Government House Visit: Rory Charles Speech
Your Excellency the Honourable Kim Beazley AC, Governor of Western Australia, Ms Annus. Staff, teachers and students. My name is Rory Charles and I am a Wunambal Gamberra, Nykina, Ballanggarra man from the Kimberley and I am schooling in Perth at Trinity College. I pay tribute today to the Wadjuck Noongar people whose land we walk upon and to their elders past and present and we thank them for taking good care of this land for so many generations.
Today I want to share with you some information about a great program that is giving young Indigenous students the opportunity to work with some of Australia’s most outstanding chefs and which is helping to promote careers in the food, agriculture and tourism industries.
Every second year Prepare Produce Provide choose two students to be WA Youth Food Ambassadors and take them across to the World Indigenous Food Festival – Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin in Italy where they participate a Youth Forum with other young Indigenous people from over 80 different countries.
The work that Prepare Produce Provide do with Aboriginal youth is really significant because 67% of the world’s agro-biodiversity is concentrated in lands lived on by indigenous communities. Supporting us and our traditional food knowledge is a crucial aspect of tackling challenges like climate change, food insecurity and inequality.
I have been involved with the cooking camp that PPP run for the last two years. I first got to know Cath McDougall and some of the teachers and Indigenous chefs when she invited our Trinity band Diversity to come and play for the last KDN dinner here at Government House.
At this time one of the Dambimangari elders from my community, Donny Woolagoodja was down in Perth for medical treatment and he was invited to come and talk to the students about bush foods in the Kimberley. Well I can say that this was a real treat – to hear from an Elder who is responsible for caretaking 750 islands and thousands of km of Kimberley coastline from Cone Bay up the Horizontal Falls, talk about how his people care for the land and about all the amazing food that is up there and how it is hunted and cooked. It was such an inspiration.
But the joy and the magic we were sharing soon turned to sadness when we learned how sick Donnie was with kidney failure and that he had soon to start dialysis. His doctors had told him that mission food, station rations, and drinking bore water high in nitrates had probably caused this kidney damage. His grief at the prospect of being separated from his country again was heartbreaking.
Listening to Donnie’s sharing his food stories resonated deep inside of me and I started to talk to more of our old people to learn about traditional foods and how they went about catching and cooking them and caring for the country before they were moved into missions and forbidden to speak language and told to forget the old ways. When people finally came back - life had changed so much and there were now supermarkets in the communities and these made everyone lazy. I started to realise then the urgency of recording food stories before this knowledge was lost.
I also started to learn more about what Cath and the PPP teachers were all doing and the opportunities they were giving the students to work with elders, chefs, farmers, food industry and tourism people and other kids from across the state to share knowledge about food and cooking and to invent new recipes and to learn more about food waste and other global issues and about the opportunities that were opening up for Indigenous people to be involved in food tourism that was really inspiring.
Then came the opportunity to help two students to get ready to go to Italy to attend Terra Madre - the World Indigenous Slow Food Conference in Turin. Johnnice Divilli my young auntie from Derby was one of the two people chosen to go so I turned some of my artworks into cards to help her with her fundraising. We also helped her make a film about cooking bush turkey and baking barramundi in paperbark on the coals to take with her to show to people from other counties.
Johnnice and Peter went on the adventure of a lifetime across Europe with three elders and Cath’s family and they learnt so much from meeting other young people at Terra Madre and realising they all shared similar problems but had thought of different ways to meet the challenges. Now that they are home again I look forward to seeing what they will do with their new ideas
As for PPP - I love to help them with designing graphics and doing artwork that they can use to help promote their programs such as working out what to do with food waste. I am in complete admiration of the teachers and kids in the schools who are committed to making 5000 meals for the homeless - this really inspires me.
So as I finish my talk I challenge you all to be part of your family and community food legends – make time to be together as a family and to forage, hunt, cook and eat and share your food stories –these are the smells, the tastes the textures and the glue that will cement your family life and friendship bonds in the years to come. Eat healthy foods and do things for those in need.
For Your Excellency and Ms Annus, we thank you very much for inviting us here today. We have some small gifts for you - a beautiful boab nut carved by Brett Mouda from Pandanus Park Community near Derby and some my cards that I hope will be useful to send to your friends at Christmas.