By Stephen Thorpe, Gunnai/ Gunditjmara
In the past year I have grown whilst experiencing a world of native foods that are still being eaten around the country. Through my journey at Melbourne based restaurant, Charcoal Lane, I have learnt more about where native foods come from. I am also researching how they are grown and most importantly, how to use and cook the food. I have learnt ways to adapt native food to a modern restaurant plate.
I have recently returned from Sydney based restaurant NOMA where I was chosen to work alongside one of the world’s best chefs, Rene Redzepi for 10 weeks. From this experience, I was able to see and use native ingredients in different ways; the experience has inspired me to continue my journey and discover my own path with native food. I really connected with Rene Redzepi as he has revived Danish food in the same way we are reviving our native food.
Foraging for native foods, reminds me that our people had a deep understanding and respect for food before colonisation – but we can still have that, we just need to take the first steps to embark on that journey.
During a visit to North Stradbroke Island over the New Year, I was taken mud crabbing by some local Aboriginal men. They taught me how to catch and prepare our catch. I learnt how to collect and cook yugaries (pippies). After eating the mud crab and eugaries I added them to a 27 year old midden. This was a very important and moving moment as it felt spiritually healing and in that moment, I felt connected to the land. That was a very important and moving moment for me. I had also learnt that some middens in the region date back at least 25,000 years . I shared some of my knowledge in return and taught them how to cook food in paperbark which steamed the food whilst adding a beautiful flavour.
My most recent experience foraging was with NOMA and I collected foods I did not know were edible, such as Lomandra (also known as mat rush) and Moreton Bay Figs. It has been great to be exposed to opportunities that have ensure I am continually learning about our foods.
I am committed to learning more about native food and have read ‘Dark Emu’ by Bruce Pascoe which challenges the presumption that our people were hunter gatherers. I am currently reading another called ‘The Oldest Foods on Earth’ by John Newton.
If food is medicine then super food is super medicine and if that is so, then our native food is super-duper medicine. You only have to look at the native Kakadu Plum which is identified world-wide as the single natural, food source with the highest vitamin c. There are scientific reasons why our native foods have amazing levels of nutrients and medicinal qualities and one reason is the extreme conditions that our food has adapted to and continues to thrive in. The triumph of our native food to survive and thrive bestows upon them amazing healing and sustaining qualities and is the reason they belong on our plates and not the introduced colonizers food. They belong to this land and the land belongs to them. I encourage everyone to learn about the native foods traditional to their homelands and the rest of the country.