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Gubinge - Real Health, Real Change

Seven years into our Gubinge project and things are taking off in a BIG way. This plucky little plum is the highest source of Vitamin C in the world and a powerful indigenous Australian superfood. Now, after a huge amount of dedication and hard work from our allies in Western Australia, the local area is really seeing the fruits of this labour...

It’s Sunday morning and we’re at Bruno’s house in Broome, doing our final preparations to head out to Twin Lakes (Bruno’s traditional land). A group of young boys is skulking around at the end of the road, scowling at passers-by and generally looking the meaner side of mischievous. Robert Dann, a local community leader, tells of how many young lads in the area start getting into serious trouble with the police from the age of 11 or 12 onwards, breaking into houses to steal small amounts of cash or food – many of them are hungry, living in houses with big families and very little cashflow, so when it comes to what’s in the fridge these young lads are near the bottom of the pecking order. They drift down the street to the end of Bruno’s driveway and he walks out to them. In my ignorance I’m presuming he’s giving them a talking to, telling them to get out of it. Nah – they’ve been out picking. They have a few shopping bags of fruit, so he weighs it up, pays them cash-in-hand for their Gubinge and they take off up the street, beaming and ebullient. It’s apparently a new experience for them – a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

This January was the first time since 2012 that I went to WA to observe and participate in the harvest and the sheer scale of the difference was astounding. There are now over a hundred of the local community involved in wild harvesting the fruit. Many of them do so in family groups, and the functions this serves are many. Out on the remote Dampier Peninsula, we meet a hilarious older chap named Willy, an aboriginal man with Scottish and Thai ancestors who was another of the stolen generation and had grown up in the Beagle Bay Mission, just as Bruno had. His wife and brother worked with him on their land, with a month of hard harvesting earning them enough money to see them through half the year. Just down the road from there we meet Jacinta & Lenny and their four mad kids – they pick Gubinge and run the beautiful Whale Song Café & Camping ground (check out their Instagram here - in the stunning Munget, a notable site for whale watching. In the beautiful Middle Lagoon region we met Harold and Corina, now grandparents, working with their kids and grandkids, picking fruit and enjoying being together in their country. With 10 daughters and 1 son (!!), Gubinge is a family affair and everyone helps, the plus being that it helps to support them out of the tourist season.

Back in In Broome, we met families that had three and even four generations out together on the land, picking and earning decent money. Over the week we’re there over a hundred individuals drop into Bruno’s place, bringing their fruit in, getting it weighed and getting paid. They have the option to either have their quotas entered on a ledger and be paid at the end of the season, or to get their money cash-in-hand right away. There’s an immense sense of gratitude, surprise even, as at this price per kilo it really is good money. What’s perhaps almost as relevant is the forum for new ideas and initiatives this is providing. It’s bringing people together in a positive way, allowing for meetings and a social life around traditional work which has an inherent sense of pride. Involving the grannies, the parents and the kids all at once. We had the privilege to be present when one of the women we worked with, Marion’s son’s wife Chelsea, visited the place where her people originate from for the first time. It had a hugely emotional effect on her, and through this and other experiences, I began to gain something of an insight into the importance of getting out to country. For an Irishman like myself, it’s difficult to truly understand the deeply personal attachment which many Aboriginal people have to their country, to the part of the land they’re from. This is very different to the relationship I would personally have with parts of Ireland, to which I feel intrinsically attached. Whereas I feel that the land there is a part of me, the impression I get from conversations with people here is that they feel they are a part of the land.

When we wrote this article in 2011, our Gubinge quota for the year was one ton. In 2012 that doubled to two tons, increased to three tons in 2013 and in 2014 it was four tons. This year it has doubled again and increased to eight tons.

We have a very simple approach with this project. Our friend Bruno is an elder of the Nyul Nyul tribe and one of the stolen generation. Over the past few decades, his life has steadily transformed into a beacon of hope, blazing a trail of courage and optimism in an area where options are limited. His partner Marion and their kids are the ones who organize the project on the ground in Broome, and nowadays, they do more administration than they do actual picking, as organising the harvest has become a major task.

We pay them $30 a kilo. They pay storage, refrigeration and transport costs and pay themselves a wage. $2 per kg goes to the individual traditional land councils from where the fruit is picked to help fund native title claims. They then pay pickers $18 a kilo for the fresh Gubinge fruit. What this means is that the community around Broome has gone from an injection of $30,000 seven years ago to $240,000 this year. This is of great significance in a town which swells from 15K people to 45K people during the tourist season, which is roughly six months of the year, and where the other main source of income is from mining. May to October is the tourist season, so the period outside of that can be quite a struggle. Almost a quarter of a million dollars in the period immediately after Christmas is of great significance to many people.

Since we first started blogging about Gubinge just over three years ago, the money going into the area from this project has quadrupled. With your help, perhaps the same thing will happen another three and half years from now. We certainly hope so!

Follow Bruno and his mob on Instagram at

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