

Bright future for indigenous food

It is really just the beginning of their journey, and Rebecca and Damien see an exciting, bright future for the indigenous food industry.

Rebecca, a former SA Rural Woman of the Year Award finalist, hopes to encourage local farmers to consider integrating native foods into their traditional farming systems.

The couple is also working to introduce native foods to the local schools and childcare centres, and establish the family’s Armagh property into a “model of championing” indigenous foods and culture.

“The industry has grown exponentially in the past five years and has projected to grow ten-fold in the next five,” Rebecca said.

I would encourage farmers to get on board.

“Personally, I am trying to create a climate resilient program in the wider Clare Valley by getting more farmers to integrate native foods into their systems.

“As an example, acacia or Wattleseed is nitrogen-fixing, high-protein fodder for livestock and there is scope there for Warndu to buy the seed for superfood human consumption.”

Making Elders proud

Warndu has already come a long way, and with a new generation now under his own wing, watching and learning, Damien reckons his Pop would be pretty proud of what the couple is working to achieve.

“I think he would be really proud, and I think a lot of Elders would be proud of what we’re doing,” Damien said.

“It’s coming from a place of love, care, support and respect and it’s a journey for Aboriginal Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians to come together and really take ownership of our history.

“Food is an important part of that.”

Gabrielle Hall

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