An Aboriginal native foods corporation has been unable to begin construction on a native bush food garden and orchard due to heritage legislation in Victoria.

Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation in Victoria has been unable to prepare its site for the growth of native foods as the corporation is based on Coranderrk, a heritage site protected by the Victorian Government.

Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation chairman and Elder Dave Wandin said applications with Heritage Victoria and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act were delaying a start to the build.

A recipient of the Djakitjuk Djanga grant in 2020, Mr Wandin said the intention when they received the funding was to grow a commercial bush food garden and orchard at the historic Coranderkk site.

“The intention of the funding was that we would have product to put on the market at the end of the funding timeline,” he said.

“And the reality is we don’t. We have established a market where people have said whatever you can grow we’ll buy.

“But we don’t have the capacity to be able to source the seeds and establish our own nursery and not rely on outside contractors.”

Smoking ceremony on Coranderrk. Photo credit: Wandoon Estate

Mr Wandin said the corporation had not known the issues and costs building infrastructure would bring.

“What we didn’t realise at the beginning of the Djakitjuk Djanga funding was that any infrastructure that we need to build to support our Indigenous bush foods industry requires legislation,” he said.

“Many people said well you own the land and you’re Aboriginal people why do you have to do a cultural heritage permit.

“No matter what land you are on, it does fall under the cultural heritage act and because we are Aboriginal we are even more obligated than any other developer to follow the letter of legislation.”

Coranderrk was originally established as a reserve for Aboriginal people in south-central Victoria and operated under Australia’s first Aboriginal affairs administration.

A Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning spokesperson said Coranderrk had archaeological significance as potential site for 19th century Aboriginal station artefacts.

“In line with the principles of self-determination, Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation is responsible for managing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station,” they said.

“Heritage Victoria has advised the Wandoon Estate Aboriginal Corporation that they are available to work with them to help identify locations for infrastructure which would avoid or limit impacts on significant archaeological sites.”

Mr Wandin said infrastructure was sitting around ready to go, but was being held up by legislation.

“But we can’t actually build anything until we go through those two processes, the Heritage Victoria legislation and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act,” he said.

“We do have to work under both those legislations and at a very minimum that will cost us $30,000.”

Shadow Planning and Heritage minister Ryan Smith said current legislation should be re-examined.

“If there are any circumstances where unnecessary red tape is causing delays or undue costs, then the need for those rules and charges should be examined and, if appropriate, streamlined,” he said.

“The current Labor government has not directly addressed these matters over the past eight years.

“I would certainly commit to having a good look at this situation were there to be a change of government.”

Despite the lengthy application process, the steep price and the chance the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage register disallows them from building, Mr Wandin is determined to press ahead.

“We see so many opportunities especially in a time now where we’re talking treaty, self-determination and economic sustainability for Aboriginal people,” he said.

“We do see it that once we have established our bush foods industry, that creates opportunity for younger and older Aboriginal people to come and learn from Coranderrk.

“Whether that be collecting the seed, growing in a nursery to putting them in the ground…to learning how to cook the foods which could lead to them on to the foodservice industry.

“But in a culturally safe manner where Aboriginal people feel able to learn rather than a course set out for them…we’re looking at our place being an education centre.”

The Djakitjuk Djanga grant finishes at the end of 2022.