THE deep red Pindan soil, contrasting with the crystal clear blue water of the Indian Ocean, makes the Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley region of Western Australian one of the most spectacular visual feasts.
The pristine environment, mainly accessible by four-wheel drive on dirt roads, is also home to a rich heritage of Aboriginal culture including a variety of bush tucker.
One such wild-growing native fruit around the Dampier Peninsula and Broome region is the gubinge, pronounced gub-inj and otherwise known as the Kakadu plum.
At a time when there is significant interest in natural and whole foods, the gubinge is one which is increasingly attracting attention for its superfood qualities.
Wild harvested mainly by members of the local indigenous community, the gubinge has been scientifically proven to contain the highest Vitamin C and antioxidant values of any fruit on the planet.
And after years of harvesting the fruit and then having it transported interstate for processing, there has been a move to keep the processing local and turn it into a viable industry.
Kimberley Wild Gubinge was established by local indigenous man Lenny O’Meara and wife Jacinta Monck after years of harvesting the wild-grown crop from their family block to sell to another company.
This involved driving a round trip of more than 400 kilometres to Broome on dirt roads during the wet season with frozen fruit and then sent to the Eastern States for processing.
But three years ago they decided there had to be a better way to showcase their beloved local produce, grown on the remote pristine Kimberley coast.
This has culminated in the building of a processing facility, the first of its kind in Australia, which has been completed just in time for this year’s harvest starting in late December.
“This will now enable us to go into full-scale production of processing the gubinge,” Jacinta said.
It is the result of a few years of developing and researching the product, and experiencing unprecedented demand over the past two years.
Jacinta said they already had a food premises on the property, as they run a café and camp during the dry season.
The new dedicated facility, where they would make two beautiful, natural products – a fruit powder and dried wafer – will be up and running by next month.
“This will have big benefits in the region, as we are within a 30km radius of other harvesters and they can drop their fruit here, or we can pick it up from them,” Jacinta said.
“This saves a 400km round trip to Broome and we can make more money from harvesting, and we’re getting the freshest fruit while leaving a low carbon footprint, both by not having to transport the fruit interstate, and also by using 95 per cent solar energy in production.”
Other powders have been produced from the sacred gubinge, but they generally include the processing of the olive pit-like seed inside the fruit.
Jacinta said they took the extra step of removing the seed, which although added another stage to the processing, meant they used only pureed flesh when producing their products.
Their powder, which can be added to smoothies, yoghurts and drinks, was the highest on the market in Vitamin C and antioxidant values, containing 13,000 milligrams of Vitamin C per 100 grams.
Just a small half-teaspoon daily was recommended.
It also had amazing antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and could be used directly on the skin, and as it was water soluble, just by mixing it with water it could make a face mask.
“After 10 minutes the skin is left really soft and supple,” Jacinta said.
She has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from customers.
In one instance, a customer had battled a fungal infection for many years, but after buying the powder in Broome and making it into a paste over a three-week period, the infection was gone.
Their second and very original product is a wafer, made from the fruit dried into a pure, crispy, tangy snack, perfect for travellers to have in their packs.
Jacinta said some people, particularly children, preferred the crunchy wafer to the powder.
The wafers were very high in fibre, as the gubinge produced 40g of fibre per 100g of fruit which gave it another superfood quality, but the powder form could be more easily absorbed by the body.
Jacinta said when fresh, the fruit had stewed apple and pear notes or flavours, but was quite tart.
It was also a bit softer than an apple and was quite stringy due to the very high fibre content.
Over the past few years Lenny has sold their products at a market stall in the dry season in Broome, as well as selling them in the local wellness store and pharmacy, their café and through their website.
Jacinta is eagerly anticipating the launch of their online shop which will be on the existing website.
This will help co-ordinate online sales, with the powder sold in 50g or 250g bags and the wafer in 25g or 75g packages.
“It will be a really new and exciting way, also being the retailers of the product that we are producing direct from the farmgate,” Jacinta said.
“Even though we are remote, we have a three-day-a-week postie to allow us to fulfil orders.”
Over the past five years, as well as picking fruit from the trees on their own block, they had also been purchasing from other local harvesters.
Jacinta was hopeful for the upcoming harvest, as most of the trees had set the small green fruit when they were flowering over the past six weeks, which would turn a yellow-green shade by the time they were ripe.
Some trees were more advanced than others, meaning the harvest would go for around six to eight weeks, with the peak expected in the first week of January, going through until the end of January or early February.
This year they hope to pick two tonnes of the whole fruit, which would be their biggest ever crop.
Jacinta said they had a three-year plan to increase annual production by between half a tonne and a tonne.
This was being aided by their participation in a savannah enrichment program, based on a trial study done in the Broome region showing the gubinge could be grown from seed.
The program was based around planting seedlings but not as a plantation, rather planting them in a way that enriched the bushland that was already there while also managing it by traditional fire practices, cool season burns and firebreaks.
This year they had planted about 50 new seedlings within the bush which would take about five years to reach maturity and ultimately increase the number of trees to be harvested.
They planned to grow about 1000 new trees from local gubinge seed to enrich existing land that had been damaged by late-season fires over many years on the peninsula, while also helping to make the business sustainable.
Jacinta said the people who provided them with fruit were regarded as suppliers, not employees, and there was a memorandum of understanding between both parties.
As the business grew, she and Lenny hoped to create employment opportunities for local indigenous people within the processing plant, and then eventually in retail, as there had been a lack of job opportunities within the region.
Kimberley Wild Gubinge is a complementary business to Lenny and Jacinta’s original income stream, which is the Whale Song Café and Campground that operates during the dry season.
The tourism venture is part of the booming indigenous tourism on the Dampier Peninsula.
“I really feel like the gubinge complements our tourism business, as they happen at different times of the year, and the gubinge is also part of the different bush foods and medicines that we are dedicated to raising awareness of and promote in our cafe,” Jacinta said.
Originally from South Australia, she has four children with Lenny and said they were extremely fortunate to be able to make a life on the Dampier Peninsula.
She said the past few years had been an amazing journey using her husband’s cultural knowledge and learning about the gubinge.
“It has been very satisfying and really exciting, as previously it has been generally other non-indigenous companies buying off indigenous suppliers,” Jacinta said.
“Some people are happy to be suppliers, but there is also a growing industry of small indigenous businesses where people are making and creating products and taking them into the market.
“What is important to us is the cultural food knowledge and the knowledge of bush tucker and we want to keep promoting that – even better if local indigenous people can get an economic gain out of that.
“The native food industry has a big future, and we would like to see it lead to profits coming back to the area where those foods have been harvested from.”
Jacinta said they were concentrating on the WA market, and hoped to grow their brand throughout Australia.
“We are not so keen on exporting our beautiful product, we want Australians to enjoy it,” she said.
“Our focus is on a premium product, not necessarily high volume.”