NATIVE honey with a story - that's what Western Australia's first and only indigenous grower group's product is focused on.
The Noongar Land Enterprise Group (NLE) was officially launched in 2017 and creates a partnership between seven Aboriginal land holding groups, which are located on country with high rainfall and a high production potential, who in total operate almost 20,000 hectares of farms.
The properties range from 227ha to 15,000ha of land and are at Esperance, Bremer Bay, Cranbrook, Beverley, Bakers Hill and Roelands.
The group was originally created with funding from both the WA and Federal governments, in particular the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporations.
NLE chairman Oral McGuire said the purpose of the organisation was to promote collective strength and achieve optimum economic rewards from Noongar land-based enterprises, to benefit Noongar people.
"Our vision is to be the leading Aboriginal organisation that develops commercially viable Noongar land-based businesses," Mr McGuire said.
"For over 65,000 years, the Aboriginal people of Australia have been strongly connected to country with a deep understanding of time, place and culture.
"In recent decades, the Noongar people have been motivated to reclaim and rejuvenate our relationship with country, but to also develop land-based businesses to promote our economic independence."
While the groups which currently form NLE are involved in a variety of farming businesses, including cropping, livestock, bushfood, sandalwood and tourism, it is their joint honey project which has truly seen them collaborate.
Mr McGuire said NLE members were well placed to capitalise on new markets in Asia.
"Particularly in China, high quality Western Australian produced honey, and in particular indigenous-produced honey, is highly sought after," Mr McGuire said.
"Honey sourced from Western Australian jarrah, as well as some other plant species, has been shown to have antimicrobial benefits, and other health promoting properties."
Mr McGuire believes the potential for this type of honey to receive prices well above other types of honey could be compared to the success of Manuka honey.
"Honey is a natural fit for our properties, particularly given the focus of landholders to protect remnant vegetation and to rehabilitate areas of native flora suitable for honey bee populations," he said.
"Our members are currently engaged in beekeeper training, trialling honey production with hives, constructing hives and receiving guidance and information from an experienced Noongar Apiarist (beekeeper)."
The first pour of NLE's Ngooka Honey was made in December last year, with about 160 jars being filled with direction from Noongar apiarist Mal Clifford.
The first batch of Ngooka, which means honey in Ballardong Noongar, was not for commercial use, instead it was passed onto key stakeholders, potential buyers and experts to test the quality of the product.
NLE chief executive officer Alan Beattie said the next pour was due to be done in March, but due to the COVID-19 situation that hasn't taken place.
"The next pour will now hopefully take place in the spring and it's anticipated that out of that there will be sufficient quantity to do a small scale sale to the consumer," Mr Beattie said.
"What that will look like in terms of if it's done at local markets, to one or two specific suppliers, or online, will be worked through between now and then.
"However, out of that first pour we know there is significant interest from people who are wanting to purchase the honey and would gladly take all of it."
NLE has received funding through Food Innovation Australia (FIAL) to develop the number of hives and also train Aboriginal people to be beekeepers at each of the locations.
They have also entered into an agreement with the Co-operative Research Centre for Honey Bee Products (CRCHBP), which would have already commented if it weren't for coronavirus.
Mr Beattie said that project involves completing testing at each of the locations where the hives were in order to figure out what the key flowers the bees are getting into.
"The idea is that all of that will be mapped so that by the time the next pour occurs, the CRCHBP can do analysis on how the different flowers impact the types of honey being produced," Mr Beattie said.
"We will then potentially look at other by-products, such as pollen, and could look at producing specific types of honey that are focused on a particular flowering plant."
Mr McGuire said it was important to them that their honey be made and marketed in a different way.
"It's still honey, it's still food, but having our provenance story is an important part of the product development and the marketability of the product," Mr McGuire said.
"We really want to focus on saying this is Ngooka, this is what it means, this is where it's from and this is our story in terms of how we've produced it."
Mr Beattie said they planned to get Ngooka quality certified with an overall view of producing extremely high quality honey that was able to be marketed to make an investment.
"What sets Ngooka apart from other producers is our ability to make this not just a quality jar of honey but also a cultural experience at the same time," Mr Beattie said.
"We want to use technology so consumers can scan the label and get a whole story about where the jar is from, what the cultural significance of the place is, who owns the land, how long have they been there and what are the traditional stories associated with the place."
While six out of the seven land holding groups are a part of NLE's honey project, each group also has their own aspirations which they are focused on.
Mr McGuire said there were active business enterprises already being managed by their members.
"These include sheep and beef production, training and education, social services and catering," Mr McGuire said.
"Our members aspire to further develop these existing enterprises while also adding to the mix of business activities.
"Bush food production, honey, sandalwood, cultural tourism, social services and other mainstream agriculture and horticulture enterprises have all been identified as future opportunities for growth."
NLE is also involved in a feasibility study for the sustainable development of an Aboriginal-led Australian Bush Food Innovation Hub, at the National Trust's Avondale Farm at Beverley.
Furthermore, there is potential for the NLE membership base to include an additional 24 Noongar properties, boosting members' total farmland to 40,000ha.