Land Down Under not so welcoming to Tanka

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Land Down Under not so welcoming to Tanka
By Mark A. Tilsen Sr., story and photos

Follow Tanka Bar on Twitter @tankabar
Read Mark's bio here

Posted Sept. 17, 2009

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NOTE: Place cursor over photos to see captions.

Mark Tilsen Sr., president of Native American Natural Foods, took Tanka products to the Fine Food Australia Food Show, Sept. 7-10, in Sydney. As is the case with all of our international travel, research and marketing, the trip was sponsored by the Intertribal Agriculture Council's American Indian Foods program. Following is Mark's account of the trip:

16 hours to Sydney and then a grilling

We arrived at 6 a.m. in Sydney International Airport after 16 hours in the air. We were welcomed by the AQUIS welcoming committee, which I later learned stands for Australian Quarantines and Inspections Service. They told me I couldn't bring buffalo into the country because it's a bovine and the import of bovines is banned in Australia.

So they dumped my belongings onto a counter, apologizing profusely while do so -- two duffel bags worth of samples and clothes. All the while, a young bureaucrat asked me a list of meaningless questions from my passport to the phone number of the hotel I was staying at.

When I told her that there has never been a case of buffalo getting BSE or mad cow disease, she said she didn't care. And she didn't want to talk about it or the fact that 70 percent of the beef leaving Australia goes to U.S. fast-food restauraunts.

They agreed to keep the Tanka products and let me into the country after I agreed to pay a $30 storage fee.

Aboriginal rights subject of public discussion

Visiting Sydney and saying you been to Australia is like spending seven days at a conference in New York City and saying you been to America. So I didn't learn much about Australia during my trip other than it's a settler nation trying to come to grips with their own history and mistreatment of Aboriginal peoples.

It was interesting, though, because business people openly voice their opinions on Aboriginal rights. It looks as if the public apology that the government issued for its systematic oppression of Aborigines has at least sparked public discussion in their society.

USDA official promises to make Tanka Bars his mission

The food show was like most food shows, except that I wasn't allowed to sample product openly. I had to share what product I did manage get in (via some other folks) sparingly, but I did get favorable responses from the Australians who did try the Tanka Bar.

All of us at our IAC booth ended up getting to meet the U.S. Secretary of Affairs, who held a reception for all the U.S. businesses at the conference. The Secretary gave one of the hokiest speeches I have ever heard and the best part is she did it with a straight face.

The whole speech was about "from here to there" capitalist boosterism, and was so inclusive as to say nothing at all. As I write this, I cant recall a single quote from the speech.

I do want to say Grant A. Pettrie, an Agricultural Counselor for USDA, did tell me in front of a group of people at the reception that he is going to make it his mission to get Tanka Bars into Australia and we shook hands on it. So I am going to see if I can put that in the bank.

From opera to didgeridoo

Sydney is a beautiful city and I even went to my first opera! I have read so much about the famous opera house that I expected the music to blow me away. It was really melancholic. But I am the type of guy who can't tell the difference between a high shcool play and world-class actors.

Walking home that night along the harbor, I stopped and listened to a drunken Native guy playing the didgeridoo. He was pretty good and it had a beautiful tone floating out across the water.

For more information about IAC and its export program: Intertribal Agriculture Council

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