The Packing Shed is a purpose-built timber community facility that was installed in May 2019 at Twin Lakes on the Dampier Peninsula for the harvesting and processing of Indigenous foods on Country. The packing shed is located on the land of the Nyul Nyul people, who are the custodians of Winawarl, the Country which is also known as Twin Lakes Cultural Park.
Powered by solar energy and fitted with Zero Mass Water hydro panels that can draw 20 litres of drinking water a day from the humidity in the air, the shed is partially pre-fabricated and was assembled on site across seven days. A predominantly timber structure is achieved using native hardwood dowels in combination with termite resistant treated laminated veneer lumber and plywood. Responding to the site’s ever shifting environmental conditions, the shed is designed to leave no trace when disassembled while the natural look and feel of the raw materials sit comfortably within the rugged bush landscape.
This project was a collaboration between The Orana Foundation, Bruno Dann a Nyul Nyul Edler of the Winawari people, Traditional Owner, and Founder of Twin Lakes Cultural Park, and SJB Architects.
The Packing Shed build was completed in May 2019 and Twin Lakes has now been able to measure the impact that one year has had on their business and community. Below are the main areas of achievement they have shared with The Orana Foundation:
We investigated native honey projects in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The bulk of Twin Lakes’ harvest to date has primarily been gubinge, jillungin and native lemongrass. Comparing their annual harvest and income the year prior to the Packing Shed versus the first year of the Packing Shed being in operation, they have been able to quantify the impact below:
- The gubinge harvest has increased by over 120% tonnage.
- The jillungin harvest has increased by over 75% tonnage.
- The native lemongrass harvest has increased by over 75% tonnage.
These three ingredients have been the foundation produce that Twin Lakes have harvested leading up to the installation of the Packing Shed, and they have been able to ensure, even with the large increase in tonnage, that their sales channels are continuing the demand for their produce. They have been able to sell 100% of their produce over the past year which is an extraordinary achievement.
This increase in harvest has meant a substantial increase in the amount of money paid to the harvesters who were employed across the seasons (outlined in ‘Employment’ section below). It has also meant that an education program has been established and has a huge reach (see ‘Education Programs’ below) and equipment has been able to be purchased (see “Equipment’ section below) which has enabled people in more remote communities to be able to seek employment and income due to the Packing Shed.
Prior to the Packing Shed, produce was harvested and delivered to Twin Lakes which was then sorted, re-packaged, then transported back to Broome for processing, sale and despatch. By having Zero Mass Water partner with the Packing Shed, their panels are providing clean drinking water that the Twin Lakes team can now wash and clean produce on site from. They then process and freeze the produce in the Packing Shed prior to transportation due to the solar panels providing electricity for the freezer units. This has resulted in A-grade fruit now being consistently produced through the Packing Shed resulting in less waste, higher yields, and a higher market value that is now being charged, with the increase being proportionally passed onto the harvesters.
The steep increase in produce tonnage has resulted in double the harvesters being employed in the most recent picking season versus the previous one when the Packing Shed was not in existence. This has resulted in over 200 harvesters being employed over a larger geographical area for the most recent gubinge season. Harvesting is not simply picking produce, it is a form of landcare therefore the more harvesting that occurs, the healthier and cared for the Country is, which has many benefits such as lower fire danger and heartier new growth.
More than just an increase in employment and money going back into communities, the reach of these communities has expanded substantially. Twin Lakes now has harvesters from out stations and remote communities who have never harvested for them before. This ranges from One Arm Point, the most northern community in Western Australian, across tribes on the Dampier Peninsula and Broome including Bardi, Nimanburu, Nyul Nyul, Jabirr Jabirr, Nimbal, Djugan, Yawuru and Karajarri. These harvesters are now able to gain income and employment as they can drop their harvested gubinge to the Packing Shed which is 125km away rather than all the way into Broome which is a further 150kms past the Packing Shed, making it an unfeasible employment choice due to lack of transport, guarantee of a purchaser, and time away from the community to drop off their harvest.
With the jillungin harvest, the teams working with Twin Lakes have all been the Traditional Owners which has meant money going back into the right people who can care for the land and that benefits the whole community.
Due to the increased income for Twin Lakes, they have been able to purchase a truck which is being used as a pick up service for the harvesters. The pick up service now runs 125km north, 125km east, and 150km south. Having this service has meant that workers with no transport are still able to access employment and be paid the same as their counterparts who have their own transport or access to transport. It has also meant that Twin Lakes are able to ensure across the harvest period the produce is picked up in a timely manner and returned to the Packing Shed for immediate processing.
The University of Queensland has started work with Twin Lakes across a range of projects. The role that the Packing Shed has played in this partnership includes the solar panels enabling them to be able to freeze samples on the day of harvest ensuring the nutritional and mineral testing requirements are at their best.
Having internet connection has allowed the harvesters to GPS areas as they harvest different species and varieties which feeds back into the University of Queensland’s research on locating the species and varieties.
The fresh drinking water produced by the Zero Mass Water panels also means that research is being done into the washing, cleaning and processing of the ingredients to ensure larger scale manufacturing at food safe levels is possible to make these commercially viable products on a much larger scale. This research grades the produce based on scientific elements which are impacted by the time of harvest, temperatures, and processing techniques and times, with the Packing Shed and freezers making this possible.
Twin Lakes have been running education workshops supported by the University of Queensland and Kindred Spirit to show the Packing Shed as a prototype of how to set up enterprise in community. They have been focused on areas such as how to run your own businesses, how to efficiently harvest produce, how to process it in a way that keeps it at the highest quality, standard and freshness, meeting food safety and quality, and working with communities.
Potential Future Expansion
The Packing Shed was not a silver bullet in delivering on Indigenous enterprise and employment. This was an initiative that was driven by Twin Lakes from inertia they already had in their business, from having an entrepreneurial mindset, and knowing that they are part of a community that is stronger as one than individually.
This is our first of hopefully many Community Packing Sheds. There were many learnings and findings that we would implement into the future. These include:
Being able to grow the Packing Shed structure as the demand for their produce grows is critical. It is most likely that Twin Lakes would be the first to need this requirement based on being one year into utilising their Packing Shed, as well as the exponential volume of produce they are now harvesting.
Modulation may be replication of the existing structure, or more toned down structures such as raised sun-drying beds.
With the solar panels, internet connection, and fresh water supply from the Zero Mass Water panels, further equipment requirements could be investigated, This could include drying cabinets, dehydrators, commercial blenders, fermentation vats and equipment, packaging machines, processing lines, commercial harvesting machines (trailers for quad bikes through to large scale shaker like on olive farms etc).
Extending the knowledge base around Indigenous foods, food safety, and end market demands may add value to these communities. Learning techniques that make the transporting of their goods across borders would also prove valuable – for eg. learning fermentation techniques so they can process in the Packing Shed, have added value to their produce yielding a higher per kilo price, and non-raw produce being able to clear customs borders much easier than a plant with potential insects or soil attached to them.
- Go-to-market platform
Building the Packing Shed is one step, harvesting and having someone to buy the produce is much more challenging. Therefore having an online platform for Packing Shed growers connected into potential buyers would add value to the Packing Shed operators as well as provide access to buyers who would normally not have the opportunity to purchase these ingredients.