Aunty Dale knows you’re hungry for knowledge
A champion for Indigenous businesses, Aunty Dale Chapman is changing the conversation around bush foods and cultural equality one dish at a time.
By Riley Wilson
21 years ago, Aunty Dale Chapman – then a successful chef and educator in the southeast Queensland region – made a decision to work for herself, and champion First Nations producers and businesses towards success. She created My Dilly Bag in 2000, launching a range of bush food ingredients grown and harvested sustainably alongside Aboriginal communities. In tandem, she created a platform to develop, market and distribute Aboriginal products and Indigenous-owned businesses, empowering communities to celebrate tradition & culture, and establish sustainable businesses.
“It's been a long, tough road some days but it’s worth it seeing smiling faces that bring happiness and evoke memories of their childhood; the spark of light that pops into their eyes – an ‘ahh’ moment,” says Aunty Dale, a Kooma / Yuwaalaraay woman.
A qualified chef and senior fellow in agriculture at the University of Queensland, Aunty Dale – who is based on Gubbi Gubbi country (the Sunshine Coast) – lectures on bush foods for third year science students at UQ, covering plant structures, flavour profiles, cultural lore and the issues related to the commercialisation of bush foods in Australia. She says that the “careful management by my ancestors, caring for [Mother Earth] for hundreds of thousands of years” means that “we can all now enjoy the benefits”.
“But we still need to understand the cultural practices and love for Mother as our people before us,” she says.
“The average consumer is hungry for this knowledge and creating sustainable crops and future economic benefit to the traditional custodians is imperative for a healthy united nation [in Australia] and our global future.”
The My Dilly Bag (a name paying homage to a dilly bag, or traditional woven bag used to carry goods and items) range includes dozens of products that can be purchased both online and in store at the Forest Glen location. Dale curates the bush-food pantry based on the availability of ingredients, the quality of the flavour, whether it’s a cost-effective purchase for the customer, and her own tried-and-true recipes. Dale also runs workshops and events, including garden tours and bush-food explainers. My Dilly Bag products are part of various Curated With Conscience hampers, showcasing bush spice seasoning blends, earthy dukkahs with native nuts and herbs, and bush-blend tea. Dale says that the two businesses established a relationship after a yarn one day.
“A yarn and a mutual benefit to the cause, too,” she says.
“I like it when my ethics align with another business.”
Conversations and having a yarn are core tenets of Dale’s business philosophy. Change begins with a conversation, and listening.
“Just strike up a yarn and listen to someone else as we will never know them if we don’t,” Dale says. “We only make assumptions about a person’s life, so let them tell you their story and see where it leads to. That’s a journey worth taking right there.”
Even better when it’s done over food.
“When you get around a table, a fire and/or a picnic blanket, you start sharing memories and thoughts of your day or the past.”
“Being able to share your day with someone – being in the present and now – will help others to know they are truly wanted, belong, and are heard.”
“What a powerful weapon against mental health, loneliness, and hunger for life.”
Dale wants My Dilly Bag “to achieve true equality for all Australians”, sharing the beauty, skill and power of First Nations experiences and culture with the nation, and beyond. Achieving that means “being able to visit, share the experiences and everything we offer as equals who enjoy each other's company, and don't see differences - only the enjoyment of life and what each culture has to offer one another”.
That urgency is only amplified during NAIDOC Week, which this year focuses on the theme of “Get Up, Stand Up and Show Up”. Dale says it’s another reminder to ensure Australians are supporting Indigenous Australians all year round.
“First Nations people contribute to this country each and every day, not just certain times of the year,” she says, encouraging consumers to buy from First Nations businesses that are 100 percent Indigenous-owned wherever possible and to do their research about businesses before buying.
“Remember when you support a First Nations business, you are creating wealth and sustaining a community.”