Thursday, 19 September 2013

Edible reminders of an unpalatable truth.

 The reality of residing in Sydney’s “Northern Beaches” area, is that we are here "living the dream" at the expense of a society that has been almost totally expunged. 

  At the time of European settlement, this region was known as Guringai country, the land of the Garigal or Caregal people.  Manly itself was occupied by the Cannalgal and Kay-ye-my clans who had been here for around 20,000 years, well before even Sydney Harbour was formed. This beautiful "water feature" was created at the end of the last ice age, around, 6,500 years ago when, what was a deep river valley, was breached by the sea. 

 When the Europeans came in 1788, they brought disease, such as smallpox, to which the locals had no resistance. In less than a year, over half of the indigenous people living in the Sydney basin were dead.

There are approximately 5,000 registered Guringai sites (rock engravings, shell middens, grinding grooves etc) in the Sydney metro area, all plaintive reminders of a rich culture. But most of their history, knowledge, beliefs, customs and way of life have been sadly lost.  We have a very limited awareness of some of their medicines and food plants..most of which can be grown in your own garden if you live around here.  Spare a thought when you're tasting "bush tucker" for a proud people who lived in harmony with this land and who met such a sudden, harsh and undeserved fate.  


Burrawang/Macrozamia Communis
This Cycad is a truly ancient plant that has been around for up to 200 million years. The red seeds are rich in starch and were a staple for Aborigines.  Be very careful though because they need to be pounded and soaked in water for a week to remove toxins.
Cabbage Tree Palm/ Livistonia Australis
The tips of the plant (the cabbage) can be ground up and eaten.
Blue Flax Lilly/ Dianella Caerulea
The purple berries can be eaten raw or cooked (although too many may have a laxative effect).
Sandpaper Fig ( Ficus Coronata)
The small dark fruit is edible but the furry skin should be peeled first. The sap can be applied to wounds to assist in healing. (The leaves are so rough they can be used to smooth wood)
Warrigal Greens/ Tetragonia tetragoniodes
The leaves are best blanched or boiled as they can be bitter if eaten raw.
Scurvy weed/Commelina Cyanea
The leaves can be used as a vegetable, raw or cooked. Because of its high vitamin C content, it was used by early European settlers to avoid scurvy.
Mat Rush/Lomandra Longifolia

Aboriginal Australians ground the seeds to make damper and also chewed the watery base of the leaves to avoid dehydration.
Sydney Golden Wattle/Acacia Longifolia

The seed pods can be eaten green, raw or cooked..or dried, roasted and ground. Bush bread can also be made using the seeds.

Incidentally, I once asked an Aboriginal Australian if there were any indigenous vegetarians.  He looked at me with bemused incredulity.  Since then, however, I have come across many who are concerned about the plight and demise of wildlife in this country, are campaigning for conservation and are careful not to eat many species that would once have been considered delicacies.  Kangaroo, for example, formed an important part of the traditional diet but many "traditional owners" are aghast at the huge industrial scale killing of this animal currently occurring around Australia and are trying to stop it. Elders v Kangaroo Killing industry