SA Aboriginal community turns to saltbush farming to create remote jobs

The Aboriginal community of Scotdesco on South Australia’s west coast, has pinned its hopes on farming to overcome shockingly high levels of unemployment.

Robert Larking’s office spans 25,000 acres on the edge of the Nullarbor, where he manages the tiny Aboriginal community. He, and the community’s residents are embarking on an ambitious project to commercially sell saltbush, a hardy native, in a bid to create jobs in the remote area. To create employment, Mr Larking and the community is pinning its hopes on saltbush.

Robert Larking says 75 per cent of the Scotdesco community is unemployed.
Robert Larking says 75 per cent of the Scotdesco community is unemployed.

“Our process now is to go into a different stage where we can grow our saltbush, and feed our lamb saltbush and hit a different market,” he said.

The community has planted hundreds of saltbush plants, to be harvested commercially in three years’ time. A nursery has also been built where residents tend the seedlings until they are ready to go in the ground. There are plans to eventually build a mill in nearby Ceduna, where the plants can be turned into pellets for stock feed or flour for human consumption.

Saltbush is gluten free and high in protein.

While this project is only just getting off the ground, those involved have big plans. The hope is to plant about 10,000 hectares of saltbush in the region with the help of other Indigenous communities.

Ms Miller said it was important that job opportunities were available in remote areas.

Local Indigenous groups know this land, in the remote west of South Australia, inside out. That is why Mr Larking started looking at new ways the community could use their knowledge of the country to become self-sustainable. He turned to farming, and the property runs sheep that are sold to market.

“We first started off with only 600 ewes and about 20 rams. After three years now we’ve got over 3,000 ewes and about 60 rams, even a bit more now, and we’re selling easy over 1,000 lambs a year,” he said.

Mr Larking said the community turned to saltbush to build on that success.

“We’re a small community and I sort of feel like there’s just a one-man-band, myself, but you know if I had more staff … we could move on very quickly to brighter and better things,” he said.

“Thinking about it, I can sell my meat to Woolies or Coles or something like that, a private buyer, instead of selling it straight to the market.”

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