Words by Amanda Kennedy Images Supplied
Jala Jala founder Sharon Brindley is a Yamatji/Noongar woman living on Bunurong/Boon Wurrung country where she runs the only Indigenous café on the Mornington Peninsula, the Cooee Café. Sharon’s passion for native flavours stems back to her childhood days in Kalgoorlie with her grandmother, where they would spend time in the bush living off the land. As well as the unique flavour profile native foods bring to her creations, it is also their health properties that appeal.
‘I like to incorporate Indigenous ingredients into everyday cooking and showcase to the world the incredible qualities of native plants through delicious treats,’ says Sharon. Though Jala Jala chocolates hit the market in 2020, they’d been some time in the making. ‘It wasn’t meant to be a Covid project. It’s going to be a longevity family business for me. It started with chocolate but I will grow that space. Having a café and losing all our catering certainly gave me time … to ramp it up and bring out the chocolates.’
Jala Jala means ‘very good’ in the Wajarri language and her tight range of chocolate blocks certainly fit that requirement, carefully balancing high-quality cocoa butter with the vibrant tastes of Australian bush foods: Davidson Plum White Chocolate, Wattleseed Mylk Chocolate (vegan) and Finger Lime Dark Chocolate.
‘I wanted to bring out chocolates first to show the amazing flavours we have.’ Future plans include a dessert lime vodka as well as a few health food lines including wider distribution, though the process is anything but swift.
Underneath the sweet story of chocolate though lies a darker thread many a chocolate lover might miss at first glance. The issue is ‘blackcladding’ which as Sharon explains is where an Indigenous person is used by a company so it appears to be a legitimately Indigenous business. Often the Indigenous person is unaware of the subtext for their employment (access to funding/particular markets). Sharon’s top tip when looking for the veracity of a business’s credentials is to look at their ‘about’ section.
‘We proudly say what mob we’re from – that would be my first go to. For example, I’m Yamatji/Noongar. There are so many different chocolate companies out there that resembled being owned by the community through artwork and marketing ploys,’ she explains.
Dot work always sells. I was actually fooled myself by two businesses at the very beginning, thinking they were Indigenous businesses, by how their marketing was structured. That’s why my products say at the very top – 100% Aboriginal Owned Business.
‘I’ve learnt that you are your business and that shines through, whether they’re Indigenous or not, you can tell a business by reading what they’re about. Doing a little bit more homework really helps and I honestly think Covid has made people more aware of what’s happening around them, where things are produced and how they’re packaged.’
Other hurdles she’s experienced are more location-related. ‘In the pandemic, I’m actually classed as metro but pre-Covid, one of the first things I noticed was that people think we’re so far away. People are hesitant when dealing with me because I’m based in Rosebud and they’re based in the city. I had to fight harder to get their business and prove that I can still be there. For me coming up to the city it’s a two-hour round trip with tolls to be able to be just as competitive. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be delivering there but it is challenging time and money wise. ‘
Jala Jala is a brand you can buy first with your heart, but re-purchase with a mind at ease.
WHAT: Jala Jala Treats and Cooee Cafe
WHERE: 1/7 Thamer St, Capel Sound
MORE INFO: Jala Jala
We wish to acknowledge the Bunurong people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.