Mornington Islanders have planted fruit trees and vegetable seeds in backyards in the first step of what locals hope will become a thriving market garden.
They are looking to combat poor diets that lead to chronic health conditions such as malnutrition, diabetes, and kidney disease, which reduces the life expectancy of residents.
The National Indigenous Australians Agency has granted the Mornington Island Council $60,720 to compile a feasibility study for a commercial market garden to be completed by mid July.
Not content with waiting for the multiple studies to finish, Kennedy MP Bob Katter joined Mayor Kyle Yanner, Councillor Bobby Thompson, and Dieticians Australia President Tara Diversi to plant a mandarin tree in an established backyard garden on Mornington Island.
In late 2018 Mr Katter received a promise from the Prime Minister to establish and fund market gardens in Yarrabah, Doomadgee and Mornington Island.
Mr Katter said Australia would be an international pariah if the chronic health crisis in remote First Australian communities wasn't addressed.
"It's only a matter of time before the statistics come out to the United Nations," Mr Katter said.
"The Federal Government has a revenue stream of nearly $500 billion a year and yet it can't build market gardens in these areas? It's been four years since they gave me the promise and they're still doing studies. If it wasn't for the leadership of Kyle Yanner we would be going nowhere."
Cr Yanner said they were planting trees to combat the lack of fresh food on Mornington Island.
"The statistics are horrific. Of the 634 people who attend the health clinic here at Mornington Island last year, 40 percent had chronic illness or multiple chronic illnesses," Cr Yanner said.
"Australia is the seventh richest and healthiest country in the world, but if you look at remote, Indigenous Australians we sit at 147th in the world. The Federal Government talk about this 'gap' all the time, it's not closed. When is the gap going to close?
"We have everything we need for the market gardens to succeed. We have beautiful ground, water and good feed for cattle as well. That is the medium-term solution. We also need full subsidies on the groceries that come into our communities that are multiple times more expensive than what other Australians pay."
Cr Bobby Thompson, 78, said health outcomes were a lot better when the market gardens were previously operational on Mornington Island - when he was younger under the missionaries, and then continued by the Joh Bjelke-Petersen State Government.
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"In those times we didn't have sickness flying around," Cr Thompson said.
"We had a big garden in the town and cattle on the island. Two beasts were slaughtered every week. We had fresh meat and fresh vegetables. The Royal Flying Doctor rarely used to fly in, but now it's here all the time.
"It's all changed now. The cost of freight that comes on the barge from Karumba to Mornington is so high, it's abominable. A lot of people can't afford the fresh and healthy food."
President of Dietitians Australia Tara Diversi said growing food locally can help close the gap in chronic disease which is four times higher in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
"It's expensive to transport food - especially to regional and remote areas," Ms Diversi said.
"Food that can be grown locally in community gardens is one example of how the nation can support healthy and sustainable diets into the future.
"A national nutrition policy that's co-developed with First Nations Peoples of Australia could also build the capacity of healthcare workers within communities to provide nutrition services in the long term."
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