Australia could be sitting on a sustainable agriculture gold mine as Indigenous farmers flock to harvest native grass grains.
Black Duck Foods, a small social enterprise committed to promoting Aboriginal food sovereignty, is at the forefront of processing Australia's native grains into flour.
Started by Uncle Bruce Pascoe, author of best selling book Dark Emu, and Uncle Noel Butler, Black Duck is based at Yumburra farm in Victoria's east Gippsland.
"[Traditional foods are] deep rooted, they're perennial, they're self-generating, self-sustaining; they produce their own seed and that seed will drop and replace any dead plants," general manager Dr Bram Mason said.
The contrast with farming practices imported from Europe could not be starker.
"It's pretty high input fertilisers, high input herbicide, tilling to turn the soil over and multiple runs with different types of tractors - whether it's spraying or harvesting," Dr Mason said.
And thanks to deep root systems, growing native grains on the driest inhabited continent on earth requires no irrigation.
By comparison, 5.7 million megalitres of water were applied to Australian crops in 2021-21.
According to the national environment department, there was more than 500,000km squared of tussock grasslands across Australia, including vegetation like Mitchell and tall bunch grasses in 2017.
Dr Mason said these act as regenerating ecosystems, producing grain and tubers.
"There's a huge opportunity there for us to really look at our current agricultural systems and see where we can learn from traditional knowledge and harness the power of those landscapes," he said.
Black Duck Foods supplies native grain flour from kangaroo grass and dancing grass to fine dining restaurants like Ben Shewry's Attica in Melbourne, as well as several bakers and restaurants around Australia.
"We can't supply enough flour at the moment to get into these types of systems," Dr Mason said.
Dr Mason said native grain flours, with a unique, "hard to describe" taste and full-bodied, whole grain profiles, are more flavoursome than standard wheat flour.
Mainstreaming native flour
Chef Ben Shewry told ACM processed and heavily refined wheat flours were flavourless.
"[Native grain flours] are delicious, they have heaps of character and bucket loads of flavour," Mr Shewry said.
The award-winning chef described the distinctive flavour profile of ganalay, or Mitchell grass, grain flour as sweet and nutty.
His restaurant, Attica, only serves native animal proteins and is working towards replacing wheat with native grains.
It will soon serve a native grain flour bread, with dishes like pikelets and pasta also being experimented with.
"My long term hope for native grain flours is that they can become mainstream," Mr Shewry said.
"Everything native grains need exists here already in this landscape - that's why they're endemic to this country."
Indigenous knowledge not 'myth and legend'
Kamilaroi man Bradley Moggridge said a lack of trust and respect for Indigenous knowledge was holding back some research and policy, especially around water management.
"One day we'll have Indigenous knowledge treated as an equal rather than myth and legend," the Canberra University Associate Professor of Indigenous water science said.
Associate Professor Moggridge is exploring ways traditional knowledge can work with Western science to map water flows in Australia.
Water-dependent cultural indicators could advise when to harvest fish, or when to deliver water into a certain region, for example.
That knowledge will be key for Australia's response to climate change, Associate Professor Moggridge said.
"Aboriginal people have survived climate change before and we're still here," he said.
"But I potentially think that mitigation is too late; we've got to adapt now."
Engagement's off, time to get married
Indigenous elders were "only seen as advisory", rather than recognised as experts by government and scientific bodies.
"One of my key sayings now is, 'We're tired of being engaged; we want to get married'," Associate Professor Moggridge said.
Aboriginal people have survived climate change before and we're still here.- Canberra University Associate Professor of Indigenous water science Bradley Moggridge
The research field also needed to attract the next generation of Indigenous scientists, but more immediate problems made that hard.
"Our communities have got health issues, they've got education issues, justice issues," he said. "Water science would be well down the list."
Associate Professor Moggridge does what he can to engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
"I talk to school groups to get them interested - and to hopefully speak to that one Aboriginal kid that thinks, 'If Brad Moggridge can be a scientist, so can I'."
You can read the full Young and Regional: Our Climate Future series here.