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CSIRO is best known for a string of headline-grabbing inventions, such as faster WiFi, polymer banknotes, an effective diet and, believe it or not, Aerogard.

But Australia’s largest and most dynamic scientific research organisation is helping improve lives in quieter ways through its successful and popular Kick-Start program.

The initiative provides invaluable scientific support for innovations, particularly those driven by Indigenous entrepreneurs. Two enterprises, Native Secrets and Ochre Sun, acknowledge that they owe their success to CSIRO scientists.

Native Secrets was founded by Bidjara and Kara Kara man Phil Thompson and Wailwan woman Cherie Thompson.

They extract essential oils from the invasive Cyprus pine.

Customers include Qantas, Woolworths online and several wholesales – and the couple are planning to export to Vietnam.

CSIRO helped make the business profitable by developing a more efficient, simpler and cheaper way to extract the oils.

“The scientists made the whole process so much easier than I could have imagined,” says Phil. “Their help was so valuable to us.”

Native Secrets is now investigating the bio-medicinal properties of other plants.

Waanyi Kalkatungu woman Alana Kennedy founded Ochre Sun in 2018.


She ethically obtains plants from Indigenous people to produce skincare products, including sunscreen.

“Native Australian plants carry immense potential and wisdom that has long been overlooked in mainstream sun and skincare,” she says.

“The significance of our vision goes beyond skincare. There is a rhythm in Country – ancient rhythm and remedy gifted to us in the cultural way, and our purpose is to harness bush medicine and gift it to the world, to use raw plant potential to benefit our bodies.

“Everything we need, we already have.”

Ochre Sun is also supported by CSIRO Kick-Start, whose scientists are exploring the biological properties of the native plants used by the business and their therapeutic effects.

Scientists are developing advanced extraction methods for the bioactives, which are chemicals, chemical molecules and microbes that have some biological effect on our bodies.

Ochre Sun aims to increase awareness of Indigenous culture by sharing the wellbeing benefits of native plants with the world through an expanding product range in skincare.

CSIRO senior research scientist Jim Harris says Kick-Start helps fledgling businesses, particularly Indigenous enterprises, with research and development.

“We can help with just about anything, although we’re geared towards bio activities and bio-medicinal properties,” he says.

“There are so many communities that have great traditional knowledge about plants with medicinal uses. Neary always there’s a plant that has been used as traditional medicine for thousands of years.

“We can help Indigenous people find a way to market through such things as improving extraction techniques and proving the medicinal properties of a product.”

CSIRO scientists are happy to work with Indigenous communities on Country, blending modern science with ancient knowledge to create viable businesses and jobs.

“We’re honoured when traditional knowledge is shared with us. To be able to meld traditional knowledge and western science is great. They are complementary.”

Cultural and intellectual property rights remain with the Indigenous people.