Seeds planted for Woorabinda’s economic empowerment
A burgeoning industry in Woorabinda with the potential for international appeal could drastically improve the economic independence of the Central Queensland shire.
Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council, conservation organisation Greening Australia, and Rural and Remote Development Consultants announced on Friday they were going ahead with practical testing for large-scale wattleseed production at Woorabinda nearly 20 years after the then-mayor Steven Kemp commissioned a feasibility study into the idea.
The 12 months of testing will involve analysing plant varieties, soil types, and the water requirements needed to sustainably and commercially produce the plant.
Initial funding included $38,000 from Greening Australia and $40,500 from the Department of State Development, but private investment may be required in the long-term.
Mr Kemp, a Ghangalu elder, was pleased the project was gathering steam after nearly two decades.
“What had happened there was I lost the election as the mayor so obviously it stopped then,” he said.
“Part of being Aboriginal is supposed to be caring for the land, but we needed the big backing.
“We’ll be doing certain species that do the flour. That’ll be probably the trial plantation here, but also I’d like to trial other stuff like bush medicines, bush foods.
“It’ll be a win-win thing for everyone in the community.”
Mayor Joshua Weazel said the shire had an unemployment rate higher than 80 per cent and most jobs were in public administration, health, and education.
He said a wattleseed industry would improve the economy and provide insurance for any disasters, like the coronavirus pandemic, that might befall the shire.
“This is probably our attempt to look at creating industry within our community that’s going to provide employment,” he said.
“What was illustrated through COVID, we were one of the few communities that was actually in lockdown.
“It’s an opportunity for us just to maintain some normality if any of those cases should arise.
“It’s our opportunity to put on show what cultural use we have for this plant, but also what we can use to break into industry and economic development for this community.”
He said he believed the species of wattleseed to be grown would be endemic to Woorabinda.
Kalair McArthur from Rural and Remote Development Consultants said if the enterprise proved viable, the resulting industry would boost employment in Woorabinda.
“For every hectare we plant, it creates two full-time equivalent jobs, and at five hectares we have a scalable commercial project,” Ms McArthur said.
“The wattleseed industry has grown in the last five years by over 75 per cent. We’ve got local, national, and international demand.
“The first crop won’t come off the trees for two years. For a tree crop and for a seed crop, that’s actually very fast.”
The plant’s edible seeds, Ms McArthur said, contained up to 40 per cent protein and various essential minerals, but no gluten; they could also be worked into flour and flavouring extract.
She called wattleseed a “pioneering species” for its ability to lay the horticultural foundation for larger foliage.
That faculty, Ms McArthur said, could be used by mining companies seeking to rehabilitate habitats.
Greening Australia’s Dr Lynise Wearne said at the moment there were two test sites for the project, one of which was two-and-a-half hectares large, already fenced and irrigated, comprising one plant every four square metres.
“In terms of commerciality and market appeal it’s quite strong,” she said.
“I would be thinking national. You see interest in these sorts of productions overseas as well.”