Lemon myrtle, bush tomatoes, sandalwood and wattleseed. These are all native Australian plants, but have you used them in your cooking?
These examples of ‘bush tucker’ have traditionally been used by Indigenous Australians for over 60,000 years.
They’ve also seen a recent rise in popularity in cooking and modern cuisine.
Supply can’t always match demand
Noongar Elder Dale Tilbrook says the chef used everything under the bush tucker umbrella including fish and shellfish, with a main focus on those locally available.
“Although this raised the profile of bush foods dramatically, it also led to some shortages in their supply.”
She says it’s important to consider the implications for sustainability, fauna interactions and ecosystem balance.
“Just because the city folks find out and want it, doesn’t mean they can have it.”
“The wild harvest belongs to Aboriginal people and the animals,” Dale says.
She says traditionally, the Aboriginal people only took what they could eat that day.
And the native animals had special interactions with the native plants.
“Emus eat quandongs and spread seed across the land.”
“And woylies collected and ate sandalwood kernels and seeds, leaving them all over the territory, so we got new sandalwood stands.”
Woylies once covered two-thirds of the country but are now only found in two locations in southwest WA.
And so a new industry is born
Dale says it is vital to manage the wild harvest but also encourage cultivation of the food to make this a sustainable industry.
Underpinning this is ethical engagement with Aboriginal people so they are involved in the supply chain.
“We have the knowledge and over 60,000 years looking after Country,” Dale says.
“Our stories contain information about the plants. We know which plants are good to eat and which have pharmaceutical benefits.”
Dale herself became interested in bush tucker when she first opened Maalinup Gallery in the Swan Valley 17 years ago, which she still co-owns and manages with her brother Lyall.
“I put some jars of local wild harvest quandong jam on shelf—it looked a bit lonesome, so I thought, what else can I find?”
The gallery now sells the most comprehensive range of bush tucker herbs and spices in Perth.
There are organisations assisting Aboriginal communities to be involved in cultivating bush food such as Outback Pride in South Australia.
Much bush tucker is available online and sometimes in gourmet shops or even the local supermarket.
Native food plants, suited to local conditions, are also available in plant nurseries.
“I’d like to see in future some way of labelling bushfood—whether it is from wild harvest or cultivated, and whether the company is Indigenous owned or if there is engagement with Aboriginal people.”
“We want people to make informed choices and know that what they buy is an ethical product.”