Taking place from July 4 to 11, NAIDOC Week is otherwise referred to as Blak Christmas by First Nations people. It’s a time for their cultures, achievements and history to be celebrated, recognised and respected. Though this should technically happen every day, it’s nice to have a dedicated week to it.
Sharon Brindley is a Yamatji Noongar woman from Western Australia. For the last three years, she’s run and operated Cooee Café located on the Mornington Peninsula. She also owns Jala Jala Treats, an Indigenous food brand which champions native bush foods.
Cooee Café prides itself on being the only Indigenous owned café and catering service on the Mornington Peninsula. It serves up Indigenous foods and flavours along with a range of café-inspired food like beef and mushroom pies, or vegan finger lime smoothies. There’s an art gallery on the premises and Brindley’s aunties have sold over $10,000 of their artwork there too. A hub for First Nations culture down the coast, it’s a place to be celebrated by all.
Brindley launched Jala Jala Treats during the pandemic. Jala Jala means "very good" in Wajarri and currently stocks two types of white chocolate. One with Davidson plum, and the other with lemon myrtle. She also sells saltbush caramel slices and lemon myrtle slices via the café and has grand plans to expand the brand and introduce healthier options like protein balls and dark chocolate.
“Since creating Cooee Café, Jala Jala and joining the Kinaway Chamber of Commerce I’ve really been able to learn more about my culture and embrace it, especially as I struggled as a white-skinned Aboriginal. I thought you had to have darker skin to be Aboriginal back when I was younger. I learnt from that experience that it was just in my heart and I declared myself when I was 20 years old and did all my paperwork,” she says.
Brindley grew up having her Aboriginality questioned due to the colour of her skin despite knowing deep down who she was.
“It’s not like you get an Aboriginal lesson and are told here’s what to do. In the time that I’ve done Cooee I’ve learnt a lot. It's made me grow more as a person than anything else and has really helped me to find my identity. I’ve learnt that there are so many people out there like me,” she says.
The issue of First Nations ownership is rife in every industry as many businesses profit off Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture without supporting them or being of that heritage themselves.
“There’s so many businesses who aren’t Aboriginally owned who fool you into thinking they are. This is 100 per cent my business. I’m the first one in my whole family to own a business. Now my cousins are buying my chocolate and I need to take some to my aunties too,” Brindley says. First Nations businesses are over 100 times more likely to hire First Nations workers than non-First Nations businesses. This is the case with Brindley who is looking for other ways to encourage and support fellow First Nations people.
“My dream is to have a massive Indigenous cultural centre run by us for kids. There will be a restaurant, camping ground and the ability to learn about different Indigenous ways, so it’s like a camp that you can return to and reconnect with again after. I want it to be for everyone, not just Aboriginal people. I think that sort of thing will help eliminate racism in the future,” she says.
Supply Nation also offers a comprehensive guide to Aboriginal-owned businesses so consumers can shop ethically.
Brindley lost her mother when she was young and when that occurred she stopped going out to see her grandmother in the bush in Leonora as often. She says: “We used to go camping and learn to eat what was there, like bardi grubs, snake, goanna. My nan would also make a lot of damper and bread, and find honey ants. Or they’d go out and shoot roos.”
Her experiences with food growing up and family continue to inspire her to reconnect with her mob. These are the experiences she plans to share with you through food. Jala Jala Treats can be purchased online via the Cooee Café website, or you can visit Cooee Café from Monday to Friday, 6am to 3pm at 1/7 Thamer St, Capel Sound.