Turning family farm into an award-winning venture
WHEN local pastor and famed water diviner Fred Brooks stood on the family farm of Shaun and Tessa Martin with his trusty forked stick and declared they were directly above the largest underground aquifer he'd encountered, the couple knew it was time to go with the flow.
The Martins, whose land 10 minutes outside Uki has been in the family since 1904, had already decided to explore their options after deregulation of the dairy industry dampened the dairy farm's prospects for the future.
So, in early 2004, 89-year-old Mr Brooks' announcement - eight months before his tragic death from a brown snake bite while he tended his vegetable patch - helped set the family on a new course founded on the benefits of our most precious natural resource.
By 2006, Mr and Mrs Martin had begun bottling their water, labelled and sold as the now renowned Mount Warning Spring Water.
In 2011, Yaru Water was also born.
The Yaru brand is sourced and bottled from water running far below the foothills of the ancient volcano, Wollumbin/Mt Warning in the centre of Bundjalung country, and has been successful in its efforts to work with and create positive outcomes via projects within indigenous communities.
This month, Yaru Water won the prestigious national business award - the Optus Award for Corporate Social Responsibility presented in Sydney - and the brand was also recently chosen from a field of 2000 national applicants as the winner of the Westpac Businesses of Tomorrow 2017 Awards.
The Businesses of Tomorrow applicants were chosen on their potential to shape Australia's future with each one demonstrating qualities including a track record of delivery; clarity of purpose and vision; outstanding value to customers; capability to meet tomorrow's challenges; adaptability and resilience; and an ability to contribute beyond the business to the community, industry or the economy.
Mrs Martin is proud of her family's achievements - the couple have two sons and their 20-year-old is set to participate in the business next year - and was "delighted” with the recent awards.
"Yaru is a proud change-maker. Our ambition is to inspire the procurement landscape and encourage similar business models that will create sustainable social change, and bring Indigenous culture to the forefront of Australia,” she said.
Yaru Water's goal was to create income from the water to fund different projects that would help close the health gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
They say water is the source of all life and, for the Martins - it's also a valuable source of inspiration, creat- ivity and progressive ideas.
"The local Bundjalung people provide cultural training to groups around Australia, to bring their understanding to corporate Australian groups and youth groups, and we were able to help fund that,” Mrs Martin said.
"It grew from there, and we decided that this brand was all about creating better health outcomes for indigenous communities Australia-wide.
"I think it's a core driver for us to get up in the morning - to know that we can make a difference. It's part of what makes us tick.
"We're not in this business to get rich quick. This is about making a change and making a difference and making a business through which we can create a legacy.”
Mrs Martin - who was born in Holland and lived in Europe until she was 22 - said while her husband had always known there were underground springs on the family property, they had considered tourism as a future plan.
"We had four generations all dependent on this piece of land,” she said.
"We had Shaun's grandmother, who was nearly 104, his mum and his dad - who died shortly before the first well went down - his sister and our own children.
"It was a case of let's explore this. It's a lovely piece of land and we live in paradise.”
The couple realised there was a chance to move forward in the bottled water market, and were keen to offer an alternative to imported bottled waters.
"An idea turned into what we do today. We'd also always wanted to do something or give back to indigenous Australia. So this is the indigenous brand with a message,” she said.
Last year, the Martins set up a dedicated not-for-profit foundation that enabled them to provide their skills, time, and resources to further projects in keeping with their 'More Than Water' tag line.
Next year, they plan to focus on projects providing training for those who work with indigenous children.
"When we look at creating better health outcomes, it covers all different projects. They can be physical or mental.”
Also passionate about the health benefits of high quality water, Mrs Martin said the company's source of water was alkaline and therefore high in minerals.
"If you have a choice between a sugary soft drink or quality, high alkaline, water, then you know what the choice is,” she said.
It seems that for the Martins, there's a deep well of collaboration, creativity and productivity to be drawn from for their own futures and the future course of better health in Australia's remote communities.