By Kirby Browne, Permaculture student, National Environment Centre, Thurgoona
During the last 200 plus years the European attitude to native, Australian food sources has rambled. From the condescending indifference of the early colonists, to the Les Hiddens inspired fascination of the 1980s and most recently, perhaps inevitably, we arrived at industrial exploitation. Currently Australia supplies over a third of the world’s macadamia nuts and the market is growing for gourmet style dried and processed native Australian food.
Once again we have managed to leap frog the step where we get personally involved with our nutritional sources. Through mass scale cultivation the important connection between human beings and food is being compromised. And with Aboriginal participation minimal in the commercial production chain, intimate knowledge of harvest and preparation is being overlooked.
A new way of relating to our food in general is a compelling notion, and perhaps because native food use by white Australians is in its infancy, it’s a good place to start. We should acquaint ourselves properly with our local food; form a perennial bond, contrary to past exploitative human-resource relationships. Native food sources should be explored on a more personal, individual level, so that a new interest can be sparked in the inner workings of a country that is profoundly and resiliently beautiful. Perhaps, more significantly, the links between Aboriginal and white Australians can be strengthened so that important, orally passed harvest and preparation information, gleaned over many thousands of years, can be shared and implemented properly and respectfully.
This proposition isn’t for some sort of radical reversion to hunter gatherer or tribal living, just a subtle integration of native food into our imaginations, our gardens and our kitchens. Imagine a traditional European vegetable patch flecked with edible, thriving native lilies, berries, nuts and seeds. In this region we could experiment with: the native raspberry (Rubus parviflorus), warrigal greens or New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides), river mint (Mentha australis), a whole host of native lilies with sweet or starchy edible tubers and corms, and many more.
We are now facing a new and extremely uncertain future where food importation is quickly becoming a waning option. The most powerful changes won’t be forced upon us from above, like a carbon tax, but will swell from below, from individual and collective free thinkers. So perhaps it is finally time to set aside our short sighted European ideals about food and, once again, venture out into the bush.