Our Salt Story: Celebrating 10 Years

July 24, 2019

“Our first salt harvest in 2009 was hard-won, hard work – and it was joyous… We are proud of all of our products, but the product journey of our salt is special. It’s the result of respect for the Wimmera, low-impact farming methods, conversation with the community, and the knowledge and support of the Barengi Gadgin Land Council.”  Rich Seymour, General Manager Mount Zero Olives

Situated on the edge of the Little Desert, “up the road” from the Mount Zero olive grove is a magnificent ‘Pink Lake'. Its unique location is the result of natural ancient underground springs and its unique colour is rich with beta-carotene and other trace minerals beneficial to human health.

2019 marks the 10 year anniversary of our first harvest of Pink Lake salt, a collaboration with the Barengi Gadgin Land Council who represent the five traditional owners of the land the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagalk peoples and Parks Victoria who permitted the hand harvest of the Pink Lake using traditional low impact techniques.

The salt yield from this multi-stakeholder collaboration has won the admiration of local community, the food industry and food lovers here and abroad.

The product is beautiful, rich and flavoursome. Its ethos is respectful and its package showcases artwork by local Wotjobaluk Elder elder Aunty Nancy Harrison ‘Bush Tukka’. 

Neil Seymour and Aunty Hazel. Photo Credit: Linsey Rendell

The road to production and the resulting successful collaboration is a wonderful tale of respect for the environment and resourcefulness and resilience born from drought conditions.

When we purchased the (then) run-down olive plantation at the base of Mt Zero in the Grampians (Victoria) we were committed to, and primed for, biodynamic production.

It was the early 1990s and severe drought was a tough introduction to life in the Wimmera.

The draught meant that we were forced to diversify our business and we started to work with other local growers, buying and packaging lentils and grains, as we all rode the tide of natural conditions.

Committed to working with the produce of the region we became intrigued by the local, magnificent Pink Lake and its history, and we set about seeing if could once again be harvested.

Pink Lake. Photo Credit: Linsey Rendell

We sort an analysis of the salt in 2001 and the results were encouraging! They confirmed that the source of the pink colour was from a single-celled algae Dunaliella salina which provided a rich range of trace minerals (including potassium, calcium and magnesium) which was ripe for human consumption.

On receiving the news, we made a formal application to Parks Victoria for access to the ‘Pink Lake’ which following a century of production had been newly declared a conservation wetland.

The low-impact harvesting and a new partnership with the traditional owners supported by the Barengi Gadgin Land Council were the factors that swung the decision our favour, and permission to harvest the Pink Salt Lake was granted to Mount Zero Olives in 2009.

From that moment and still today the Barengi Gadjin Land Council give us access, instruction and consultation in ways to minimise our impact on the land, and we do our best to repay this gift through employment and payment. This enables the Land Council to direct their priorities to look after their people and preserving their Aboriginal heritage.

Local aboriginal man Richard Marks started working on the lake in his twenties. He remembers: “We’d start at five, six or seven [in the morning]; it all depended on the weather. As long as the water wasn’t over your ankles you could work. We had a shovel, we picked [salt] up and loaded the trucks, two on each side; then pushed them to the bank. You can actually get sunburnt under your chin and under your arms out there, reflection from the salt. ... It was heavy [work] but it was the glare, the glare was the thing. You had to have your sunglasses on, you wore a hat and your pants had to be washed out each night otherwise they’d just stand up straight!”

After years of planning and days of careful, physical work, our first harvest yielded a total of twenty tonnes of salt transported to the lake bank on a hand-pushed trolley mounted on dune buggy tyres.

Salt Lake Harvest Buckets. Photo Credit: Linsey Rendell

Today – a decade on - we harvest every autumn when it is cool enough to be on the lake and before it fills again from winter rain, still using the same hand-harvesting methods, working side by side with locals and committed chefs and food suppliers curious to take part in the pilgrimage.

Our current range includes Pink Lake Salt with chilli, sea kelp, river herbs and native pepper berries. They are popular with local chefs and used in homes around Australia and exported in small amounts to to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore where buyers marvel at the flavours, the hand-harvested farming techniques and the collaboration with the local indigenous community. 

For more about our first harvest see this wonderful television segment from ABC Landline 2009: in the pink - abc landline