Re-Imagineers: Pat Torres

Question 1: You are an elder in the Indigenous community in Western Australia. Can you tell us a bit about your family history and background?

Ngaji mingan. Hello. Yes, I acknowledge my elders from the following languages in the West Kimberley region near Broome, Australia. My First Nation people are the Djugun, Yawuru, Karajarri, Ngumbarl/Jabirr-Jabirr, Nyul-Nyul and Bard, who are First Nation people of Australia from my mother’s lineage. My dad is a Scotsman whose father was originally from Glasgow, and my other ancestors include men who traveled to our region with the missionary, pearling, and pastoral industries. My family names include the Torres family who came in during the establishment of the Beagle Bay Mission and the Drummond family who worked in the pearling industry in Broome in the 1900s. My mixed heritage and the effects of colonization exposed me to many diverse cultures, but in the main, I grew up on my traditional lands under the care of my First Nation women ancestors and was taught the ancient stories of ‘bugarri-garr,’ our dreaming histories from our clan countries within the Kimberley region of Western Australia. These stories have made me who I am today, a proud and strong First Nation woman.

Question 2:  In Australia, you have a business that harvests Australian native foods and hosts welcoming ceremonies and Indigenous culture tours called Jarndu Ngaank, which means “a woman’s word.” Tell us about these efforts.   

During early 2000, my family had the opportunity to live back on our traditional lands north of Broome on my mother’s father’s Jabirr Jabirr country near Winnawaal, also known as Sandy Point. Here we worked on the lands for land management and community development projects under what was called the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) which basically means ‘working for unemployment benefits.’ Throughout this period, we were asked to convert our community projects into a business idea, so we decided to create products from the wild harvesting of sovereign plants which were known to be useful for both food and health remedies that had been handed down for many generations from our traditional ecological knowledge systems and the wisdom of our elders. The Mayi Harvests brand was created to bring our foods and remedies out into the public realm for wealth creation and wellness for our families and those who collaborated with us to bring this into a commercial reality. In our Djugun language from the Broome region of Australia, the word ‘mayi’ is the name given to all non-meat foods, which include fruit, flowers, seeds, nuts, gum, edible herbs, and spices. I worked as a sole trader for a few years harvesting the wild superfood known as Gabiny in my language and Kakadu Plum as the nationally recognized name for the Terminalia ferdinandiana species. This fruit is a West Kimberley green plum found in our remnant rainforests and savannah woodlands but also found in the Northern Territory and parts of Western Queensland. When the knowledge of the Gabiny superfood became more nationally and globally recognized for its nutritional and antioxidant values, I decided to convert my business to a company structure so my business then became the Mamanyjun Tree Enterprises Pty Ltd, trading as Mayi Harvests to assist in the growth of my sovereign foods and botanical business. I began my product development by making sovereign food jams, chutneys, sauces, flavored waters, and dried fruit powders and sold these in the local Australian domestic market. In 2022, I decided to diversify my offerings and provide a series of guided tours utilizing my traditional knowledge coming from a women’s perspective as many of the local guides were men and I wanted a ‘point of difference.’ The Jarndu Ngaank Tours were then established to bring this knowledge of ancient stories of people, of place, and our unique environment to the public to create a better appreciation of our knowledge and belief systems and to introduce the world to our sovereign foods and drinks. I have been doing the tours now for the last two years. Jarndu in my Djugun language means ‘woman’ and Ngaank means ‘word.’ My Djugun language community was based on the matrilineal knowledge systems of kinship, country, and sense of belonging. It was a natural progression for my business and the growth of my company to offer welcome-to-country events and other cultural immersion experiences with the sharing of our ancient stories of country, people, and place to emerge at this time. I have combined my ancient food, plant remedies, and knowledge of place-based stories into my tourism products to provide a small glimpse into the wisdom of our First People of this region for all to enjoy.

3)  At ROAR, we believe in lifelong learning. You already have two bachelor’s degrees with one in indigenous language and linguistics, but now at 68, you have embarked on a second master’s to record and preserve the Djugun language, one of 700 indigenous languages in the country. Tell us what inspired you to take on this new project.

Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed learning about people, cultures, and languages throughout the world and, in the last 40 years, especially for the preservation of our First Nation ways of being, thinking, and doing. The ancient wisdom of our First Nation people is fast disappearing with the death of our elders. As an elder myself now, I do this work of remembering and preserving this knowledge to remain a strong and resilient person within a colonized country that is slow to realize the value of the First Nation people. I also do this to equip myself as a storyteller and educator with the correct English words and terminologies to be able to put forward a convincing argument of our value to humanity and to share what we as First Peoples bring to our global world not only through our foods and natural medicines but also to contribute to the intellectual academy through our people’s experiences, thoughts, and beliefs found in our unique metaphors that describe the human condition in our part of the world. In my sharing of our ancient stories and ways of being in the world through my Jarndu Ngaank Tours and my writings towards my masters in philosophy, I am honoring the efforts of our past ancestors who kept alive our epistemologies. My aim is to ‘wake up’ and bring to life again our wisdom and teachings from our own cultural lens to bring healing, health, and happiness to those who are interested in this opportunity to share.


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