The business of bush tucker

Two West Australian entrepreneurs with a shared passion for local ingredients are behind The Bushfood Experience, a range of deliciously different native spice rubs, herbs, spices and sauces.

Noongar elder Dale Tilbrook is hugely knowledgeable on all things Indigenous and has had a keen interest in bush foods ever since she opened the Maalinup Aboriginal Gallery, one of the Swan Valley’s best-known Indigenous art galleries, with brother Lyall 17 years ago.

As well as selling artwork of all kinds, Dale also offers tastings and sales of bushfood to the many tourists who visit the gallery.

“People are much more willing to buy if they’ve had a try,” she says with a smile. “They get blown away by some of the flavors.”

Suzy Poli met Dale five years ago when Suzy came into the gallery looking for advice on native ingredients for her own range of bush-flavored essences and cordials under The Bitter Bush label.

While Dale sources native ingredients from her suppliers, Suzy experiments with flavor combinations, trying them out on her nearest and dearest.

“I like to call Dale my flavor consultant,” Suzy says with a laugh. “She knows what the original ingredient should taste like, be it desert raisin, pepper berry, strawberry gum or any other native flavoring.”

Suzy went on to win a silver medal for her flavored cordials at the 2015 Perth Royal Show. Today the two women have developed a business partnership based on their mutual fascination for bushfoods.

Together, they plan to introduce a whole new audience to the exotic world of native ingredients as flavor components in modern Australian dishes.

It’s a perfect fit for the two entrepreneurs. Dale has a huge interest in bush plants, and has been studying them for a long time. As for Suzy, she’s a keen researcher and spends many happy hours at Perth’s Alexander Library, learning more about native plants.

“Basically, we have a lot of fun,” says Dale. “We can talk for hours about what we’re going to do, bouncing new ideas off each other.”

Suzy’s background is in administration and she says she found the Small Business Development Corporation invaluable in acquiring the necessary skills to run a business.

Dale and Suzy are well aware that marketing and networking are pivotal to the growth of The Bushfood Experience. Suzy regularly attends a local business networking group in Ellenbrook in the Swan Valley, and the latter half of last year saw them seeking out worthwhile placements for their growing range of products.

They both agree that the City of Swan has been hugely supportive in these endeavours. As representatives of businesses in the city, the council organized and sponsored them to attend a major showcase event at Parliament House in Canberra last June.

“We chose to represent The Bushfood Association of WA as well as ourselves, to really give local bushfood products a good showing,” says Suzy.

“Through that trip, we became involved in the Buy West Eat Best campaign and were invited to be involved in the WA Signature Dish 2015 competition.”

What advice do they have for those contemplating starting up their own business?

“If you can envisage your product in your head and tell the story of where it’s going, you can do it,” says Suzy. “You don’t need a huge amount of money, you just need to take some risks. Determine what you can achieve, then set out to achieve it.”

Dale says it’s really important for wannabe entrepreneurs to understand and embrace risk management.

The Noongar elder has seen it all in over 17 years of trading as a tourist attraction – the collapse of Ansett, 9/11, SARS, swine flu and the strength of the Australian dollar keeping tourists away.

“Each time, you have to re-evaluate and reinvent yourself,” she says.


Jane Cornes

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