The ancient art of bush medicine can help with many ailments

Vivienne ‘Binyarn’ Hansen
Vivienne ‘Binyarn’ Hansen making her remedies

Bush medicine business is booming for Vivienne ‘Binyarn’ Hansen, but profit isn’t in the equation.

“It’s not about making money. It’s about helping people, making them well or making them feel better,” said the Balladong Wadjuk Yorga woman from the Bibbulmun Nation, or Noongar people.

Vivienne confirms that prominent people including child health expert Fiona Stanley and footballers Gary Ablett, Liam Ryan, Josh Kennedy and Nic Naitanui have had success with Vivienne’s bush medicine.

“Some has been passed to people from my rellies. I have a granddaughter, Imahra Cameron, playing AFLW for the Eagles, a nephew who played AFL for Gold Coast and some playing for the Dockers,” Vivienne said from her Kelmscott home.

“Fiona Stanley ended up getting a tub for a granddaughter whose eczema apparently cleared up beautifully,” said Vivienne, an authority on bush medicine.

James Blundell is also a fan. Vivienne said she met the singer at a country and western event at Boyup Brook.

“We were chatting away and he mentioned problems with his fingers due to arthritis so I gave him some rub as a gift. Next time we met he said it was really good,” she said.

The 71-year-old said ointments and body rubs worked well for ‘teenagers my age’ with aches and pains. 

“I looked after my mother-in-law for quite a few years suffering from cancer, helping her with bush medicine, helping alleviate pain and making her feel better,” she said.

The cheerful mother-of-six first produced an ointment about 13 years ago, followed by a cream body lotion and business took off with Vivienne and husband Mort – ‘my partner in crime’ – operating out of their home.

Husband Mort doing a smoking ceremony in the bush
Husband Mort doing a smoking ceremony in the bush

“I kicked my old man (Mort) out of his work shed but we ended up using a room inside the house. If people ring up and ask for something, I just whip it up and have it ready to collect,” she said.

Vivienne received an email from France requesting a tub of herbal medicine for a customer who says he’s just run out. A Queenslander is another regular and a UWA staffer sends bush medicine to London.

Every few weeks, the couple sets off in their ute with “just a pair of cutters to cut enough leaves for what we need now.”

Vivienne follows bush medicine tradition dating back for generations.

“Out in the bush we will grab a shopping bag full of leaves and bring them home. I put in bees wax and olive oil, heat the leaves, strain them, let them cool until they solidify and I’ve got an ointment or a muscle balm.

“If I want a cream form, emulsifying wax binds the soil and water together.”

For arthritis, eucalyptus leaves and emu oil – when available – is used, blended with Vivienne’s secret ingredient.

She talks of using olive oil, straining, steaming fresh herbs, adding bees wax, melting and pouring into containers.

Native species like sandalwood, soap bush, eucalyptus and wattle are among her key ingredients. 

Vivienne, raised by her grandparents near Brookton, grew up learning about traditional medicine. She then trained at Marr Mooditj Foundation, completing Certificate IV in Bush and Western Herbal Medicine. 

She was also the first Indigenous member of the National Herbalist Association and was a delegate to the 7th International Conference on Herbal Medicine in 2010.

Viv out bush
Viv out bush

At school in Brookton, Vivienne became a prefect.

“Ha ha! I was a bit naughty at school but students voted for who they wanted and I was a popular, especially among Aboriginal students. We were all related, cousins,” she laughed.

“But we all got on well at school, non-Indigenous and Aboriginal kids were all friends. If we had a bust-up, we just sided with whoever were the friends we were with.”

Getting to third year at high school, she was the first Aboriginal girl to go past age 14 at school. She was first Aboriginal captain of both the hockey and softball teams. 

“After that, a lot of Aboriginal kids went on further in school and became sports captains,” she adds.

Vivienne’s connection with country and Indigenous tradition is palpable.

It’s not about making money. It’s about helping people

“We like going out in the forest with family and make a fire, billy the tea and sit around having a yarn. The family all like doing that.

“We might go out the Brookton Highway, anywhere out in the forest, maybe just a day drive to get out in the bush. The kids like to swim at the dam and we have a look at the water levels,” says Vivienne.

Mort and Vivienne are among a committed group called Activate the Wheatbelt.

“All these young people plant 20,000 to 30,000 trees over one weekend – acacia and eucalyptus and other native trees. It’s absolutely amazing, they are all volunteers out to rehabilitate the land,” Vivienne said.

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