Meet the game-changing entrepreneur championing Australia’s native foods.
WORDS Alexis Buxton-Collins
Growing up in Darwin, Daniel Motlop loved nothing more than heading “out bush” with his family to take advantage of the natural abundance surrounding him. There he learnt to identify and gather bush apples, billy goat plum and native passionfruit, and to hunt for magpie goose and barra. As an adult he chased a different type of game, playing AFL for North Melbourne and Port Adelaide (his brothers Shannon and Steven also competed at the elite level). But when that career ended it was time for a new direction.
Recalling his childhood passion, he applied for the first ever permit to catch and commercially sell magpie goose in the Northern Territory. The birds, which infuriate local mango farmers by feasting on their harvest, quickly proved far more popular with restaurateurs. Motlop’s first customer was René Redzepi, the chef from Copenhagen’s internationally renowned Noma.
Redzepi’s restaurant has been crowned best in the world four times, and the chef was a vocal advocate of native Australian ingredients during his stint here in 2016. That’s when Motlop realised there was demand for a whole lot more than magpie goose.
Soon he was sourcing a range of products from across Australia, and today he’s the head of Something Wild, the largest Indigenous-owned food and beverage company in the country. Through Something Wild he supplies top restaurants including Attica, Vue De Monde and Brae – as well the Ghan – with succulents like karkalla, samphire and sea blight alongside ingredients like saltbush dukkah and crocodile.
Most ingredients are wild harvested and, in peak times, Motlop estimates that he employs up to 100 people in a workforce that is seventy percent Indigenous. The Larrakia business leader is adamant that “it’s important to let Aboriginal people participate in the economy of native ingredients.” This is especially true in remote areas with limited employment opportunities.
And Motlop is doing more than creating jobs – he’s also keeping age-old traditions alive by introducing them to a new generation. He learnt the hard way that wild harvesting ingredients can be costly and time-consuming, and by paying a fair wage he ensures that employment and methods of harvesting are sustainable.
He’s still a hands-on boss and there’s no danger of the former footballer turning into a desk worker any time soon. “Every week I’m out harvesting fresh greens like warrigal greens, samphire, that sort of thing,” he says.
Because some of the most sought-after ingredients only have a short season, Motlop has partnered with other businesses to create products that are available year-round. These include a green ant gin and a series of flavoured yoghurts featuring quandong, muntrie, Davidson plum and Kakadu plum.
One of Australia’s many under-utilised ingredients, the Kakadu plum (billy goat plum) has the highest vitamin C levels of any fruit found in the world. Something Wild’s supply comes from the remote Northern Territory community of Wadeye, which is only accessible by road during the dry season. As well as guaranteeing a buyer for the harvest, placing the product on Australian shelves and highlighting the importance of the ingredient gives “a sense of pride to the ladies out there. They got their name on the yoghurt and it’s their product, it’s created jobs.”
The yoghurt and gin are available at Something Wild’s stall in the Adelaide Central Market, alongside a range of fresh game meats and greens. For Motlop, the end goal is simple: “We want to get to a stage where native ingredients are like regular fruit and veg.” He believes there’s space in every Australian kitchen for ingredients that have provided sustenance across the country for thousands of years.
And if we don’t use them, he warns, someone else will. “You don’t want it to become like the macadamia nut, where it’s grown and made famous by the Hawaiians.”
Visit Something Wild at Adelaide Central Market somethingwild.com.au