Bungala Food Service creates meaningful employment for First Nations women
Bungala Food Service provides Aboriginal women with cooking and service skills so they are equipped to pursue work in the wider hospitality industry.
Arabana woman Isabell McKerlie always had a love for cooking, but found herself looking for work after having to leave her previous job to care for her mother who was in palliative care.
A community employment service in Port Augusta referred Ms McKerlie to Bungala Food Service, an Indigenous-led organisation that provides cooking and service mentoring by experienced chefs out of its training kitchen.
The program was started to fill a gap in the job opportunities available for First Nations women in the region.
Almost three years on, Ms McKerlie said working there had enabled herself and other women to develop skills they would never have had the chance to learn otherwise.
“I’ve always been interested in learning what sort of spices or herbs to use when a meal just needs that extra little touch to it,” she said.
“We have a couple [employees] that have never really worked before because they’re young mums, so they’ve been taking care of their families at home.
“It sort of rubs off on each other, we’re all learning from each other and everyone’s just absolutely enjoying it!”
Ms McKerlie and another employee recently completed a nationally recognised Certificate II in Kitchen Operations — a qualification she hoped would assist her to take on further employment in the future.
She said understanding the nutritional side of food had been particularly beneficial from the program.
“It’s not only just learning and having that knowledge and doing it here, but we’re actually putting it into practice in our homes as well for our families,” she said.
“You’ll find some people in the Aboriginal community are diabetic. I’m one myself, so I’ve learnt about healthy cooking and extending your life and just changing your lifestyle with your eating.”
Ms McKerlie said she also received a lot of satisfaction by giving back to the community and providing food for people who may no longer be able to cook for themselves.
“We’re not just cooking and delivering the meals but we build up that rapport and friendship out there as well with the elderly and with our clients,” she said.
The organisation recently received a $50,000 grant from the Westpac Foundation, a financial boost that the program’s manager, Nathan Freeman, said would go towards employing more staff.
“The funding will allow us to bring on an additional chef, which means we can take on another five Aboriginal trainees each year over a two-year period,” Mr Freeman said.
“It’s really good for the region because we know there’s a huge demand for hospitality professionals in the northern part of the Flinders Ranges.”
He said 22 employees had gone through the program since it began, and the majority of those women managed to find further employment elsewhere.
Mr Freeman said he considered himself fortunate to be able to provide opportunities for women who might have never experienced hospitality work.
“A lot of our staff have got difficult backgrounds and have got people depending on them at home,” he said.
“Coming into the job can be challenging at the start but we really partner them up with some well-respected mentors to develop those skills needed to thrive in the workplace.
“The transformation that I see in each of the trainees is really amazing … they come from not being able to cook or understand basic recipes to all of a sudden coming to work with their own recipes.”