The ‘Kelp Lady’
Her name was Betty Long and she was the founder of her family’s sea-kelp business, Sea Health Products, on a coastal property at the southern headland of Glasshouse Rocks (pictured in the aerial photo above), which is near Narooma on the stunning South Coast of NSW.
Over a period of 40 years she earned the moniker 'The Kelp Lady'. In 1970 Betty was featured in a Women's Weekly article we have included if you scroll down this page.
Read more about our modern day ‘Kelp Lady’ Jo Lane, who took over the business in 2015 by scrolling to the bottom of this page.
Turning to Kelp for health
Betty Long appreciated the significant value of seaweed as part of a healthy, natural diet, combined with regular exercise.
In 1965, she was diagnosed with what she was told was an incurable circulatory disease and so, Battling for her health and life, she moved her family from Sydney to Narooma where her father owned a property.
To aid her health she began including kelp in her diet, but when all she could buy was imported and often stale she decided to attempt producing her own kelp meal.
The development of Golden Kelp Meal
After months of research on the best type of kelp to use, what specialised techniques were required to dry and mill the kelp to retain its colour, goodness and flavour, she eventually created her own Golden Kelp Meal that she then sold all over Australia and as far away as Ethiopia and Japan for the next 40 years.
The The Australian Woman’s Weekly
January 28, 1970
by Kay Keavney
Pictures by staff photographer Keith Barlow
Along the breathtaking sweep of beaches round Narooma, NSW, in fair weather and foul, Betty Long harvests seaweed.
Her name is Betty Long, and I call her the Kelp Lady.
She washes and rewashes the golden kelp with infinite care, dries it in the sun, chops it, turns it into meal, and she and her children eat it. Betty, her children, Anne (17) and son, Scott (15) are walking advertisements to its efficacy. They positively glow with golden health.
“Don’t misunderstand,” Betty told me. “Kelp is only one factor. We three live on a natural diet, mostly fruit and vegetables, nuts, dates, sometimes fish, but rarely meat. Wherever possible our food is organically grown – a lot of it in our backyard. And we live an active outdoor life. Even if we didn’t want to, which we do, we’d have to gather the kelp.
”Seaweed is a marvelous supplement, rich in iodine and trace minerals, and proteins, and vitamins, and amino acids, and so much more, including bulk in the form of mucilage. It’s been used by both human beings and animals (especially dogs) for centuries in countries such as Japan, China, Polynesia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland, the Continent. It’s a real lifesaver in goitre areas, being the richest source of iodine in the world. These days the land is depleted of its minerals, and our food is processed and refined and de-natured. Chemical sprays and additives add to the dangers.
”But the sea was the cradle of life on this planet. It still contains an abundance of life-sustainers. Seaweed feeds directly on seawater, absorbs its riches. All it need is to be converted into a palatable form, without losing any of its properties, and eaten while still sea-fresh.”
Betty was driven to her present way of life. About five years ago, badly rundown after private worries, she developed a serious, incurable (she was told) circulatory disease. The pain was acute, the prognosis threatening. She was ready to try anything. A friend sent her to the Natural Health Society of NSW. She was given good advice, but decided to work things out for herself by trial and error.
Lived in the city
She was a Sydney girl, but all her life had spent holidays on a cliff hard by a beautiful crescent of beach near Narooma on the south coast of NSW. Twin sentinels, the superb Glass House Rocks, dominated the beach.
”At first,” Betty said, “we camped. Then Dad built a bit of a shack. He loved this place above all others, and he said he wanted to die here, and in fact he did. He retired here and built the big house just at the other end of the beach, and ran a farm. I became pretty familiar with farming practice, and I noticed how the animals thrived on kelp. Eventually my father bought 220 acres of this coastline.” She waved a sunburnt hand at the beauty on every side. “This belongs to my family, almost as far as the eye can see.
”And this is where I came, and bought the children, about four years ago when I was battling for my health and life. I lived with Mother in the big house across the bay while this house was built from the original shack. And I’ve been adding to it ever since.”
The house was charming, light, airy, nose turned to the sea and the glittering Rocks. Manicured lawns (mown by Scott every weekend) edged fields of wildflowers. There were geraniums in profusion, Sun-drying kelp loaded long wire racks at the side and back of the house. On the beaches below, Scott rode his surfboard. Anne was swimming. The foam was purest white.
”I gradually worked out my diet,” Betty said. “I tried to include kelp, but the stuff I could buy was imported, often stale. I’d sit here and watch the seaweed wash in on the beach, and think, why can’t I gather it myself and use it fresh? There followed months of wearying inquiries and experiments. How was the seaweed converted into meal? And what would be the best kelp of the many varieties that the South Coast yielded.”
Betty tracked down a disintegrator to chop up the meal. Her search for the perfect kelp ended with what she calls Golden Kelp, a type allied to the laminaria group, distinguished by its rich golden colour and fresh smell of iodine.
The Natural Health Society, excited by what she was doing, wrote about it in their magazine, which goes all over the world.
Betty was being bombarded with inquiries from all parts of Australia and as far away as Ethiopia and Japan.
Soon she was flat out filling orders. It was a highly expensive business, since she packages and then sends the meal post-free.
”I’m not breaking even,” she told me without regret, “and I have to work hard gathering the kelp, sometimes going quite far a field to find my own special type. The children help me. It’s a family affair. I cut the sea-rubbish away and wash the kelp in sea-water. Then I wash it in clean fresh-water and dry it on the racks in the sun. Then I wash and dry it again, which takes about five hours. This gets rid of the salt and impurities. If rain comes it’s ruined. Rain washes out all the minerals. I have to work furiously in the rain to get it inside at times. When it’s dried I put it by hand through the disintegrator then keep sieving it to pure meal. Then the three of us package it and post it away.
”I collect my orders from the post office in the morning and dispatch them in the afternoon. That way I’m sure everything is really fresh. When the weather’s bad the work’s quite dangerous, especially getting the kelp in buckets up the cliffs, but on sunny days I love it. In fact I love it altogether, even though it’s hard, and it ties me down. It’s tremendously interesting and worthwhile, and it keeps me out in the open air. Somewhere along the line I’ve forgotten that I was ever ill."
Anne and Scott came up from the beach and fell upon slices of papaw with the gusto most of us reserve for chocolates.
The sun shone. The seagulls soared. The giant Rocks glittered. The sea creamed on the crescent beach, and, receding, left on the sand its precious load of kelp.
Today’s 'Kelp Lady'
Jo Lane is the owner of Sea Health Products TODAY and has a background in marine science and sustainable coastal environments.
Also having a keen interest in healthy living, the role of ‘kelp farmer’ seems just perfect! Jo has worked in a variety of roles including seal trainer, diver and working with volunteers on coastal weed programs. She is thrilled to be producing natural health products from Australian sea kelp and hopes more Australians will continue to enjoy the benefits of kelp.
Jo is currently touring the world having won a Churchill Scholarship to travel and study Kelp farming globally and bring her new knowledge back to Australia to improve practices, health benefits and environmental improvements. Be sure to watch this site for blog updates in the coming months and follow us on instagram for updates.