Italy Beckons West Australian Indigenous Youth in Cultural Food Exchange


A love of bush food and country unites West Australian indigenous youths Johnnice Divilli (22) and Peter Roe (17) who will leave their remote Kimberley communities in September and travel to the vivid heart of European gastronomy for the world’s greatest cultural food event.

Expected to attract a million people to the Italian city of Turin, Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is the Slow Food movement’s flagship event and an unparalleled biennial gathering of producers, chefs, educators, activists, and foodies from more than 140 countries across the globe.

australiaHow then did a high school student from Broome and a single mother of three from the tiny community of Pandanus Park, 50km from Derby, come to join a WA delegation led by the Slow Food Swan Valley and Eastern Regions convivium (Slow Food SV)?

Enter Prepare Produce Provide (PPP), a non-profit organization formed by a group of passionate home economics teachers that provides pathways for indigenous youth to tell their stories and explore their culture through food and hospitality.

Slow Food SV and PPP first joined forces in 2016 to take two indigenous students and Wardandi Bibbulmun elder, Dale Tillbrook, to Terra Madre. Building on the outcomes of that inaugural trip, the delegation this year will include two additional highly respected Aboriginal elders, Noel Nannup and Tahn Donovan. Together with the students, they will present in several forums at Terra Madre about the history and techniques of Aboriginal farming and the challenges and opportunities facing the Australian bush food industry.

Dale recalls her surprise at the dearth of knowledge about Aboriginal food culture and the eager interest of delegates following her address at Indigenous Terra Madre in 2016.

“When I talked about Noongyar six seasons and moving across the land according to the seasons, our approach to agriculture and fire stick farming, people were gobsmacked. They’d never heard anything about our culture or the sophistication of our connection to the land. I got mobbed afterwards by people wanting to know more, Dale said.

Dale will act as a guide and mentor to the students and said the Terra Madre experience will “influence them in ways we can’t even imagine in terms of self-confidence, self-esteem and in being heard when they speak.”

“It’s overwhelming and frightening but it’s so empowering to know that you’re in possession of knowledge that other people want.”

It was Johnnice’s thirst for traditional knowledge and desire to pass it on to future generations that caught the attention of PPP. Born in Derby and schooled in Perth, Johnnice “Gecko” Divilli is a Nykina woman with strong links to the Ngarinyin people of neighboring Mt Barnett. Her love of food is inextricably entwined with family and country and began as a child at her mother’s side.

One of six children in a close-knit family, her mother would load mobs of kids from the community along with the barest of essentials into cars and head out bush for a week with community elders. Almost everything they ate they had to catch, hunt or gather.

a“We never stayed in town on school holidays; we were always out bush,” Johnnice recalls fondly.

“We catch bush turkeys in the cold weather and barramundi in the (Fitzroy) river but only when it’s hot.”

She also spoke of hunting long neck turtles, fishing for black bream and collecting “magabala” bush bananas. Going bush and learning the traditional ways of foraging and cooking is a defining experience she now shares with her own three daughters and the children who attend the Pandanus Early Learning Centre where she works.

Inhibited by the price and accessibility of fresh vegetables in her community, Johnnice is working with other parents and elders to establish a vegetable and bush foods garden in the playgroup to teach local kids about nutrition, food provenance and self-sufficiency and to pass on traditional knowledge. “I want to learn more of that,” she said.

“I’m excited and a bit nervous to go to Italy. But I want to learn from other indigenous cultures, to learn how they do things, get ideas and then share that experience when I get home.”


By Jo Thierfelder


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