My name is Pete Dillon and I am addicted… to bush food.
I have had an epiphany of some proportion. I am now a devotee of bush foods. This is in no small part due to the Alice Desert Festival and Wild Bushfoods events I have just attended in Alice Springs in Central Australia. It is an almost religious experience that I have had.
When I have pondered and mused over past years about what typifies our cuisine, I have always looked to the fusion created by the diversity of our culture, and the melting pot of ethnicity that has formed the Australian culinary identity. But now, I have the perfect answer. There are literally thousands of native ingredients that we either don’t know about or have never heard of.
Ben Shewry of Melbourne’s famed Attica has long foraged by the ocean for grasses and other native ingredients that have been a key part of his culinary signature. Mark Olive, Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous chef has also been a champion of these native ingredients. And then there’s a middle aged white bloke by the name of Andrew Fielke who is almost prophet like in his passion for some of the extraordinary ingredients. It is he who has me all tizzy about quandongs, leaves that taste like shots of sambucca, desert limes, bush plums and mountain rice.
I shared a meal with 70 or so Territorians, with a few southerners and the odd international thrown in. This was the Gala Dinner as part of Wild Bushfoods The food at this event was a celebration of all things bush, native and Indigenous.
When we think of native bush foods, we think of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters with goannas on an open fire. And not of finger limes, bush bananas and salt bush, or at least I didn’t. As kangaroo has made its way on to our supermarket shelves and cemented its position as a staple protein for many, so too should camel, emu and maybe even wichety grubs take their place in our every day diet. If we are what we eat, then I am Australian now more so than ever.
Our Indigenous Aussies have been eating bush foods for 60,000 years, and whilst we have taken some on board in the past 200 years, we have a very long way to go. The only Australian native food developed and cropped on a large scale is the macadamia nut, with the first small-scale commercial plantation being planted in Australia in the 1880s. Subsequently, Hawaii was where the macadamia was commercially developed to its greatest extent from stock imported from Australia.
Wouldn’t it provide some wonderful agricultural opportunities to cultivate and commercially farm foods that have successfully been grown here for 60,000 years? It might be reasonable to suggest that if they have stood the test of time, invasion and introduction of non native species, there is a pretty good chance they will survive anything. I certainly hope so.
As countries the world over celebrate their food, its about time we stood up and started celebrating ours. It really is time to Advance Australia Fare!