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Kerrie Saunders on country with her grand-nieces (l-r) Myeasha Draper, Jameliah Saunders and Shiara Saunders.
Gomeroi woman Kerrie Saunders credits TAFE NSW for helping her to reconnect with country and find a new sense of belonging.
The 47-year-old was working part-time at Woolaway Wines in Moree, tending the vegetable garden for owner Andrew Amos, when she enrolled in a Certificate II in Horticulture to learn more about plants.
When she met TAFE NSW horticulture teacher Paul Moxon, a former bushfood nursery owner, it sparked a passion for bushfoods and launched a whole new career.
“When Paul took me out on country to learn more about bush tucker, that’s when the connection happened – I felt like I was home. It was instant,” Kerrie said.
“The Amos family were good mentors to me, encouraging me and treating me like family, but learning about my country gave me a different sense of belonging. Being Aboriginal and finding that connection to the land, it changes you completely.”
Mr Moxon said he knew Kerrie was a natural with bushfoods right from the get-go.
“She was outstanding from day one. She has a really good eye for identifying plants, which is exactly what you need. If you’re going to be using bush tucker for eating and medicine you need to be really sure about what your plants are,” Mr Moxon said.
“And she hasn’t just worked hard at TAFE NSW. Kerrie took the subject to heart and now she’s living it 24/7. She is an extraordinary person and it’s been amazing to see her transformation. As a teacher, it’s wonderful to have a student who has that passion, who has that light in their eyes.”
Having found a love for and affinity with bushfoods, Kerrie established her own business Yinarr-ma – meaning ‘women of known information’ – to offer bushwalking and bushfood tours as well as treating tourists to bushfood cooking.
Kerrie capitalises on the tourist trade that travels to Moree for its artesian baths and is constantly adapting her business based on their feedback. She is also getting interest from local groups and services.
“I did tea and damper for an Anzac Day ceremony recently, I’m working with the local health service doing bushfood tours for mums and bubs, and I’ve got interest from the schools,” Kerrie said.
“There are so many services in Moree trying to help Aboriginal people and I’m very happy to work with them to share my culture and knowledge. I understand how learning about country can make people feel good again and I can share the experience of what I’ve learnt.”
Mr Moxon said Kerrie is now working three days a week at the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute in Narrabri on a research project called Indigenous Grasslands for Grain.
“They are reproducing the local native grains and seeds people would have traditionally used for baking and making things like johnny cakes and dampers,” Mr Moxon explained.
“Kerrie is harvesting the grasses, processing them, milling the grain, turning it into flour and cooking with it. It’s the full process. She recently held a bush tucker pizza day in Moree and she made the dough from local native seed, then put native fruits and herbs on top. It’s extraordinary – she’s become very accomplished.”
Kerrie has also completed a Statement of Attainment in Aboriginal Site Work at TAFE NSW and now undertakes work identifying Aboriginal sites for the Local Aboriginal Land Council.
She is also a founding member of the Moree Urban Landcare Group, which is planting trees and restoring the banks of the Mehi River.
Kerrie’s vision is to have a piece of land she can regenerate and build a native bushfood garden to run her business, create a shop and café, and train local Aboriginal young people.
“To understand bushfoods and to cook with them, you have to know what’s in season and where it is. Once you learn that knowledge, it’s good for your mind and good for your mental wellbeing. And I want other people to feel that too,” she said.
Kerrie said TAFE NSW was the catalyst for a journey she had been waiting a lifetime to make.
“When I was a young girl, I worked in the cotton fields for 20 years, picking out weeds, and back then I didn’t know what was weeds and what was bush tucker,” she said.
“Now I understand my own landscape and people are interested in the knowledge I have to share. I feel proud to be Aboriginal and proud be to be connected to my country. I finally feel like I belong.”
Media contact: Terra Sword, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mobile: 0437 697 723.