Clever communications aids outback business
It’s the most unlikely marriage: millennia-old ancient bush tucker from deep in the outback with the power of modern telecommunications technology.
Linking these two utterly disparate worlds are the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Gayle Quarmby in the remote settlement of South Australia’s Reedy Creek and the death, nine years ago, of their 20-year-old son.
In coming to terms with the loss of their son, they realised that people living in the remotest areas of the country were probably most in need of support, opportunities and directions in their lives.
They set out to support people in remote areas by, as Gayle describes it, taking employment to the outback by creating its very own bush food company, grown and managed by nine Indigenous communities in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
It was, she said, the start of a “positive healing journey”.
Now it has blossomed into a remarkable project that has linked 20 Aboriginal settlements and the planting and harvesting of thousands of native fruit and vegetables.
“The only outcome we could actually provide was to create a brand name called ‘Outback Pride’ and put sauces, jams, relishes, herbs out there into the mainstream market as a way of getting economic cash-flow back to the communities themselves,” Gayle says.
The harvests are delivered back to the nursery and factory that is part of the project and turned into an array of sauces and dressings, relishes, pickles, spreads and dried herbs under the brand Outback Pride for the dining tables of people around the world.
“From where we’ve started it’s only a mere 700,000 km travelled and we’ve gone through several cars too. We’ve engaged approximately 3000 people in the bush to come onto this Outback Pride network in various levels,” Gayle said.
“From the horticulture to the marketing, the chefing, the tourism outlets and all that sort of thing Â… there’s all sorts of levels there.”
To stitch all this together, to keep in contact with the planting, managing, harvesting and transport activities, requires some very clever communications.
Instead of long hours wasted driving across rocky, mountainous terrain, mobile phones, laptops, wireless technology and digital photography are now part of the Aboriginal communities’ everyday life.
When there’s problems with some of the bush fruit, one of the locals takes digital photos and emails them back to the nursery.
To make the most of travel time, Gayle will pull over on a bush track, switch on her laptop and do the wages, relaying the final documents back to the office on Telstra’s Next G Network.
It’s a long way, literally, from how they had to operate when they started.
“To pay wages and to deal with emails we used to have to drive 500 km to Coober Pedy to sit in a little internet cafe at the Ampol station,” Gayle recalled.
“It’s all about a little bit of ‘elec-trickery’. Here at Reedy Creek it’s been the old copper lines, so we’ve been struggling for years with the bushfire damaged lines that every time it rains the phones and everything go out.
“So now, in the office, we’ve got one of those flash, fandangled little blue things. The 7.2 mobile card on wireless broadband. We think it’s Christmas here now because it works incredibly well.
“On the laptop we’ve got one of those little booster turbo card things that fit in that. And on our mobiles on the car we use an external antenna. We’re on a plan of ‘Business Wireless Super G Fast’. Does that sound all very technical?
At Reedy Creek Nursery they have a staff of 15 people who organise the seedlings for Gayle and Mike to travel bush with, and do the manufacturing when the crops come in.
“We have a great deal to coordinate with orders coming in all the time on email or the fax. We get orders from Woolworths, the other major supermarkets; we’ve just had a shipment to China last week, all around the major restaurants — they take fresh bush food from us or frozen fruit or the value-add sauces to use within their restaurants and then, of course, all of the gourmet outlets.”
Gayle laughs when she thinks about what she and Mike have achieved.
“I’m just such a lucky little vegemite to have all of these ‘super-doop, whiz bang’ things. I’m very lucky. Extremely lucky. To have such wonderful friends out bush. And to be able to do all this,” she adds.
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