No boundary: From Brisbane to Perth, Broome and Darwin

It was a beautiful and bright early morning, which jolted me from my sleep as I rose excited for the special journey ahead. My trip started on 27th July 2022 at 6.00am at Brisbane Airport with Professor Yasmina Sultanbawa, the Director of the ARC International Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods. This was my first field trip to collect my halophyte samples for my PhD project at QAAFI. I have been working with halophytes for the last 3 years in the labs, and finally, only now did I have the chance to see the land and the people that grow these amazing plants. I couldn’t wait!!!

Landscape shot of twisted plant We were joined by strong Jagera woman and Indigenous leader Madonna Thomson from Nyanda Cultural Tours at Brisbane Airport and began our whirlwind trip with an air of excitement and anticipation. It was almost 12:40 pm Perth time when we landed. I could feel the cool breeze as soon as I got off the flight. In the afternoon, at the place where we stayed, we met Indigenous Elder Bruno Dann and his lovely wife Marion Manson from Twin Lakes Cultural Park and Nyul Nyul country. Twin Lakes are one of our Indigenous research partners. Bruno and Marion joined us in our week-long field trip and even hosted us at their place for a couple of days - but more on that soon.

Over the delicious dinner at Empire Bar, everyone spoke with passion about their histories, nurture of country and how in return, country gives back to them. We also welcomed the inspirational leader and businesswoman from Djerait nation, Michelle On from Kiril Park Wild Harvest who had flown from Darwin to meet us in Perth.  

Day 2

sot of posts on a driveway to a property Day two in a very cold Perth started with our tour to a farm in Northam, thanks to Noongar Land Enterprises (NLE Group), followed by the Avondale research facility in Beverley, Western Australia.

On our way to Beverley, we had the chance to get a good lock at the stunning landscape of Western Australia. Noongar Land representatives spoke about empowering Aboriginal people through sustainable land enterprise. Heidi was fantastic and explained to us NLE Group's vision and purpose.

The work she is leading in the Noongar bushfood food area is crucial.  The regenerative work that has been done at Yaraguia Farm by Oral is truly exceptional. We were inspired and we also learnt a lot from both visits. We also wished them good luck with their Food Innovation Hub and nursery expansion projects. Sharing stories, aspirations, passion, and challenges within this group created a positive energy felt by all.  

Concluding our second day, the team from Roogenic Australia joined us for dinner at Springs Kitchen, Perth. It was lovely to meet the young and energetic group of Oren, Jordan, Adi and Kerrene. We spoke at length about their successful collaboration with Indigenous communities. That night when I went to bed, I felt so fortunate about to have their opportunity of being in Perth with my amazing team.

Day 3

wattle seed trees with yellow flowers This morning we were back to airport to to began our journey to Broome. It was almost noon when we landed and my first sensation was the warmth. The heat made me feel like I was back in my home in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. After a quick group lunch, we were joined again by Bruno and Marion. On our way to Twin Lakes Cultural Park, we were stunned by the beauty of Broome. Both Bruno and Marion talked about the plants, livelihood and their life journey in the town. One thing that was evident was their friendliness and kindness. It was heart-warming and inspiring. A highlight for me was spotting rows of wattle seed trees and the red, red roads were travelled on. Along the way,  six of us shared a bag of oranges and mandarins, while chatting about our expectations from this trip, sharing stories from our lands.

We were welcomed by Lahea, her partner and David at Twin Lakes Cultural Park, despite a wave of COVID 19 in the town. Both Bruno and Marion took us on a tour of Twin Lakes and its surroundings. There was something about the Broome environment that reminded me of my home throughout the journey, and I felt a very deep connection with the area. We saw plenty of their treasures including Gubinge (Kakadu plum tree), wattle seed and green plum trees.  

Saltbush On the way to beach, I was able to see a few species of Halophytes, especially samphire and seapurslane. I was so struck to see halophytes for the first time in their own place where they are nurtured. Once I saw them, I could feel how much I was connected to those plants and the land. We had a lovely time there and moved on in the late afternoon to see the evening softly come with the sunset on the beach.

I got to see more of the beautiful landscape travelling with Bruno and Marion. We became busy exploring the halophytes which were grown near coastal areas. Bruno was sharing special stories and thoughts with us through the sunset. I have never seen anything more magical than this seafront view during the sunset. We all enjoyed its beauty, sand dunes and the colorful evening sky.

I tried to capture the beauty of that moment with both my eyes and camera since I wanted to share them with my family and friends. I wish they were with me there to celebrate the end of the lovely day with such magic. On the way back to Twin Lakes Cultural Park, I could see a few kangaroos, a lovely reminder I was in Australia!

After we arrived to our base, we started cooking dinner together in an open kitchen using firewood. We also got to taste some yummy curries with the fruits of our labour, samphire additions. We all enjoyed the cooking, despite being tired from our tightly packed travel schedule! Bruno set the campfire and we sat together around it and ate our meal. We all enjoyed the peace and warmth that came from the campfire. Soon we were bathed in moonlight and continued talking about the culture, nature and other soul-nourishing topics, while some warming sleepy Jilunjin tea was made. The bathing water was warm as midnight struck - somewhat like the hospitable people who live in Broome. After having our bedtime Jilungin tea, we went to our nearby accommodation for the night. We were in a semi-permanent tent with a roof and were happy to climb into our sleeping bags, which did not fail to warm up to a comfortable temperature. That night was peaceful, and I was really content.People standing around a fire

Day 4

The day began early. I was awake at 5 am, listening to the noises around our accommodation. A few visitors - wily foxes - came to see us and started screaming and communicating with each other. They roamed around our accommodation for a few minutes before leaving. It was a thrilling, if a little haunting experience. I very much enjoyed a morning walk with Yasmina, relishing the peace and quiet in Twin Lakes Cultural Park.

Sukirtha with Bruno and Marion around the fire After a quick breakfast, I presented the highlights of my PhD project to Bruno and others. They were very happy with my results and the highlights of the plants they gave me for my research. Their support and guidance throughout my PhD has been invaluable and truly amazing. It has been such a pleasure working with them these past three years. I greatly enjoyed getting to know them more by spending quality time with them in person after COVID travel restrictions kept us physically separated for three years, and I loved the whole experience of being with them.  We sadly said our goodbyes to Bruno, Marion, Lahea and David and left the place with very full and enriched hearts, which were also a little heavy at saying goodbye to our friends. We left Broome mid afternoon and landed in Darwin in the early evening, meaning we didn't have much time to explore Darwin. However, Michelle On’s family warmly welcomed us with flowers from their home garden and served us a fantastic dinner. We became close to Michelle’s family thanks to this trip.Group shot from low angle

Day 5

Day 5 started bright and early. After a quick group breakfast, we visited Cate and Pete Cahill from Kaiyu Superfoods. We had the chance to see their processing facility which included some sophisticated instruments like a huge freeze drier. We also had the opportunity to look around their land, enjoying a bushwalk which revealed the regenerative work Cate and Pete had done on their lands. Then we headed back to Michelle’s place and started exploring a bit more of Darwin and its special plant with pink coloured foliage plants. We spotted Geebungs (persoonia), green plum, bush apple and wattle seed trees.

The next highlight was an invitation to participate in a smoking ceremony. We made the best of what little time we had, filling every moment with discussions, and learning as much as possible about one another and the land on which we walked. It was such a wonderful day though very short as we had to leave Darwin. On the way to Darwin airport from Michelle’s home, we saw rows of turkey bush and more of the red roads. Once again, warm weather and red soil reminded me of my home.

Shot from behind of Sukirtha looking at the setting sunWe ended our wonderful journey via Darwin Airport landing back home in Brisbane in the early evening. Though we were happy to be rejoined with our families we were also little sad too. We left behind lands filled with beautiful people and friends, the beautiful sand dunes, red soils, amazing sunsets, special Indigenous plants and shared stories, so I had mixed emotions. These memories will live forever in my heart. I can't wait to go back, so we can yet again be immersed in all that Broome and Darwin has to offer.

And finally, I would like to thank Prof Sultanbawa for giving this me this opportunity and the ARC ITTC for Uniquely Australian Foods for supporting my PhD project.

Media contacts: Ms Sukirtha, +61 (0)406 153 203; QAAFI Communications, Natalie MacGregor,, +61 (0)409 135 651.

The ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Uniquely Australian Foods is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council’s Industrial Transformation Training Centre funding scheme (project IC180100045), the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the University of Queensland.

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Last updated:
22 May 2024